John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together
The Muppets are a group of puppets and costume characters created by Jim Henson and the company he created. Individually, a Muppet is properly any one of the puppets built by the Jim Henson Workshop. Though the term is often used erroneously to refer to any puppet that resembles the distinctive style of the Muppet Show and Sesame Street characters, the term is both an informal name and legal trademark linked to the characters created by Jim Henson and the Jim Henson Company.
The word "Muppet" itself was said by Henson to have been created by combining the words "marionette" and "puppet"; however, Henson was also known to have stated that it was just something he liked the sound of, and he made up the "marionette/puppet" story while talking to a journalist because it sounded plausible.
Muppets are distinguished from ventriloquist "dummies", which are typically animated only in the head and face, in that their arms or other features are also mobile and expressive. Muppets are typically made of softer materials. They are also presented as being independent of the puppeteer, who is usually not visible, hidden behind a set or outside of the camera frame.
The most common design for a Jim Henson Muppet is a character with a very wide mouth and large protruding eyes. The puppets are often molded or carved out of polyfoam, and then covered with felt or artificial fur. Yarn, nylon string, or, most commonly, artificial feathers are used to create hair. Muppets may represent humans, anthropomorphic animals, realistic animals, robots or anthropomorphic objects, extra-terrestrial creatures, mythical beings, or other unidentifed or newly imagined creatures.
The puppeteer typically holds the puppet above his head or in front of his body, and operates the hands and arms with a Y-shaped control rod. One consequence of this design is that most Muppets are left handed as the puppeteer uses his right hand to operate the head while operating the arm rod with his left hand. There are many other common designs and means of operation. In advanced puppets, several puppeteers may control a single character; the performer who controls the mouth usually provides the voice for the character. As technology has evolved, the Jim Henson team and other puppeteers have developed an enormous variety of means to operate puppets for film and television, including the use of suspended rigs, internal motors, remote radio control, and computer enhanced and superimposed images. Creative use of a mix of technologies has allowed for scenes in which Muppets appear to be riding a bicycle, rowing a boat, and even dancing onstage with no puppeteer in sight.
Jim Henson films:
Brian Henson films:
Famous Muppets include Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, the Swedish Chef, and Oscar the Grouch. Some of the most widely known television shows featuring Muppets include Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and The Muppet Show. Other, less popular series have included The Jim Henson Hour and Muppets Tonight. The puppet characters of Farscape, The Storyteller, and Dinosaurs, as well as from the films Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, are not considered Muppets, although they were also made by the Jim Henson Creature Shop. For a history of Jim Henson's Muppets, see Jim Henson.
After earlier unsuccessful attempts, in 2004, The Walt Disney Company outright bought the Muppet characters, with the exception of those appearing on Sesame Street, as they were previously sold to Sesame Workshop.
The show's popularity has been so expansive that Muppet characters have been treated as celebrities in their own right, including presenting at the Academy Awards, making a cameo in Rocky III, and being interviewed on the newsmagazine 60 Minutes. Kermit the Frog was also interviewed early on in Jon Stewart's run on The Daily Show.
Muppet-like and Muppet-inspired puppets star in the 2004 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Avenue Q.
In the UK the word muppet has come to be used as a mild term of abuse, meaning a stupid, incompetent, or possibly geeky person, or the obvious interpretation of someone who is inanimated or somehow not there.
The Simpsons episode 3F15: "A Fish Called Selma":
- Lisa: "Dad, what's a Muppet?"
- Homer: "Well, it's not quite a mop, it's not quite a puppet, but man...[laughs]...so to answer your question, I don't know."