From Yoda of Star Wars to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so many of the beloved creatures that sci-fi and fantasy fans adore came from the creative mind of Jim Henson. How many of us grew up on Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, or even The Storyteller?
Henson's zany creations didn't just entertain us; they helped us embrace parts of us that may have been seen as unconventional or even outright weird. From Bowie to Gaga, we've had plenty of heroes to do that since, but Henson was one of the first people to really delve into the many facets of human experience and identity, and he did it through puppetry. Some of his creations are much more well-known than others, and many of his forgotten creatures deserve some time in the spotlight.
10 Yip Yip Martians (The Martians)
"Yip yip yip yip. Uh-huh. Uh-huh." These weren't the only noises Sesame Street's Martians, performed by Jim Henson (blue) and Jerry Nelson (red), made, but they are the sounds they're best known for. Fans loved watching these two worry over items as innocuous as telephones, radios, and a grandfather clock.
The Martians didn't interact with other characters much, but they spoke to our weirdness in fun ways, like preferring to listen to a radio's static rather than its music. The Martians also often get stuck in our heads; try watching a clip and not going about your day yip-yipping afterward.
Why does Elmo get all of the attention when it's Muppets like Beaker who speak to the geeks and nerds of the world? Beaker might mostly speak in meeps, but that's part of why he's so special. Henson's creations often remind us that there are many ways to communicate, even nonverbally, and that they're all valid.
Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's assistant represents not just science, but fear, humor and, as many Muppets do, the right to be different from everyone else. Beaker is the Muppet who stands in for all of the shy lab folks who live for science but not the spotlight.
8 Cantus The Minstrel
Jim Henson creature fans who ask, "Who?" when you mention Fraggle Rock are totally missing out, especially when it comes to Cantus, the groovy Fraggle with the magic pipe. Cantus represents the power of music to not just soothe the soul, but to connect with others.
Cantus uses his voice in the same way Kermit the Frog does, but with more of a hippie vibe. He sings, "Play Me Wide, Play Me Low, Let Me Be Your Song," sounding like the Jerry Garcia of The Jim Henson company, which he pretty much is. The soothing melodies of the Fraggle are the perfect background music for meditation or some rest and relaxation.
7 The Storyteller's Dog
The British TV show The Storyteller was one of Jim Henson's most creative projects, bringing many famous stories and myths to life with puppetry and magic. In the program, the Storyteller's dog, a blonde Pudelpointer who was created in the image of a real dog, stood in for the audience, portraying what we felt as we experienced fear, confusion, awe, and other emotions.
The talking dog was voiced by Brian Henson, Henson's son. It's bittersweet since it's so cool that Henson's kids were involved in his projects, but his wife Jane stated that it was because it was the best way that they'd get to see their father, whose work often pulled him away from family time. Neil Gaiman is currently working on a re-imagining of the series.
When it comes to the cult hit Labyrinth, David Bowie tends to get the most attention, followed by a young Jennifer Connelly. The puppetry in the film is outstanding, from Ludo the gentle giant to Sir Didymus, who manages to wrap up most of Monty Python and the Holy Grail into a single puppet.
But it's Hoggle, the sour, cantankerous traitor, who deserves more recognition. The dwarf is terrified of Jareth, the Goblin King, but he manages to get past his fear in order to help his friends, most notably Sarah, who was his first real friend. Hoggle is the potential of every villain who decides to do the right thing.
5 Uncle Deadly
One of the most wonderful things about Jim Henson's creations is that many of them speak to our spooky, even sinister side. Uncle Deadly, also known as the Phantom of the Muppet Show, was one of the most menacing of the Muppets. With his reptilian-looking skin, creepy eyes, and macabre persona, Uncle Deadly was meant to be a tribute to actor John Carradine, a prominent horror film actor.
Deadly's first appearance on the show was perfectly planned alongside Vincent Price, but it's too bad that his TV show, "Uncle Deadly's House of Badness," never made it into production. While he was never one of the main characters, Deadly still appears in modern Muppet films.
4 Emmet Otter
Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas isn't just a re-imagining of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi with puppet otters; it's one of the most wholesome holiday specials ever created, yet it's the one many fans don't even know about. The special features a wonderful soundtrack. The titular Otter, Emmet, comes from a poor family, but he's rich in what he's got, which is love.
The woodland creatures make this musical truly special, and there are fans who eagerly await watching it each year during the holiday season. It's one of those "true meaning of Christmas" stories that's utterly Jim Henson in its portrayal of the theme.
3 Rugby the Tiger
Long before Toy Story made us feel sorry for every toy that ever collected dust beneath the bed, Jim Henson's The Christmas Toy gave us a story about love, friendship, and, yes, the identity crisis faced by toys. It even featured the space toy that didn't realize it was just a toy!
Rugby the Tiger is the Woody of the story. He doesn't want to be replaced as the favorite toy, but he soon realizes how selfish he's being in terms of what the rest of the toys face—particularly when his friend is frozen forever. It's uplifting and bleak at the same time, making us wonder if it's possible to create any programs about toys without existentialism.
Monsters were a specialty of Jim Henson, and, when he created the dragon-like Ultragorgon for the BBC special Monster Maker, he nearly went meta on himself, with even Kermit the frog appearing for commentary. Ultragorgon was scary enough for Henson to make a special speech to kids watching, gently assuring them that it wasn't real in the manner that only he, Bob Ross, and Mister Rogers seemed to be able to do.
Ultragorgon was so special because he was deeply symbolic of the inner monsters we face, as the young man in the story comes to realize as he hashes out issues with his dad. It was another example of Henson's way of tackling deeper issues and mixing real life with the magical world.
If Yoda were 70% crankier, able to remove his eye, and a woman, he might be Aughra, the wise woman of Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal. Aughra is a fabulous character in a world with underrepresented older women. Henson has several "wise men" creatures, but Aughra has the best personality of all of them. She even went on TV in an interview with Henson and Frank Oz to promote her movie.
The Dark Crystal doesn't have as strong of a fan following as some of Henson's other works, but those who did love it are looking forward to next month's prequel series on Netflix, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.