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Jim Henson Company lawsuit to Wimzie's House over the artform of film puppetry in 1999?

Discussion in 'Henson People' started by mupcollector1, Oct 15, 2012.

  1. mupcollector1

    mupcollector1 Well-Known Member

    I wasn't sure where to put this, it would have qualified for puppetry news but since it's Henson related, there was no other place to put it. Anyway, check this out.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wimzie's_House#Legal_troubles

    If anyone remembers this show, it was this Canadian puppet show that was on PBS in the 90s or at least I remember seeing it on PBS in the 90s. Then I found this, The Jim Henson Company and Sesame Workshop went after the show due to "THE STYLE OF PUPPETRY?" I don't mean to sound sarcastic or rude in anyway but, I didn't think any company in general owned the right to television / film style puppetry, even though JHC started it development. Robert Clampett in my opinion started it with Bennie and Cecil and Jim just developed it to the next level to be made for the medium. In my opinion, that's like The Walt Disney Company suing the other animation studios over cartoons with sound. But I don't like to blame JHC or jump to concludions, it might have been a rumor. Because something like this is so unheard of in the JHC's history. And of course for the record, JHC is dear to my heart like everyone here so please don't take my opinions the wrong way. I just think this article is quite ridiculous and unbelievable, it's got to be an internet rumor. "Like there's actually a country called Turkey" :fanatic: lol (couldn't resist)

    Anyway, for the record it does also state there was some confusion with the character design so perhaps that might have been a problem maybe because a lot of the characters look Fraggle Rockish / Muppet Show whatnot, then again I've seen humanoid characters in Kevin Carlson's Timmy the Tooth / PuppetGreetings.com (which no longer exists) and I never heard of anything crazy. Again, I don't want to jump to conclusions, that's why I felt that perhaps we can discuss this and separate fact from fiction.
  2. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    Well, some people here at MC have this conspiracy that it wasn't so much the style of the show ripped off the Muppets (actual Henson/Muppet people worked on it as well: Jim Kroupa designed and built the puppets, and both Norman Stiles and Chris Cerf wrote for the show as well), but rather, a lot of people felt this show was really terrible and awful (though I, for one, loved it), and JHC didn't want to end up being associated with such an inferior show, so they used the lawsuit as an excuse to try to stop it.

    I mean again, when you have actual Henson/Muppet people working on a show outside JHC, you're going to have to expect SOME similarities in the style of puppetry... I mean heck, if JHC were sue other companies for making shows that look similar to the Muppets, the BTL would've had to have a lawsuit as well, I found that show to be much more similar in puppetry style to the Muppets than Wimzie, and it had a ton of Henson people on it as well. Or even back in the 80s, The Great Space Coaster, that was co-created by Kermit Love and Jim Martin, and practically every single person involved with the puppetry on that show either came from Henson (John Lovelady), were already working with Henson (Kermit), or would eventually go on to work with Henson (Jim Martin, Kevin Clash, Noel MacNeal, etc).

    It's difficult, but the trick in doing the film and television style of puppetry is to try to not look like a Muppets rip-off: you can have puppets that work with one hand in their head and mouth, and their hands either worked with rods or gloves, but you can also have the character designs reflect more your own style and everything. David Rudman's been able to achieve that pretty well.
    mupcollector1 likes this.
  3. mupcollector1

    mupcollector1 Well-Known Member

    Chris Cerf worked on Wimzie? WOW, never would have known.

    I totally agree with this 100%, that's what I do. There's even a Jim Henson quote on how if your follow your heros too closely, you'll accomplish the same exact thing they already have accomplished. So I've always took that quote to heart. It's great that puppeteers are inspired by Jim's work but the thing about inspiration is you need several plus a dash of your own self creativity. That's my theory on how ideas come about. For example Spitting Image used the same TV puppet technic but the puppets were far from Muppet looking, and they did such a wonderful job with that show. lol I still remember when Crank Yankers came out and how much I hated it at first because they all look Muppety. But in my later years I came to except it as a piece of adult puppetry. There's still a handful of calls that bring a smile to my face, mostly the more serious cranky victoms on the show instead of the innocent who get harrased. lol Also Avenue Q and Meet The Feebles, clearly a parody (not so much a satire) of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show but the puppets look different. AQ had more parody characters close to Ernie, Bert and Cookie Monster where Feebles had more original characters. There have been rumors like Sid the Elephant was Gonzo which I don't think so. Although his ex is clearly a rip-off of Camila, the design is very simular white feathers eye lashes and baby blue eyes. But that chicken spoke with a New Zeland accent and I think they threw a hat on her to avoid copyright? lol The other story I've heard was how Peter Jackson said that Lisa Henson got freaked out when she seen Kermit the Frog nailed to a mini cross dressed as...you know who. held by Harry the Rabbit praying to God. Seeing the film lots of times, the frog has no resemblece to Kermit, no collor, no simular head, etc. So I found that story kind of strange. lol
    I think there was some issue in terms of building Tekki Monster for Avenue Q because the first one looked too much like Cookie.

