I love the Muppets. This has been a pretty public fact for a while now. After all, I do as much as I can to make Muppet content for The Daily Campus.
So picture this: It’s right before spring break 2023 at the University of Connecticut and I, as a junior who just needs to get away from Storrs for a while, am looking for something to do. Of course, the Muppets are at the forefront of my mind almost 24/7, so visiting the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York is a no-brainer. A two-hour Amtrak ride, plus a few subway transfers and a short walk eventually bring me to the building where I’ll meet the man of my dreams: Kermit the Frog.
The MoMI opened in 1988, with the mission “to advance the understanding, enjoyment and appreciation of the art, history, technique and technology of film, television and digital media.” Some of the ways they work toward this goal include temporary and permanent exhibitions, film screenings, live conversations with industry professionals and articles published in their online film magazine “Reverse Shot” and science and film resource “Sloan Science & Film.”
But the core of this article is the MoMI’s Jim Henson Exhibition. Their website boasts nearly 300 objects in this exhibit, including 47 puppets, all meant to explore Henson’s “groundbreaking work for film and television and his transformative impact on culture.” Really, it’s a Muppet-lover’s paradise.
The exhibit, a collaboration with the Henson family and companies, opened with a brief introduction to Henson, summing up his career that spanned four decades with “his gently subversive humor, restless curiosity and innovative approach to puppetry…”
And the main event, Kermit the Frog himself, is just to your right as you enter, posed as if he is waving, welcoming everyone in. Next to this 1974 version of Kermit is the microphone headband Henson would wear when performing Kermit, and behind that is a picture of Henson holding Kermit, headset and all. The plaque explains that though Henson created and performed many characters throughout his career, “he is most closely identified with Kermit the Frog.” The original, slightly different version of Kermit was first made for Henson’s first television show in 1955, and by the 1960s had evolved into the character we know him as today.
As such a Muppet enthusiast myself, seeing Kermit the Frog up close and personal — with just a thin layer of plexiglass between us — was quite literally life-changing. Thus, I’d like to offer a revision to a classic saying: Meet your idols, kids, as long as they’re puppets.
Beyond the Kermit display is a collection of Henson’s earlier works, including creative sketches from his classes, clips of “Sam and Friends” with a Yorick puppet and clips and toys of Henson’s 1957 to 1969 Wilkins Coffee Company commercials, featuring his Wilkins and Wontkins puppets. Also in this area of the exhibit is another familiar Muppet, Rowlf, originally built in 1962 for Purina Dog Chow commercials.
Henson also worked on “Sesame Street,” which thus gets its own dedicated section in the exhibit. Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Elmo are all on display, among other puppets created for the educational television series. Seeing the huge (no pun-intended) Big Bird puppet in particular, complete with a harness and diagram of how it is performed, was astonishing.
Just past the “Sesame Street” section is the main part of the exhibit, dedicated to the Muppets. This is where I spent the most time, watching clips of “The Muppet Show” and the many characters within it. The puppets here include Nigel, the original host of “The Muppet Show”; Statler and Waldorf, everyone’s favorite haters; and the famously unintelligible “Swedish Chef.” From the iconic Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, there is a Zoot puppet and costumes for Animal and Janice. Furthermore, the diva herself Miss Piggy is featured, with her puppet in a wedding dress and a few sketches of her character design.
One of my favorite objects in the Muppet section of the Henson Exhibit was a screen showing test footage for the 1979 “The Muppet Movie.” You can watch the footage online, and I highly recommend that you do – the banter between Kermit and Fozzie Bear is hilarious. Further beyond “The Muppet Show” content in this exhibit are puppets from “Fraggle Rock,” and costumes and puppets from “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal.”
There was also a lot to look at besides the Muppets at the MoMI – with a few exhibits of what seemed like experimental film study, one titled “Behind the Screen” about the creative and technical processes of producing and presenting films, and an interactive exhibit on stop motion movies, including figures from “Coraline” and “ParaNorman.”
In the end, the MoMI is certainly worth a visit – for puppet lovers and haters alike. If you’re a Muppet-girly like me, the Jim Henson Exhibition will keep you occupied for hours. And if you happen to suffer from pupaphobia, fear not – there’s plenty else at the MoMI to admire.