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10 Best Jim Henson TV Shows and Movies, Ranked

With all the buzz surrounding Jim Henson Idea Man, a very powerful documentary, directed by Ron Howard, about the man, the myth, the legend, the visionary Jim Henson, now streaming on Disney+, many viewers are jumping down a rabbit hole of Jim Henson’s works. Most often associated with The Muppets, Henson’s legacy actually left behind much more than puppetry. From innovative storytelling to the constant development of new technology, Henson was always on the cutting-edge, often underappreciated in his time.




Whether acting, directing, writing, producing or some combination thereof, Henson never seemed to run out of ideas, crafting fantastical worlds, such as Thra and The Goblin City, that live on in the hearts of fans everywhere to this day. While The Jim Henson Company continues to pave the way for puppetry, animatronics and digital animation, the following are the best films and TV shows that Henson himself had hands-on involvement in before his passing.


10 ‘The Jim Henson Hour’ (1989-1993)

Created by Jim Henson (1989-1993)

Image via NBC


Modeled after the Walt Disney Presents specials, The Jim Henson Hour featured the best of Henson. Often starting with a half hour modernized version of The Muppet Show, called MuppeTelevision, and filling the second half of the hour with something more akin to a movie of the week, Henson used this time to showcase new innovations and ideas his company was working on. Acting as host, Jim entered a computer-generated set to introduce this week’s programming.

Most notoriously, this program introduced viewers to Waldo C. Graphic, who would go on to become well-known as the computer-generated Muppet in the Disney Parks Muppet*Vision 3D attraction. It also allowed Henson to introduce more viewers to another short-lived series, Jim Henson’s The StoryTeller, as he repurposed some of those episodes into this magical hour. Sadly, The Jim Henson Hour only lasted 12 episodes, with nine episodes airing on NBC, two more appearing on Nickelodeon a couple of years later, and the final episode never seeing the light of day in the United States.


the-jim-henson-hour-tv-show-poster.jpg

The Jim Henson Hour

Release Date
April 14, 1989

Cast
Jim Henson , Dave Goelz , Steve Whitmire , Kevin Clash , Fran Brill , Brian Henson , Jerry Nelson , Gord Robertson

Main Genre
Comedy

Seasons
1

The Jim Henson Hour is currently not available for streaming or purchase.

9 ‘The Muppet Movie’ (1979)

Directed by James Frawley

Madeline Khan in The Muppet Movie
Image via Sony Pictures Entertainment

Celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, The Muppet Movie was The Muppets’ first big-screen outing. Serving as an origin story of how this beloved group of misfits came to know one another and work together in search of fame and fortune, The Muppet Movie saw The Muppets skyrocket to fame both on-screen and off. The film itself would receive two Academy Awards nominations, while the song’s opening number “Rainbow Connection” would also reach No. 25 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.


If there’s one thing more iconic than Kermit The Frog himself, it’s his personal anthem “Rainbow Connection” and it’s cultural impact on the world. This song has been held onto by numerous generations like a security blanket, empowering listeners to believe in themselves and chase their dreams. For Kermit, it served as his motivation to seek out something more in life, in effect leaving the swamp behind. The movie itself was the highest-grossing puppet film until The Muppets in 2011, paving the way for many Muppets movies to come.

8 ‘Sesame Street’ (1969-Present)

Created by Joan Ganz Cooney, Lloyd Morrisett, Jon Stone & Jim Henson


Since 1969, Sesame Street has revolutionized educational children’s television with its sketch comedy, puppetry and animation. The series has taught countless kids the alphabet, how to count, basic reasoning skills and an accessible way to contextualize world issues. It’s one of the longest-running shows ever and easily the most beloved children’s show of all-time, especially thanks to its funny, colorful, vibrant cast of characters. From Big Bird to Oscar the Grouch, Ernie to Cookie Monster, these Muppet characters were more like personal friends to every viewer.

Never intending to lead the way in family, or specifically, children’s entertainment, Jim Henson’s involvement in Sesame Street is actually what led to his success. Previously relying on commercials, Sesame Street offered Henson financial footing, increased recognition, and a creative outlet to try more experimental forms of entertainment. Most famously, the Sesame Street counting films, many of which featured various forms of animation.


Sesame Street poster

Sesame Street

Release Date
November 10, 1969

Main Genre
children

Seasons
45

Studio
PBS

Watch on Max

7 ‘Dinosaurs’ (1991-1994)

Created by Michael Jacobs & Bob Young

The Sinclair Family waiting for Baby to come out of a giant egg
Image via ABC 

A couple of years before Jim Henson’s death, he kicked around the idea of a sitcom about a family of dinosaurs. This idea would eventually become the ABC series, Dinosaurs. The series follows the Sinclair family, made up of Earl (not the mama), Fran (the mother), their three children, Robbie, Charlene and Baby, and Fran’s mother, Ethyl. These anthropomorphic dinosaurs merged fantasy with American family dynamics in delightful ways.