    Have you ever seen Bernie and Ert? They are these really funny (mature adult oriented, like AQ and Feebles) parodies of Ernie and Bert as these one eyed humanoids. They were basicly spoofs of the Ernie and Bert sketches but taking them to a level which of course Ernie and Bert would never in a millioin years touch with a thosand foot poll just to put it clean. It's from Germany, if there's people here who are over 18 and can handle irreverent adult puppetry, I reccomend it. I personally like the Vodoo sketch where the Ernie parody puts a Curse on the Bert parody and he has a little Vodoo doll and he figure the doll didn't work anymore so he throws it and suddenly the Bert parody puppet is thrown into the air almost hitting the camera. lol And the funniest thing about it is the puppet is nothing the waist up and the rod is still attached. lol
    Anyway I think what happened was either this Germany late night show got sued by Sesame Workshop or they thought later that it could be copyright infrigment so the final sketches where the parodies in leather suits outside a club (I won't go into detail of course lol) and the leather masks covered the puppet's face, eventually they got rid of the sketches completely and was never released onto DVD. Videos are all over YouTube but like I mentioned, it's mature adult comedy. Personally I think they are funny.


    Anyway back to Wimzie's House. Yeah, I can understand why JHC didn't want to be associated with the show believing it being kind of terrable. I thought it was kind of terrable also, I have to agree. But in my eyes, there's only two kinds of Bad in terms of camp. Something that's so bad it's unwatchable, and something so bad it's good (I consider a lot of things including this in my opinion). But there was tons of Sesame rip offs. Lots of Canadian ones probably trying to bring back the Fraggle Rock spirit since most of the puppets worked on these shows like Growling Marsh, Bookmice, Professor Iris, (I got a thread somewhere, I'm trying to find all this stuff). lol
    I even heard of stuff like Peperment Place and there's even a puppet named ERNIE on there. Talk about HORRABLE and unwatchable, check out the M song. It's like 5 minutes long. lol Also there was a fanmade Sesame on youtube years ago like 2006, I forgot what it was called. There was a D song where there was a nerdy straightman character and this Mahna Mahna Muppet hipster rip-off interupting the song. lol

    Ever heard of Letter People? That must have been the FIRST Sesame rip-off. It's pretty bad, and I'm not sure if they ever got sued. It was made in 1971 or 1972. It was one of the first alternative TV puppetry shows but clearly a rip-off. Very campy.

    What is BLT?

    I also wanted to add that there's this religious video series called Adam's World. And the puppet looks like a Snowth.

    I've seen a clip of The Great Space Coaster. There's a newsman or host character that kind of looks like a cross between a Fraggle, Snowth and The Muppet Show newsman right?
  4. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    Yes, mostly as a creative consultant, but I believe Cerf also wrote a number of the songs as well.

    That's the problem with puppetry as a whole... it's not like animation or cartooning, where it's easier to develop your own style or anything, puppetry is rather limited in style, and as such, no matter how hard you may try, your work is going to look like it was derived from someone else's work, and in most cases, almost all film and television puppets are going to resemble the Muppets in some way or another.

    I'm not so sure the Letter People count as an SST rip-off, they weren't a television series to begin with, it was a classroom program for kindergarteners, that was later adapted into a TV series... and yes, most of those religious programs use pretty pitiful looking puppets anyway.

    BTL is Between the Lions.
  5. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member


    That's how I feel. I think I probably was the one to bring it up. it's not that Wimzy is a bad program, just a clumsily executed one. I agree that there were others in the style of Henson puppets, from bigger budget main stream projects like Puzzle Place, to smaller indie works like the Letter People one just mentioned... they must have really found it an inferior project for them to sue that particular show over so many others.

    But then again, all puppets are Muppets, just like all animated movies are made by Disney and no one else ever in the history of animated film. :rolleyes: So there's bound to be that reason.
  6. mupcollector1

    mupcollector1 Well-Known Member

    I think the main issue when it comes to puppets looking like Muppets is when it's build with simular material like fleese over foam and or neon colors. And there's so many different ways to build TV / Film puppets using several carved foam technics and latex foam. Take a look at Mr. Meaty / Apollo's Pad (Mature Adult puppetry) which was made by The Grogs of Canada I believe. Yes it is usually easier to just draw it out but it depends on animation. If it's 2D hand drawn most of the time it's drawing the same design over and over and over again, and flashmation (if that's an offical term or something I linked together I don't know lol) Stuff like 2DTV, Webcartoons and most low budget shows like the 2nd season of Johnny Test and stuff, and even South Park to a point (they are more complex now a days), would build a library of drawings like flat sculptures in a library of various heads and it's animated using flash cut-out puppet (term used in animation, not to be confused with puppetry) or digital puppet where it can be munipulated using digital bones and it's in the mater of draging the arm with the mouse or computer pen. I've done stuff like that myself, and with Anime Studio you can do it almost in real time like a digital rod puppet. But anyway (before I go off subject), the puppet (puppetry puppet) is a sculpture doll and what I really admired about Jim Henson is he combined cartoons and the traditional artform of puppetry to a new format. Bob Clampett was doing something similar but Jim took it to the next level. But like I mentioned about sculpture, it's third demention and it's filmed in real time. Personally if the puppet was sculpted either using latex molding technics, foam sculpting, something to sculpt but have material flexable enough and confortable enough for the hand inside.

