New Ron Howard doc delves into the imaginative world of Jim Henson, his Muppets

The director explains role Henson's wife played in the creation of the Muppets.

June 17, 2024, 12:45 PM

Award-winning director Ron Howard discusses his Disney+ documentary "Jim Henson: Idea Man," delving into the story of one of the world's most renowned creators. (Disney is the parent company of ABC News.)

"Jim Henson: Idea Man" explores the creativity of Jim Henson, from his early puppeteering days to the global success of "Sesame Street" and "The Muppet Show."

Howard expressed his admiration for Henson and a desire to delve deep into his story. Throughout the making of the documentary, Howard found real lessons about Henson's journey that he thought were creatively interesting. Henson was always inventing and exploring. And Henson's wife, Jane, greatly helped him.

ABC News sat down with Howard to discuss more about "Jim Henson: Idea Man."

VIDEO: Ron Howard on directing 'Jim Henson: Idea Man'

ABC NEWS LIVE: What first drew you to tell Jim Henson's story?

HOWARD: Well, I always was an admirer. But when I had that first exploratory meeting with the family and also saw the archives, I realized there was just a lot to learn and that there were lessons in his journey as playful, creative, nostalgic as, all of his work is to us.

There are real lessons about the journey that I thought were interesting, creatively, because he was always inventing, always exploring, and all of those experiments that he was messing around with, making home movies with his kids, that all led to the stuff that we all remember so well, and knew nothing about his wife, Jane, and how significant she was.

They just did it together, you know, they built the Muppet idea together.

ABC NEWS LIVE: And most people didn't until this documentary. You won't really know the role and significance that that she played. And ultimately, what we know about Jim Henson and all of his creations. How would you describe her role in all of this?

HOWARD: Well, I think that, she A. recognized an unbelievable talent. They met in an arts class. No, actually, a puppeteering class.

ABC NEWS LIVE: I think she said she discovered him.

HOWARD: Yeah. And, she was a few years older, and so I think she was a senior, and he was a freshman or sophomore. She recognized something exciting there, and he had already kind of launched his career. They married and had kids, five kids. And, you know, ironically, the pressures, the possibilities of everything that they had created, the thing that it brought them together romantically in a lot of ways, wound up pulling them apart.

And there's a part of our story which is, I think, in its own way, still kind of inspiring because a lot of people, you know, they don't grow together, they grow apart. That's what happened to Jim and Jane. And yet they handled that even well, you know, and their kids love both of them.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Do you have a favorite puppet of Jim Henson's?

HOWARD: Well, you know, it's it's kind of obvious, but I, but, you know, Kermit. I relate to Kermit because I relate to Jim Henson, and Kermit was Jim's alter ego. And, any position. Kermit, as always, kind of the one who was, you know, a little offbeat, but had kind of the best common sense and, and all the crazy swirling around, or characters that he loved, but he had to deal with.

ABC NEWS LIVE: There were a lot of surprises for me. I'm, for example, learning right off the bat that he never even aspired to be a puppeteer. He just wanted to get into TV, didn't grow up with puppets. Were there other things that surprised you along the way?

HOWARD: Well, I you know, I knew he accomplished a lot. I didn't know quite how driven he was. And I didn't know that in his family, he had lost a brother at a young age; brother was five years older. That clearly demonstrated that life could be short.

I don't think he ever took time for granted. And he was a just this restless creative engine, and it sort of found its way into puppets. He still made lots of experimental films, things that are cool, you know, I mean, and funny. Always funny.

He used, you know, he, used satire, whether it was on a kid's level or a little older and more mature to make us recognize, you know, those foibles and that funny stuff about ourselves, that it's that it's, you know, it's important to be reminded of just a great creative genius.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Well, to celebrate your 49th wedding anniversary, it's the 50th anniversary of Happy Days. A lot that's behind you. But what's still ahead?

HOWARD: Well, you know, I I've got a lot of projects I'd like to make. I've got ideas that seem interesting. I've got, you know, actors I'd like to collaborate with. And, Brian Grazer and I are still having a great time with Imagine Entertainment.

We've discovered documentaries, and our documentary team is just fantastic. And we, we love creating the fact that Imagine has become, you know, a place where they can, you know, follow their dreams and also allow us to participate, creating a situation where we can really get involved in that medium, too. It's really an honor and, and, and a lot of fun to share what I think I know with collaborators and audiences and, also just keep going on the journey. It's a blast.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate.

HOWARD: Great talking to you.