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Muppet Mania! MoPop Celebrates Jim Henson

Grown-ups revel in Muppet nostalgia, but should you take the kids?

Published on: May 24, 2017

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Kermit the Frog puppet
Photo:
Nancy Chaney

"It's time to play the music, it's time to light the lights. It's time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight."

I bet you'll find yourself humming the catchy theme song from The Muppet Show as you enter the Museum of Pop Culture's new exhibit on Muppets-creator Jim Henson. A waving Kermit the Frog welcomes you, and if you grew up with the Muppets, like me, the song just plays — and stays — in your head.

The recently opened exhibit at MoPop (formerly EMP), The Jim Henson Experience: Imagination Unlimitedtraces the career and visionary artistry of Henson, who brought to life iconic television shows The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock, plus movies such as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and more. Organized by the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, the exhibit includes real puppets, video displays, interactive stations and original sketches and scripts from Henson.

Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker puppets. Credit: Nancy Chaney
Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker puppets. Credit: Nancy Chaney

Adults who loved The Muppet Show or Fraggle Rock, or films The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth, will find it easy to get lost in nostalgia. I loved seeing Muppet characters such as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker, and chuckled remembering all the goofy antics of Miss Piggy, Gonzo and crew. (Side note: I was bummed there was no Animal on display.)

Grown-ups understand that puppets and artwork are untouchable, protected by display cases, and we may enjoy reading about Henson's groundbreaking vision and his artistic process. We can even admire fanciful costumes from the film Labyrinth, including the one worn by David Bowie, as they seem to dance in a circle behind the glass. 

But is it worth the special-pricing admission to take the kids ($5, in addition to regular admission)?

A handful of interactive elements will appeal to kids of all ages, and elementary school-age kids and older who are into art will find additional elements of interest.

Highlights for kids

1. Perform a puppet on screen booth: Early in the walk-through exhibit, visitors can enter a partially enclosed booth, take a puppet off the shelf and practice operating a puppet on screen. Younger children may have trouble following the on-screen prompts to do this by themselves, but older kids or younger ones with an adult can get a hands-on trial of performing with puppets on screen. Anticipate a wait for this booth on weekends or other busy days.

2. Anything Muppets: "Anything Muppets" was the name for Muppet extras used in The Muppet Show and they were created from a variety of features for a given scene or show. At the "Anything Muppet" station, kids can dress up a Muppet with different hair, glasses and other items. This activity will appeal to all ages of kids. With one station, expect it to be frequently in use.

3. Video clips: The exhibit has video stations sprinkled throughout, many with headphones and some playing audio out loud. Preschool-age and older kids will like putting on the headphones to watch snippets of shows. A wall-size video display of clips from The Muppet Show is impressive at 10 screens high and 12 screens wide. Grown-ups can catch glimpses of episodes guest-starring various celebrities. There is no audio.

4. Puppet theater: After exiting the exhibit, there's a puppet theater complete with curtains and risers for parents to sit on. This looks like interactive fun for kids to take a puppet and perform. With only six puppets on display on the day I visited, I'd anticipate practicing waiting and sharing on busy days. Perhaps MoPop will stock this fun station with additional puppets.

5. Storyboards: Elementary-age and older kids who are interested in art, comics and graphic novels should find Henson's pencil-drawn original storyboards of interest. Seeing how a famously imaginative artist began his projects on paper the way kids start their drawings everyday is inspiring.

"Anything Muppet" creation station. Credit: Nancy Chaney
"Anything Muppet" creation station. Credit: Nancy Chaney

Before exiting to the puppet theater and rest of the museum, there's the obligatory gift shop so plan accordingly for pleas for souvenirs.

Exhibit curator Barbara Miller from the Museum of the Moving Image encourages families to visit together. "Jim Henson was all about creative programs and films not just for kids, but for families," she said. His work, she added, "communicates across generations. It's really special." I just requested season one of The Muppet Show (from 1976) from my local library to watch with my son. I'm betting we'll find out just what Miller means: Henson knew how to entertain the kids and wink at the adults at the same time.

MoPop is the first museum to display this exhibit and after stops around the U.S., the exhibit will go on permanent display at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

If you go

Where: Museum of Pop Culture (formerly EMP Museum), 325 5th Ave. N., Seattle (in Seattle Center)

When: Open daily, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. This exhibit is on view through Feb. 25, 2018.

Cost: Admission to this special exhibit costs $5 in addition to regular admission ($19–$28; ages 4 and under free) or membership. Book tickets online in advance and save $2 or consider a family membership for $119.

Tip: Explore Seattle Center with our comprehensive guide and definitely don't miss the Artists at Play playground, right behind MoPop.

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