When a young Jane Nebel met classmate Jim Henson at the University of Maryland in the early 1950s, not only a romance was born — the two married in 1959 — but a phenomenon that would maintain a stronghold on pop culture forever: the Muppets. With husband Jim, Jane Henson helped to create the googly-eyed, perpetually smiling breed of small screen sensations, effectively sealing her fate as one of the most influential figures in children's entertainment. Sadly, Jane is reported by Variety to have died on Tuesday in Conn., following a struggle with cancer. She was 78.
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Long past her separation from Jim in '86 and his death four years later, Jane strove to keep the spirit of the Muppets and everything the pair crafted within them alive. Queens, N.Y. native Jane brought her creative endeavors to Washington D.C.'s WCR-TV (where she and Jim appeared as college freshmen), the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Conn. (where she co-founded the National Puppetry Conference), and all across the nation, earning honors from a slew of organizations recognizing the importance of the art of puppetry. The Hensons' legacy carries forth through the persistent popularity of the Muppets, who will find form in a new caper film, Muppets... Again!, in 2014.
Jane is survived by her and Jim's five children: Lisa, Cheryl, Brian, John, and Heather.
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[Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
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At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.