By announcing Billy Crystal’s involvement with Which Witch, a new animated film that has him taking on starring, writing and producing duties, the Jim Henson Co. quietly slipped in just a few other, minor items. The studio, which is now run by the late Jim Henson’s children Lisa and Brian Henson, is ramping up its feature film side after focusing on television ventures for some time; and four films involving beloved Henson properties are on the way.
While the rights to The Muppets were sold to Disney in 2004 – and those rights have definitely not gone to waste – the Henson Co. has enough franchises in their arsenal to pad their slate. According to Variety, aside from Which Witch, the studio is working on a Fraggle Rock film, a sequel to Dark Crystal, a movie based on Emmet Otter (there was a 1970s TV movie, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas) and a film centered in the world of Labyrinth. They also optioned the rights to “Frog and Toad” in 2012, but there hasn’t been any news on that front since.
The internet was beside itself several days ago at the prospect of a Labyrinth sequel – Would Sarah go back to the Labyrinth, maybe this time as a more responsible babysitter? Would David Bowie and his bulge return? But the studio has pressed that the film will not be a sequel to the 1986 cult classic, instead rather a project based on the film. That doesn’t necessarily mean ruling out magical David Bowie just yet; don’t lose heart.
It makes perfect sense that a Labyrinth kinda-sequel would be in the works; it’s a masterpiece of camp, puppetry and again, this cannot be stressed enough, David Bowie. Though it wasn’t a success at the box office in the eighties, the decades since have proved a loyal following and a need for some escape into that weird, weird world. It’s similar with the sequel to Dark Crystal. Though that movie was thoroughly bizarre and had its share of problems – namely that Jim Henson initially wanted the Skeksis to speak their own language with English subtitles, and that the creatures themselves were the things you see in your nightmares, not Kermit’s buddies – it found its place on the DVD shelves of film buffs in the years since who were game for a morbid, dreary tale that yes, still involved some insane puppet work. Never underestimate Frank Oz.
Since the film ended with the castle being transformed into pure crystal and the Mystics and Skeksis merging into the same beings, leaving everyone alone, it will be interesting to see what a sequel would bring. There’s no darkness left, but hey, stranger things have happened. It’s been over thirty years.
As for Fraggle Rock, it’s about time. The series, for those uninitiated, centered upon a merry band of strange little creatures who lived underground and liked to rock out. It ran from 1983–1987 and was much of a companion to The Muppets, though not necessarily a spinoff. And yes, they were guided by a talking trash heap, and maintained a pleasant neighborhood, but it wasn’t exactly as kiddo-friendly as Sesame Street, either. It’s a bit odd that there hasn’t been a Fraggle movie yet, but the fact that Henson is planning one, along with the Emmet Otter project (and the others mentioned), seems like a a little push against Disney’s Muppets influx.
The Jim Henson Co. is known for one great thing, one that it has done unparalleled for decades: projects that involve masterful, dedicated puppetry (and muppetry). While they sold their rights to The Muppets, they have these fantastic properties sitting in their library, collecting dust. They can remind the public that they are more than just The Muppets; they’re Fraggles, Skeksis, Emmet Otter, Hoggle and whoever else they conjure up. Maybe Billy Crystal can come along.