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The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson is a one-hour TV special that aired on CBS on November 21, 1990. The special featured The Muppets paying tribute to Jim Henson. It also marked Steve Whitmire's first on-screen performance as Kermit the Frog and one of Richard Hunt's final puppeteer works before his death two years later.
Kermit the Frog is away traveling, leaving Fozzie Bear and the other Muppets in charge of that week's production number. On the day of the show, the Muppets receive a letter from Kermit informing them that the production number is meant to pay tribute to Jim Henson. There is just one problem: the Muppets have no idea who Jim Henson is. Through his letter, Kermit instructs the gang to watch television monitors around them in order to learn about Jim.
After seeing a brief introduction of Henson on one of the monitors, Robin the Frog seems to remember their subject. He convinces the other Muppets to look below them; the gang spots a group of people who seem to be "following us around". Robin remembers that Jim was "always watching us and having a great time".
The Muppets begin to get the idea that Jim Henson "was responsible for us". Robin believes that a tribute to somebody like Jim should have "style and wit and charm and eloquence". Gonzo replies "You're right! You fill the water balloons and I'll get the whoopie cushions". After he runs off, the Muppets are interrupted by more footage on the television monitor. Carol Burnett recalls working with Jim Henson and how he introduced her daughter to the Muppet performers and "taught her how to make puppets". Carol states that backstage, the performers were like a family. She believes that such an atmosphere is what made the Muppets seem like a family onscreen as well.
A montage of clips from The Muppet Show follows (including a clip from Carol Burnett's appearance on the show). Clips from The Muppets Take Manhattan and The Muppet Movie are also shown. Celebrities appearing in these clips include John Cleese, Dabney Coleman and Charles Durning.
Fozzie continues to worry about the upcoming production number not being a good enough tribute, as the Muppets still know so little about Jim Henson. Just then, Clifford arrives with a filmed biography of Henson. Bean Bunny sets up the projector for the film, which features a montage of photos and clips from Henson's early works (narrated by Jerry Nelson). Clips from Sam and Friends, a Wilkins Coffee commercial, The Muppets on Puppets and Timepiece as well as clips from appearances on The Jack Paar Program and The Ed Sullivan Show are featured. Unfortunately, the projector goes haywire during the film.
On a nearby monitor, John Denver appears to talk about Henson's work on Sesame Street. He explains how the Children's Television Workshop asked Henson to create a new group of Muppet characters for an experimental children's program. Denver explains: "They had a notion that Jim's characters could use their unusual combination of sincerity and humorous irreverence to convey real information. The show they created changed everything. For kids, for parents and for TV".
Denver narrates a montage of memorable clips from Sesame Street as well as the series' 1969 pitch film (featuring Kermit and Rowlf the Dog). Following are clips from the Muppets' appearance on a 1987 ABC News Special (Wall Street and the Economy with Ted Koppel). Denver goes on to explain how Henson was able to convey other means of information, such as the plight of the rainforest (featuring a clip from The Song of the Cloud Forest) and "lessons of the heart" (featuring a clip from John Denver and the Muppets: Rocky Mountain Holiday).
Meanwhile, in an attempt to help the tribute number, Fozzie hires a clumsy Dixieland band. Gonzo's friend Whoope Cushions the tap dancer and his wife Joy Buzzer also arrive.
On a nearby monitor, Ray Charles talks about Jim's ability to "take the most ordinary things in life and turn them into them into something extraordinary". Charles then introduces the message behind the song "It's Not Easy Being Green". A clip from The Muppet Show featuring Kermit singing that song follows. This is then followed by a recording of the same song by Charles (taken from the television special "Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting") played over a montage of footage of Henson at work and play.
With things not going well behind the scenes, Fozzie suggests to Scooter that the show should feature a "biking number". Meanwhile, a group of penguins introduce Miss Piggy, who plans on paying tribute to Henson. Rizzo the Rat interrupts and asks if she knows anything about Henson. On a nearby monitor, Steven Spielberg appears to talk about Henson's fantasy productions. Spielberg mentions Henson's ability to tell stories with new creatures. Spielberg explains: "The faster Jim's imagination ran, the more delight he took in finding a technology to achieve this". Behind the scenes footage from The Dark Crystal is shown followed by a montage of clips from The Storyteller, Monster Maker, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.
- Fozzie: "I said 'a biking number'. You know, bikes, bicycles, as in Schwinn".
- Scooter: "We don't got a Schwinn. We got a Sven.
