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The Jim Henson Exhibition at the Skirball Cultural Center!

Jondee Jen here at Thra!,

The Skirball Cultural Center rests in the hills above the gateway between the valley and UCLA in Westwood. It has recently opened the Jim Henson Exhibition as part of it’s exhibitions including Leonard Bernstein at 100. The Bernstein exhibition is stunning; his piano, baton, West Side Story material and more. It really feels like you are stepping in the footsteps of the maestro. The Skirball has screenings of West Side Story on June 15th with George Chakiris (Bernardo). It also has the Muppet Movie on June 29th and Labyrinth on July 13th. This leads past the gift shop to the Jim Henson Exhibition. There is displays of Muppets from Netflix’s Julie’s Greenroom starring Julie Andrews so the new shows lead into Jim Henson and the great work of the Muppets creators and performers. You turn the corner and there is Kermit the Frog on display!

There is some of Jim Henson’s early work in comic strips for his school newspaper. He had to research puppeteering and had some early puppets for commercials. There was a side area where guests could try their hand at puppeteering. The first Muppet to become famous, surprisingly, was Rowlf the Dog, for The Jimmy Dean Show (1963-1966). There is an early Rowlf muppet with some design sketches by Henson. It has all of the heart of the later version, but made of simple felt instead of the dog-like coat. I was stunned at the designs for Cyclia a proposed nightclub act that Jim Henson was working on in 1965-1968, but it never came to pass. There were projections on the walls and on the dancers. A section of a wall was shown with the film that was going to be used for the nightclub. I really wish this would open now.

Then, it turns to Sesame Street which revolutionized children’s television. It starts off with a display of Bert and Ernie. The best part is that the displays hurtle you right back to Small Kid Time. Then, there is the muppet of Count von Count, it looks like a simple puppet, but the costume is impressive; there is elaborate fabric and patterns in his under cloak. There was also a circus tent set for Slimey the worm. Next, a muppet of Grover, I have to say he is frozen, but I half-expect him to start moving and talking. The next part of the exhibition is the Muppet Show which has my favorites, Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew!, plus Beaker sketches by Henson. Then, there is also a Scooter muppet on display. There was a grouping of Muppets of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Jerry Nelson. There is also a photo op of the Muppet Show opening with the Muppets appearing at columns.

There was an animation cel of Muppet Babies, (1984-1991), a new CG version is airing on Disney Junior, and the Muppet Babies display of Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear from The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)! It is one of my favorite cartoons, gotta sing the song, “Muppet Babies, we make our dreams come true.” There was a photo op and display of Fraggle Rock.  The next room features The Dark Crystal (1982) which featured Jen and Kira both of the characters are on display next to Brian Froud sketches of the world. There is also the Aughra and the Chamberlain Skeksis along with props from the movie. The stunning part was the Labyrinth (1986) displays. The eye catching one was a circular platform under a semi-circular wall where the ballroom scene is recreated. There is Sarah (Jennifer Connelly’s) white dress and Jareth (David Bowie)’s formal, black outfit swirling around. It seemed like the magic only showed us their costumes. I could have spent all day there watching it. I took pics of nearly very position and video of the two dancers.

Then, there was a proposal for The Storyteller series that ran from 1987 to 1989. It featured folk tales adapted by Anthony Minghella, the director of The English Patient (1996). There is mention of Henson experimenting with the computer generated Muppet, Waldo C. Graphic using computers and 3D with the Muppet Vision 3D. It is currently open at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, but sadly closed at Disney’s California Adventure in 2014. Also, the work of the Henson Creature Shop including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) and Farscape (1999-2003). I will say the most stunning work of the Henson Creature Shop for me is it’s work in Dreamchild (1985) which had the memories of Alice Liddell bringing the twisted Sir John Tenniel illustrations to dark life. Finally, there is a photo op that allows guests to perform the Muppets in a mock stage. There is also the crazy visions of Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) film. If you ever had a single smile, song, or sense of wonder from watching any Muppet on tv or film, I will say you must get down to the Skirball Cultural Center before the Jim Henson Exhibition closes on September 2nd!

#jimhensonexhibition, #skirballculturalcenter

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