    But yeah, I was going to mention Between the Lions. I really liked that show. I think the main reason I watched it because I'm an Anthony Asbury fan. He's one of my favorite puppeteers ever. Yertle (similar voice) and The Grinch of Wubbulous World of Dr. Suess and many characters but mainly the voice of the hipster sunglasses wearing Pope on Spitting Image (also a Mature Adult program).

    I'm surprised Chris did songs for Wimzie, I always thought the songs on Wimzie were unbearable. lol When I think of a Chris Cerf song, I usally thing of something hip, catchy mellody, rock music and his trademark singing. Which reminds me, I'm surprised he did something to do with that Abby Kadaby song on the current Sesame. But don't get me wrong, I'm a HUGE Chris Cerf fan. I think he's the best singer ever, I'm trying to hunt down his one hit wonders from the 60s. I posted a few threads on that. lol

    But back to Wimzie, the puppeteers aren't doing the voices for the puppets right? they are dubbed isn't it? Because I noticed sometimes the puppet lip-sync would be off. lol Also to add, I was imitating that Cookie Monster eyed what's his name Horris?, while cleaning my home just to make myself laugh as usual. lol He always reminded me of Harold on Hey Arnold and a simular character on Auther (That anteater animated series based on the books, probably the same guy, not the Hey Arnold character who sounded more like an imitated early Cartman from South Park. lol It's been so long since I seen these PBS shows. I'm digging back in my memory with these voices and whatnot. lol)
  7. mupcollector1

    mupcollector1 Well-Known Member

    Just watched an episode online, they had one of the characters pick up a hamonica that was on the ground outside and putting back in their mouth, no problem. lol Then a character who is fasinated by dirt, and the youngest looking in the garbage can because she thinks a fish ran away. The episode is the characters throwing junk in a fish tank and the Grandmother taking the fish away from them and they basicly feel guilty for breaking their promise of taking care of a pet. I was cracking up in complete dis-belief, I can't believe this is in an educational show for kids.
  8. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    Well, the educational message there is that pets need care, obviously, you have to feed it, clean out it's living area, among other things.

    And there's been a number of kiddie shows where characters put stuff back in their mouths, Arthur is a chronic offender of that: Arthur's put an old sucker in his mouth after it was under a couch cushion (and collected dust and hair), Buster's eaten ice cream that he dropped on the floor, among other occasions.
  9. mupcollector1

    mupcollector1 Well-Known Member

    I haven't seen Arthur in awhile. I remember they did an episode spoofing South Park and Beavis & Butt-head, amazing how they got away with spoofing adult animation in a children's show animated program. lol

    I remember watching Wimzie's House and Growling Marsh when it was on PBS, it's cool to see shows that use puppets but I much prefer adult puppetry myself like Greg the Bunny, Spitting Image, Crank Yankers (certain calls), Team America, Meet The Feebles.

    I've noticed a pattern in how in the early 1990s, there was tons of puppet educational shows for kids that came from Canada and basically all the puppeteers got their start working on Fraggle Rock. So it kind of seemed like a lot of the shows were inspired by Fraggle Rock because Fraggle Rock was aimed at kids but it was one of those shows that thought life lessons and harmony. Though I find Fraggle Rock way more creative because the show had several universes and cultures. The Fraggles were playful, the Doozers were very serious, The Gorgs were self-centered and kind of distructive if they seen a Fraggle, the life of Doc and Sproket either Doc made an invention that failed or had an argument with his unseen friends. What was one of them he keep talking about, Ned or something like that and there was a Mailman. Something like that. So it was like there was several show universes and they slowly got into harmony as the show progressed. Plus the characters were very creative. Gobo was an adventuring enthusiastic character and quite a logical thinker, Wembley was very spontaneous yet not so self-secure by himself most of the time, very panicky. Mokey was more of the artistic emotional calm one, Red was basicly the Tomboy of the group, and Boober was very serious and kind of a worry wart. Like The Muppet Show Muppets and some of the original Sesame Muppets, the characters had their own disfunctional personality that clashed with one another but they seemed to always work things through. And I love that aspect in Jim's work, how the characters were funny and disfunctional but managed to put them in a situation where they end up arguing then getting along afterwords. Kind of like life itself I suppose. :)

    Though the other shows like I mention seemed to lack something, and perhaps that's probably why I find some of this stuff campy funny. But that's just my opinion.


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