An embarrassed Fozzie convinces the audience to watch Harry Belafonte on a nearby monitor while he sorts out the situation. Belafonte talks about Henson's ability to spread his work worldwide. "Those desperate places where parents watch their children grow, knowing they'll never be educated, who never have a chance at life as it should be. These same parents watch as Jim's creations, for the first time, not only put smiles on the faces of their children, but develop in them the appetite to learn, watching Sesame Street, and the ability to love, because they see the love and the caring that exudes from the Muppets and the Henson family of creatures. This was the Jim Henson I knew". Belafonte explains the worldwide popularity of The Muppet Show and the fact that Sesame Street is seen in over 121 countries. He also talks about Fraggle Rock, a series that taught different types of creatures to get along with each other. A montage of clips is featured throughout, ending with a clip from Belafonte's appearance on The Muppet Show.
Rizzo the Rat tells Gonzo that he knows who Jim Henson really is. Rizzo finds one of Gonzo's old paychecks, signed by Jim. This leads both Gonzo and Rizzo to believe that Jim was an accountant and Rizzo hires "The Merrill Lunch Hungerduner McCormack All Accountant Marching Society". The distracted group of accountants promptly walk into the room and then right into a set.
On a nearby monitor, Frank Oz appears to talk about his own relationship with Jim Henson, "a man who truly believed nothing was impossible". Oz talks about the fun Jim used to have and how he appreciated all of those he worked with. Oz also talks about Henson's ability to present different aspects of his personality through each of his characters. A montage of clips from Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Dog City, Saturday Night Live's The Land of Gorch segments, The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Show Pitch Reel, featuring various characters of Henson's (including Ernie, The Swedish Chef, Dr. Teeth, Mahna Mahna, King Ploobis, Guy Smiley, Cantus the Minstrel, Convincing John, Link Hogthrob, The Muppet Newsman, Kermit the Frog, Bugsy Them, Leo and Rowlf the Dog).
As the Muppets are nearing the presentation of their tribute number, Fozzie discovers some of Jim Henson's fan mail. One letter addressed to Kermit initially starts out cheerful, but then takes a different turn when the letter states "I feel very sorry that your best friend Jim died". Shocked, the Muppets take turns reading different letters from Jim's fans.
As a result, Fozzie decides to cancel the production number. Fozzie says "when you read these letters and you know how much people loved him, we can't do a tribute to him". All of the other Muppets leave the scene except for Robin, who convinces Fozzie to go on with the show. "Take what you got and fly with it", he says. Robin then begins singing "Just One Person". He's soon joined by Scooter, Bean Bunny and Gonzo, along with Fozzie and a crowd of Muppets from The Muppet Show, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock.
As the Muppets finish singing, Kermit arrives to say "What a good song. I knew you guys could do the tribute for Jim". Kermit then asks if the Muppets have anything "silly" to end the tribute with. Fozzie replies "Silly? Do we have something silly? Cue the production number! Fly with it!". As the Muppets happily dance to The Muppet Show's closing theme, Kermit addresses the audience, assuring them that the Muppets will be back "because that's the way the boss would want it."
- The Muppet Show characters: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Scooter, Rizzo the Rat, Janice, Lew Zealand, Beauregard, Robin the Frog, Animal, Beaker, Bunsen Honeydew, Camilla the Chicken, Floyd Pepper, Penguins, Rowlf the Dog, Sam the Eagle, Statler and Waldorf, Whatnots, Vikings, Zoot
- Appearing from The Jim Henson Hour: Bean Bunny, Clifford
- Appearing from Sesame Street: Bert, Big Bird, Elmo, Ernie, Grundgetta, Prairie Dawn, Telly Monster
- Appearing from Fraggle Rock: Gobo Fraggle, Mokey Fraggle, Wembley Fraggle
- Harry Belafonte - Himself
- Carol Burnett - Herself
- Ray Charles - Himself
- John Denver - Himself
- Frank Oz - Himself
- Steven Spielberg - Himself
- Frank Oz - Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy
- Dave Goelz - Gonzo the Great, Beauregard
- Richard Hunt - Scooter, Janice
- Duncan Kenworthy - Statler (puppeteer only, uncredited)
- Kathryn Mullen - Joy Buzzer
- Jerry Nelson - Robin the Frog, Lew Zealand, Announcer
- Kevin Clash - Clifford
- Craig Shemin - Waldorf (puppeteer only, uncredited)
- Caroll Spinney - Big Bird (puppeteer only)
- Steve Whitmire - Rizzo the Rat, Bean Bunny, Kermit the Frog (first time), Whoopie Cushions
Additional Muppets performed by Pam Arciero, Fran Brill, Camille Bonora, Jim Martin, Joey Mazzarino, Peter MacKennan, Carmen Osbahr, Martin P. Robinson, David Rudman, Cheryl Henson (uncredited), Bill Prady (uncredited)
- The set used for this special intentionally combines elements from the backstage set used in The Muppet Show and the control room set used in The Jim Henson Hour.
- The special was later syndicated alongside The Muppet Show.
- The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson at Internet Movie Database
- The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson at Muppet Wiki
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