While Henson didn’t live long enough to see the series come to life, he was deeply involved in the development process up until his final days. And, although the series continued on without him, it maintained Henson’s more mature, boundary-pushing storytelling, with the series finale episode ending on a rather surprising dark note for a show mainly targeted at kids. Dinosaurs always had a lot of social commentary undertones though, as did most things Henson was involved in. It’s the digestible way this information was delivered that made Dinosaurs such an immediate hit, and why the series still feels more relevant than ever upon rewatch.

dinosaurs

Release Date
April 26, 1991

Seasons
4

Watch On Disney+

6 ‘The Muppets Take Manhattan’ (1984)

Directed by Frank Oz

Kermit, Miss Piggy, and other Muppets gather around Fozzie, who is reading a Variety newspaper on a bench in front of Manhattan skyscrapers in 'The Muppets Take Manhattan'
Image via Tri-Star Pictures


The Muppets Take Manhattan is The Muppets’ third feature film, and finds our talented pals trying to bring their successful college show, Manhattan Melodies, to Broadway. Unable to find a producer, and running out of money and hope, Kermit gets left behind in Manhattan. Well, Miss Piggy also secretly remains to keep a watchful eye on her main squeeze. When Kermit receives word that a producer is interested in the show, the chaotic, yet musical and humorous, goose chase begins to reunite The Muppets.

While this article is primarily focused on the significance of Jim Henson, it’s important to note that a lot of the real magic came from the entire team Henson had created around him. He truly believed in others, put emphasis on team collaboration, and created an environment where most ideas were nurtured and cultivated. The Muppets Take Manhattan feels like the ultimate playground for his team. Not only is the film directed by longtime Muppet collaborator, Frank Oz (in what would be his first solo directing endeavor), but the film’s final scene marries Muppets characters, both literally and figuratively, from various Henson universes.


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The Muppets Take Manhattan

Release Date
July 13, 1984

Cast
Jim Henson , Frank Oz , Dave Goelz , Steve Whitmire , Richard Hunt , Jerry Nelson , Juliana Donald , Lonny Price

Writers
Tom Patchett , Jay Tarses , Frank Oz

Watch On Apple TV

5 ‘The Dark Crystal’ (1982)

Directed by Jim Henson & Frank Oz

Kira, Jen, Dark Crystal.
Image via Universal Pictures

Set in the land of Thra, The Dark Crystal centers on Jen and Kira, two Gelflings, who are on a mission to overthrow the cruel and evil Skeksis by restoring a powerful broken crystal. This high fantasy film challenged Jim Henson to create darker and more intricate characters than ever before, venturing into the world of complex animatronics. That’s because The Dark Crystal wasn’t just a story set in a world that happened to contain Muppets, it was a whole new way of storytelling. When the film came out, it was even billed as the first live-action without any human beings. The Skeksis puppet animatronics alone were so life-like and, frankly, terrifying, it was hard to believe they were not real creatures.


It was in this undertaking that Henson began to realize a desire to employ his team year round, and thus the work that the Henson team created for The Dark Crystal, and later Labyrinth, would eventually lead to the creation of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. While not a hit at first, over the years The Dark Crystal gained a cult following and many accolades for its contributions to film, film technology, and storytelling. Eventually leading Netflix to produce a short-lived, one-season only, prequel series called The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

4 ‘The Muppet Show’ (1976-1981)

Created by Jim Henson

The cast of The Muppet Show
Image via ITV 


Known for its comedic sketches, musical numbers and celebrity guests, The Muppet Show was the launchpad to the ever-growing library of Muppet programming that continues to this day. Deeper than that, The Muppet Show was a shining example of all ages programming that taught values alongside innuendo-filled parody entertainment. From “Mahna Mahna,” the catchiest earworm living rent-free in many fans’ minds, to a comedic stand-off between Milton Berle and resident hecklers Statler & Waldorf, there was something for everyone in this vaudeville-like variety show.

