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Jim Henson

The Muppets
by yo go re

Palisades' Muppets line was the first truly great toyline of the 21st century, with an impressive selection of characters both familiar and obscure, plus giant playsets and the best assortment of exclusives ever designed. There was one thing, missing, however: the people behind the puppets. Of course, Palisades managed to fix even that shortcoming with the 2004 release of their Jim Henson Special Edition Action Figure.

Jim Henson began his career in Washington, DC. Sam and Friends, his nightly five-minute show on NBC's WRC, won Jim an Emmy in 1958 and introduced Kermit the Frog to the world. During the sixties, Jim and the Muppets made many television appearances on network television shows. At the same time, Jim developed another career for an Academy Award in 1965. And then, in 1969, along came Sesame Street, Public Television's long-running, award-winning international children's show. The introduction of The Muppet Show in 1976 was a phenominal success, reaching 235 million viewers in more than 100 countries and winning three Emmys in its five year run. The popularity of the show led to the feature films The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan, as well as the animated television series Jim Henson's Muppet Babies. Throughout the 1980s, Jim explored new direction in both television and film with such projects as Fraggle Rock, The Storyteller, The Jim Henson Hour, and Dinosaurs. Jim's groundbreaking fantasy films, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and his final completed project, Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D, continue to delight thousands daily at the Disney theme parks in Florida and California. His untimely passing in May 1990 was met with a worldwide outpouring of love and renewed appreciation of his imagination and artistry that continues to inspire a global audience.

In 1972, the Muppets appeared on The Perry Como Winter Show. Though a few of the characters featured were existing puppets, some new ones were introduced, as well: the Country Trio, a hillbilly band with Frank on bass, Jerry on guitar, and Jim on banjo. They showed up again on The Dick Cavett Show the next year, which is when they got their names. And obviously, they're each based on their performer - Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson and Jim Henson.

Jim the Muppet is wearing the clothes seen on the show. Mostly. See, the physical puppet only existed from the waist up, so Palisades had to fake the rest. Showing the attention to detail that made fans love them, Palisades actually went to the trouble of researching Henson's preferred style of clothing to complete the look. It stands to reason: each of the Country Trio members was dressed by their namesake, so Jim's choice of clothes would necessarily reflect, well, Jim's choice of clothes.

The figure has a brown fringe jacket over a black turtleneck, straight-legged jeans and brown moccasins. Original plans had him in fringed boots, but that obviousy got changed somewhere along the line. He has silver stars on his lapels, and the fringe fades nicely into yellow. There's a darker brown airbrushing around the seams of the jacket, and light patches on the pants to suggest the material is beginning to wear out. There's even some variance to the color of his Muppety "skin" to create more depth. The hair is fairly brown, when it should be lighter and a bit more red, but all that stuff had to be approved by The Jim Henson Company, so the dark color is fully approved.

As you'd expect, the textures in the sculpt are excellent. The leather of his jacket is different from the denim of his trousers, and his shoes are appropriately smooth. The pebbly foam texture on his face is a bit overdone - it's about twice as large on the head as it is on the hands, so he almost looks pockmarked. Of course, that's just nit-picking; what we get is still better than any other company would have done. His hair is floppy and frizzy, and the jacket's fringe is realistically uneven.

There's one oddity I can't account for, though: on the bottom of Jim's right foot, there appears to be something hand-written. I can't tell what it is, whether it's intentional or accidental, and I have no idea if it's something all the figures share, or if someone at the factory just dropped a pen into the box of feet.

Jim has a swivel neck, balljointed shoulders, swivel biceps, hinged elbows, swivel wrists, swivel waist, peg hips, pin knees and swivel ankles. That was a pretty typical amount of articulation for a Muppet figure, and it's really enough for the things he needs to do - basically, he's able to use all his accessories the way they were intended: he can sit in the chair, strum his banjo, shake his tambourine, sing into the microphone or read his magazine - not all at once, of course, but you get the idea.

The accessories are mostly reused: the chair and mic stand originally came with Series 6's Clifford, the tambourine with Series 5's Janice, and the magazine with Series 4's Link Hogthrob. Everything's been reworked to be unique, however. The director's chair has the Jim Henson signature/logo across the back, the mic is golden, and the magazine is now the June 1977 Muppet Monthly (issue #131) with cover stories about Jim and the rest of the Country Trio, plus "What's with the Penguins?" and a candid talk with Crazy Harry. Very cute. The banjo is the only new piece, but it's detailed very well in both sculpt and paint.

There was going to be another accessory, but it was dropped. What was this nigh-mythical piece of plastic? An in-scale Kermit puppet that this figure could have worn on his hand. As seen in the concept art, the puppet wouldn't have looked like the Kermit we're familiar with - rather than just a small version of the toy we already had, it would have had a rough, homemade style. Personally, I think the accessory would have been awesome, but some folks thought it would be weird to have Muppet Jim Henson standing on a shelf next to a Kermit holding a Kermit. You can make up your own mind.

Jim is packaged in a large red box, designed to look like the famous Muppet Show curtain. It's a fifth panel box, so the front flap opens to show off the figure, some pictures of Henson, Palisades' concept art for the toy, and a bit of information about the Jim Henson Legacy:

Established in 1992, The Jim Henson Legacy was created by family and friends in response to the extraordinary interest in the life and work of Jim Henson. The organization is dedicated to preserving and perpetuating Jim Henson's contributions to the worlds of puppetry, television, motion pictures, special effects and media technology.

By making Jim's creative body of work available to the public through presentations and exhibits, The Legacy will share the power of his art, his imagination, his humanity and his positive view of life with generations to come.

There's also a parade of Muppets around the lower edge of the box, showing everyone from Kermit to Gonzo. Literally. They're standing in a big line with the frog at one end and the... whatever he is at the other. You want a list? Kermit, Beaker, Bunsen, Piggy, Dr. Teeth, Crazy Harry, Fozzie, Floyd Pepper, Swedish Chef, Zoot, Scooter, Rowlf, Lew Zealand, Pops, Animal, Waldorf, Beauregard, Statler, Lips, Sam and Gonzo.

This figure was first available at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's "Muppets, Music & Magic" event on November 20, 2004, and after that was available for a time direct from Palisades' website. I missed that opportunity to pick him up, but was lucky to get a good deal on eBay - they're currently running about $70, which is much more than I would have wanted to pay. If you can find Jim for a price you like, though, go for it - this is more than just another good Muppets product from Palisades: it's a fitting tribute to one of the most creative artists of the 20th century.

-- 02/28/09

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