Muppets can do much more than educate youngsters and reinvent Vaudeville-style variety shows for a new generation. The particular combination of puppetry and filmmaking that Jim Henson devoted himself to is also uniquely suited to fantasy world-building, as the second installment of Muppets, Music & Magic: Jim Henson’s Legacy demonstrates.
The day-long program will climax at 7 p.m. with back-to-back screenings of two of the brightest spots of ’80s fantasy film, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, both of which owe a great deal to designer Brian Froud.
1982′s The Dark Crystal is an incredible visual accomplishment, creating an entire alien world without a single human being visible (Unless you count those long-shots of Jen running). The story seems birthed of the same post-Toelkein, Joseph Campbell-ian spirit of the ’70s that Star Wars was, focusing as it does on an invented universal myth. And it’s a myth that comes complete with a New Age-y lesson about living with others that wouldn’t be out of place on Sesame Street.
Half-Fraggle, half-elf looking hero Jen is a “Gelfling,” seemingly the last of his race. He’s lived in harmony with the benevolent four-armed, mammalian dinosaur-looking Mystics his whole life, but when a celestial event threatens to change the balance of power on his world, he learns he’s the chosen one, and that he must set out on a quest involving the titular doodad, lest the decadent Skeksis become all-powerful.
None of that is really all that important though, at least not as important as the remarkable menagerie of creatures directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz parade across the screen: Roly-poly tumbleweed with teeth Fizzgig, stilt monsters the Landstriders, beetle-like enforcers the Garthim and, the jewel in the Dark Crystal’s design crown, the rotting-bird carcass puppets with baroque fashion tastes, the Skesis.
That’s followed at 8:45 by the more narratively complex 1986 adventure/fairy tale/musical Labyrinth, in which 16-year-old Jennifer Connelly loses her baby brother to Goblin King David Bowie. To get him back, she must make her way through the inventive perils of the world of the labyrinth. Watching her back are horned, Wookie-like Ludo, ugly dwarf Hoggle and Quixotic dog knight Sir Didymus, whose steed is another dog (Which still blows my mind…that’s like seeing a talking horse riding another horse, or a human knight riding around on a guy crawling on all fours). It should make for particularly interesting viewing on the other side of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, which played with several of the same fairy tale themes and plot points.
The program will begin at 10:30 a.m. with “Muppet Fairytales,” which will feature a collection of Muppet-ized fairytale re-tellings from various televsion shows. That’s followed by a couple of documentaries, Dog City (which is kinda like Guys and Dolls, if it were called Dogs and Dogs instead, but not really) and a pretty incredible episode of The Storyteller.
The second and final day of Muppets, Music & Magic: The Legacy of Jim Henson will be playing in the Wexner Center’s Film/Video theater Saturday, March 24. For more info, visit wexarts.org.