Never intended to be a children’s program, The Muppet Show had a hard time finding a home in the United States. Henson produced a pilot episode in 1974 and 1975 for ABC, neither moved forward, and other networks also rejected the notion. None of these networks could envision The Muppet Show as appealing to adults. Eventually, a British producer expressed interest, Henson moved operations to London, and The Muppet Show became what it is today.


the muppet show poster

The Muppet Show

Release Date
September 25, 1976

Cast
Jim Henson , Frank Oz , Dave Goelz , Jerry Nelson , Kathryn Mullen , Richard Hunt , Steve Whitmire

Seasons
5

Watch on Disney+

3 ‘Fraggle Rock’ (1983-1987)

Created by Jim Henson

The Fraggles of 'Fraggle Rock' with Jim Henson
Image via HBO

Down on Fraggle Rock you’ll find Gobo, Red, Boober, Wembley and Mokey, lovers of radishes who spend their days singing the catchiest songs through life’s hiccups and dancing their cares away. These Fraggles live in harmony with the Doozers, who live to work and love to work. They are friends with Marjory, a trash heap, and her rat-like companions whom they often seek advice from. They constantly seek ways to connect with The Gorgs, the royal giants who live next door and consider Fraggles to be garden pests, and, outside of Uncle Traveling Matt’s stories, are unaware of the silly creatures that live in outer space. These silly creatures being humans, and outer space being the rest of Earth, a planet they apparently also inhabit.


Fraggle Rock is the perfect marriage of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. Something for the kids who are a little too old for Sesame Street, and too young to recognize the more adult themes of The Muppet Show. A musical fantasy series that provided an accessible route to grasping more mature topics like spirituality, personal identity, the environment, prejudice and much more. However, none of the characters realize they are learning such complex topics, giving a sweet innocence to the series. It’s no wonder that AppleTV+ recently ordered a reboot of the series, now in its second season, continuing the legacy and important ideology Jim Henson began the original series with.

fraggle-rock_movie_poster.jpeg

Fraggle Rock

Seasons
5

Release Date
January 10, 1983

Cast
Jerry Nelson , Dave Goelz , Steve Whitmire , Kathryn Mullen , Karen Prell , Richard Hunt , Gerard Parkes , Patricia Leeper

Creator(s)
Jim Henson


2 ‘Labyrinth’ (1986)

Directed by Jim Henson

Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) in her ball gown in Labyrinth
Image via Tri-Star Pictures

What has become one of the most beloved fantasy films of the ’80s, was actually a commercial disaster upon release. Roughly about a teenage girl, Sarah (played by Jennifer Connelly), who has to rescue her baby brother, Toby, from the grips of the Goblin King (played by David Bowie) before it’s too late, Labyrinth also served as a visual representation of the journey from adolescence to adulthood. However, even with a killer soundtrack, charming puppets and the sexiest Goblin King imaginable, Labyrinth barely recovered the cost of production during its initial run, with a particularly disappointing American box office result. Brian Henson, Jim’s son, later said about his dad to Life Magazine, “I think that was the closest I’ve seen him to turning in on himself and getting quite depressed. It was a rather bad time.”


Soon to be approaching its 40th anniversary, Labyrinth has since gone on to become a highly-celebrated film within pop culture spaces. With new merchandise constantly being developed and yearly, fan run, Labyrinth-inspired masquerade balls in various parts of the globe. Most recently, Shout! Studios acquired worldwide rights to Labyrinth, beginning their rollout with the release of the film on all major digital platforms this past February. If only Henson could see it now.

1 ‘Jim Henson’s The StoryTeller’ (1987)

Created by Jim Henson

The hedgehog in Jim Henson's The StoryTeller episode Hans My Hedgehog
Image via NBC


The most engaging, least talked about, heavily underappreciated, and almost entirely unknown series, outside of Henson superfan circles, is Jim Henson’s The StoryTeller. The show combined everything there is to love about Henson into one series. Expansive world-building, fantastical stories, and, of course, puppets! Every episode explored a European folk tale that allowed Henson and his frequent conceptual designer, artist Brian Froud, a darker, more experimental and mature playground. Within a matter of, not minutes, but moments, the storyteller (played by John Hurt) and his talking canine puppet companion (voiced by Brian Henson) had audiences completely enamored.

Always driven by a passion and desire to tell stories in the most creative ways, Henson was not derailed by the lack of success in the original series.


Like many other Henson projects before it, Jim Henson’s The StoryTeller struggled to find distribution and its audience. Originally, only four episodes aired in the United States, until The Jim Henson Hour resurrected another four episodes, previously only seen in the UK. However, it wasn’t until 1997, seven years after Henson’s death, that the final episode, “The Three Ravens,” would be seen stateside, when the entire series was rerun by HBO. Always driven by a passion and desire to tell stories in the most creative ways, Henson was not derailed by the lack of success in the original series and continued on to create a spin-off series focused on Greek mythology. Both series are very easy binges for those just stumbling into the world of Jim Henson outside The Muppets, but the original series takes the cake.

Watch On Tubi

KEEP READING:’Jim Henson Idea Man’ Review: Ron Howard’s Loving Tribute Goes Beyond The Muppets


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