Joel Karpowitz, January 26, 2014 (view all comments by Joel Karpowitz)
Who doesn't love the Muppets? I know I do, and clearly author Brian Jay Jones does as well. While I was interested enough in Henson's life, ups, and downs to keep reading, however, I wish Jones had as much creativity in writing about Henson as Henson had in writing about, say, coffee advertisements. It's not that this was a bad book. It was just much flatter than I expected it to be.
Granted, I'm much more of a fiction than a biography kind of guy, so perhaps I just came at the story of Henson's life and work from the wrong angle, but I got bored much more often than I expected to. Jones writes about every detail of Henson's life with little regard for what details are interesting and what are somewhat bland. He waxes philosophical on Jim's rather generic childhood for nearly a hundred pages and spends nearly as much time writing about how who he hires to decorate his house as he does about much more interesting elements such as Henson's disagreements with Roald Dahl. I think the problem is he likes Jim and the Henson family (both literal and professional) so much that he's not really as interested in exploring Jim's complexities and contradictions as he is praising and celebrating him. Which is fine, it's just that it gets a little dull.The book becomes a chronicle rather than a story, and the peaks and valleys that should be there eventually all get evened out and flattened.
Which is not to say there's not great stuff here. Jones clearly drives home several aspects of the "What made Henson tick" question: his love of creativity, his desire for positivity, the pleasure he took in work. All of those elements are explored--and explored well--at several points throughout the book. And though the book could and should have had more pictures (Jim was, after all, a visual storyteller), reading the biography was still fun in that it drove me to the Internet repeatedly to look up film clips (like Henson's short film "Time Piece" on YouTube) or to find scenes with individual Muppets. And it also made me wish I had some Muppet movies/tv episodes in my own collection!
In the end, the book isn't bad, it's just not as dynamic or compelling as it should have been, given the creative genius at its heart.
susanusha, December 8, 2013 (view all comments by susanusha)
This fascinating biography not only traces the events of Henson's life, but also gives a real sense of his spirit, his ethics, and his vision. The genius behind Elmo, Miss Piggy, and Kermit, was apparently as warm and loving as he was funny and original. His four children, his ex-wife, and his work colleagues all seem to admire him. He was not perfect, and he had to overcome great prejudice against puppeteers; thankfully, he succeeded or the world would be poorer.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"The Sesame Street auteur who made the Muppets into a global entertainment and merchandising juggernaut seems almost as winsome as his cute, furry creations in this adulatory biography. Jones (Washington Irving: An American Original) styles Henson as a polite and soft-spoken but charismatic figure whose 'faith in his fellow man was unbounded,' and whose defining characteristics were 'staggering' generosity and an unerring instinct for 'playing nice.' The worst sins the author can dredge up are affordable penchants for fast cars and gambling and some affairs after Henson separated from his wife. Jones makes a meatier, though overstated, case for Henson as a genius — he soft pedals the fact that Henson's non-Muppet projects usually bombed — who revolutionized puppetry with televisual mise-en-scéne; flexible, expressive, close-up-ready faces; and edgy humor that often climaxed in explosions or Muppet cannibalism. The book's most engrossing passages explore the extraordinary technical demands of creating naturalistic puppet spectacles in the age before computer graphics: 'performing' a Muppet was an intricate, almost contortionistic dance of two puppeteers crammed into a single sleeve, and one swampy movie scene required Henson to manipulate a banjo-playing Kermit the Frog while sealed in a diving bell. Jones presents a rather bland show-biz saga, but with a fascinating making-of documentary woven in. Photos. Agent: Jonathan Lyons, Lyons Literary. (Sept. 24)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
by The Atlantic,
“Illuminating....As Jones expertly shows, Henson remained throughout his life an artist who was continuously in motion, conceiving, pitching, and managing multiple projects at once.”
by The Wall Street Journal,
“Consistently surprises....Highly readable and never long-winded (even at nearly 600 pages), Jim Henson joyously documents its subject’s knack for combining old-fashioned puppetry with the world’s newest entertainment medium to forge a kind of furry, felt-covered vaudeville.”
by The Dallas Morning News,
“This is a biography that earns the label definitive.”
by Associated Press,
“If ever you had a single question about the felt magic Jim Henson managed to create, chances are Brian Jay Jones’ sweeping new biography of the puppeteer will answer it....Jones offers a meticulously researched tome chock-full of gems about the Muppets and the most thorough portrait of their creator ever crafted....It is a better world with the Muppets. And we are better off with this careful account of their master.”
by The A.V. Club,
“Compulsively readable...evocative....Much has been written about Henson — during his life and after — but nothing with the same sense of authority and access as Jim Henson: The Biography.”
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