From ‘Muppets’ to ‘Sesame Street’: The 5 Most Impactful Jim Henson Characters (Besides Kermit the Frog)
With The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance streaming on Netflix, an upcoming Labyrinth sequel in the works, Muppet Haunted Mansion dropping this fall, and Muppets Now and a new version of The Muppet Show on Disney+, Jim Henson creations have been enjoying something of a surge in popularity.
Henson and his colleagues created many memorable and beloved characters, from Kermit and Miss Piggy to Big Bird and Snuffleupagus. Let’s take a look at five of the most impactful characters (besides Kermit).
1. Miss Piggy is bossy in the best way
It’s true that Miss Piggy may have some work to do when it comes to respecting other people’s boundaries. And she could certainly use some anger management coaching.
But as an assertive female character, Piggy is great. Especially during The Muppet Show’s original run, there weren’t a lot of female characters like her in children’s television.
She’s bossy but still beloved. And in fact, her bossy nature is precisely what so many of us love about her. She says the things we want to say but don’t.
Yes, her pushiness is often played as a joke. But it still helps to send the message to girls that it’s okay to speak up for what you want.
2. Gonzo’s weirdness sets him apart
What makes Gonzo important is his weirdness. Even among characters as strange as the Muppets, he doesn’t really fit in.
He’s friends with chickens and stages unnecessary daredevil performances. As viewers, it’s hard not to love him.
What’s more, he loves himself. Yes, he has moments of sadness. But ultimately, he likes his weirdness because it makes him unique. And even though the other Muppets don’t always understand him, they accept him.
3. Bert and Ernie’s impact on representation
We’ll group these two together because on Sesame Street, they’re rarely apart. For years, there was speculation about the nature of Bert and Ernie’s relationship. The joke was that they were secretly a couple. And it was a joke that was often told in an insulting, hurtful way.
But in 2018, that changed. Mark Saltzman, a former Sesame Workshop writer who wrote stories for the characters, said in an interview for Queerty that he believed them to be a couple. He based his writing of them on his own relationship with partner Arnold Glassman.
And while some protested, others eagerly welcomed the news, seeing it as a win for representation in children’s media. Saltzman told Queerty:
“I remember one time that a column from The San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked ‘are Bert & Ernie lovers?’ And that, coming from a preschooler was fun. And that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it. And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert & Ernie, they were,” he said.
The Sesame Workshop denied it, stating that Bert and Ernie have no sexual orientation. But many feel Saltzman’s account to be more genuine.
4. Julia and conversations around neurodiversity
Julia, who has autism, was introduced to Sesame Street in 2017 after first appearing in story books, as CNN reported.
The goal of the character’s creators was to provide an avenue for parents and children to discuss neurodiversity and to introduce more positive representation to the show.
Sesame Street has a history of promoting messages of inclusion, and it continued that with Julia.
5. On ‘Sesame Street,’ Kami tackles difficult conversations
Kami is an HIV positive character on Takalani Sesame, the South African incarnation of the show. Kami also appears in Sesame Square, the Nigerian co-production of the series.
The character is the product of the Sesame Workshop’s collaboration with South Africa’s Department of Basic Education. Through that collaboration, an HIV/AIDS curriculum was developed for young children, and it centered around Kami.
Sesame Street has never shied away from addressing difficult topics. It did this with the death of the character Mr. Hooper in 1983, when the actor who played him, Will Lee, died in real life.
”It was real, and so we decided not to just replace him and call the man Mr. Hooper and hope they didn’t notice,” Joan Ganz Cooney, one of the founders of the Children’s Television Workshop, which developed Sesame Street, told CNN when discussing Mr. Hooper’s death.
That tradition of tackling challenging subjects in a manner that’s digestible for children was continued with the character Kami.
Henson characters are beloved by both kids and adults. And many of them have had an important impact on the larger pop culture zeitgeist.