Muppet Monday: Lighting the Lights in Astoria, NY

This weekend, my husband and I took a mini-field trip to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York to scout out the Jim Henson’s Fantastic World exhibit and see Being Elmo, the documentary about Kevin Clash and his journey to Sesame Street and beyond. It couldn’t have been better timing – if any of you saw Google on Saturday, you know that Jim Henson would have turned 75 this weekend.

I had already seen the Fantastic World exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2009. I was always a big Muppet fan, but I didn’t know too much about Jim Henson and I learned many new facts. Cut to today, when I’ve been writing these Muppet Mondays for a few months and reading a whole lot more, and I was excited to revisit the exhibit and discover some new details if I could. (In fact, I found a bunch for future Mondays…get excited!)

Jim Henson's Fantastic World
The only picture you can take before the exhibit starts.

The exhibit focuses a lot on Jim’s work process and everything that contributed to his more known work on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. There are sketches and scripts, small presentations of commercials he worked on and movie shorts like “The Timepiece”, tid-bits about Fraggle Rock and the beginnings of many of our favorite Muppets. Plus a few real life Muppets… in glass cases. (I’m sure they get breathing breaks; don’t worry.) Creativity and imagination is everywhere!

I may be crazy but I felt like the exhibit was smaller this time around. The space also felt a bit cramped and some other visitors didn’t realize it’s rude to walk in front of someone who is reading the displays and then continue to walk in front of you through the rest of the exhibit. (Yay.) Luckily, the museum did have a 100-person cut-off every half hour (although you could hardly tell they were enforcing this – I saw very few workers around). At least it wasn’t as out of control as the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the MET. Also sad but understandable, no photographs.

Mayor Bloomberg Muppet.

For any Henson, Muppet, or puppetry fan, this exhibit is definitely a must-see and will be available for all to visit until January 16th, 2012. There are also quite a few special events coming up, including visits by Frank Oz on October 25th and Brian Henson on December 3rd and 4th. Be sure to visit the Museum of the Moving Image’s website for more information, as well as their Facebook and Twitter pages.

We also had the pleasure of seeing a live screening of the Being Elmo documentary, as I mentioned above. If you live around the New York area, catching this film is a must when it hits the IFC on October 21. (For other locations, check out this page.)

Being Elmo documentary(Source)

I never knew much about Kevin Clash, the man who brought Elmo to life, but his is an inspirational and moving story. And for Jim fans, there are anecdotes of him throughout the film. (So amazing to hear these stories from people who worked with JH firsthand!) Jim was someone that Clash looked up to as a young child, and as a young man was lucky enough to collaborate with Jim and the puppeteers. After the movie concluded, viewers were treated to a panel that included Clash, the film’s director, and quite a few others who worked on it. I couldn’t help but think that, in some way, some other world, Jim could have been up there too.

Kevin Clash
Director Constance Marks, young puppeteer Tau, Kevin Clash, and Co-Director Philip Shane. Here Kevin is talking about working on Labyrinth with Jim Henson.

Elmo also made a special appearance which was totally amazing. It’s been years since I’ve watched an episode of Sesame Street but all through my childhood, it was the television show I would wake up to, and later would watch continuously with my younger sister. Some of the characters that popped up during the documentary brought back so many memories. It just goes to show you how instrumental Sesame Street and those puppets are in a child’s life and beyond.

Most importantly,you cannot help but be floored by the ambition (and talent!) Clash had so early in his life. He was building puppets when he was as kid, something none of his friends were doing, nor could they understand. But he kept it going because he loved it, and now he is working on a show that he watched growing up. (Not to mention producing and directing it too.)

Kevin Clash and Elmo
The always-adorable Elmo with Kevin Clash & pals.

Anyway, I could gush about this film all night. I don’t want to give away too many details. (Here are two fun facts though: 1. Clash’s first trip to Walt Disney World was for the filming of “The Muppets at Walt Disney World”. 2. He also performed as Clifford, who I know best as the host of Muppets Tonight.) Just listen to me and see it if you have the chance. You will not be disappointed. Seventy-six minutes go by so so fast! But bring tissues because I was a little bit of a mess. (Kudos to my makeup for holding up though.)

You gotta love finding some Muppet history right in your own backyard. What a fabulous way to end the weekend. Hope you all enjoyed your own!

Don’t forget to check out the Museum of the Moving Image for more information on the Henson exhibit and related upcoming events!

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A book publicist who loves writing about Disney and books, and sometimes Disney books.

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