Ron Howard On His Revelatory Jim Henson Doc ‘Idea Man’: “I Wanted To Get To The Bottom Of What Made Him Tick” – Contenders TV: Doc + Unscripted

Ron Howard On His Revelatory Jim Henson Doc ‘Idea Man’: “I Wanted To Get To The Bottom Of What Made Him Tick” – Contenders TV: Doc + Unscripted

Ron Howard’s Cannes-bound documentary Jim Henson Idea Man reveals a man of inexhaustible creativity – a puppeteer, filmmaker, artist, performer and inventor. The Muppets were just one part of Jim Henson’s astonishing body of work.

“I had met him briefly. I knew people who knew him very well, who held him in such high esteem. He was a very modest guy,” Howard noted during an appearance at Deadline’s Contenders Television: Documentary + Unscripted event. “But at an immediate first glance, I still didn’t realize the scope of what he had accomplished in his 53 short years — far too short. And so I was curious about this sort of explosion of creativity and what was the engine behind him and it? And I knew he was passionate about his work; everyone knew that. But I didn’t know where this kind of outlier mentality came from, combined with this extraordinary amount of work.”

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Henson’s children granted the filmmaker access to their father’s archive. “There are a lot of things I hadn’t seen, these hilarious, crazy, irreverent commercials … which are what first got him noticed in the mainstream and allowed him to be this sort of experimental artist in the early years of his life,” Howard said. “But I also got to see that the creativity for him never stopped. It existed in his home movies. It existed in all of his drawings. It existed in his notebooks, that weren’t sketches for design necessarily. They were just him keeping track of things. And even those were reflections of this creative energy. And it just dazzled me. And honestly, I wanted to celebrate it. I wanted to get to the bottom of what made him tick.”

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Jim Henson Idea Man will debut on Disney+ on May 31, following its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The documentary explores roads taken and not taken by Henson, including a never-realized plan to launch nightclubs. Even those ventures that came to beautiful fruition could have gone by the wayside; originally, he was skeptical about a pitch from the Children’s Television Workshop in the late 1960s to incorporate his Muppets into an educational TV series for kids.

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“What if he hadn’t done Sesame Street? That didn’t necessarily happen. Muppets was incredibly hard to sell [as a show]. It’s mind-boggling,” Howard said. “But we take you through the journey. … We remember his work in these glowing terms – it wasn’t always received that way. And yet he just kept coming back. So, there’s a kind of durability and a kind of an opportunistic excitement as he would latch onto ideas and find a reason to believe in them.”

Check out the panel video above.

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