Sunday, May 24, 2020

Jim Henson Buys Disney? So Crazy It COULD'VE HAPPENED

There's a new scenario on the alternate history forum called "A Hippie In The House of Mouse (Jim Henson at Disney, 1980)." The thread's creator Geekhis Khan made the argument that Disney in the early 1980s was in such bad shape that none other than Jim Henson, made wealthy by the success of the Muppets, could have potentially bought out the company if he wanted.

Preposterous you say? The mighty Disney bought up by a shaggy hippie and some singing puppets? Not really. The author posted a lengthy bibliography that includes a lot of history of Disney, biographies of Henson himself, etc. to show that it could've been done if it was handled carefully by Henson and in this case some more grounded Hollywood allies to handle the less-than-straightforward things (shell companies, company politics) Henson might not be comfortable with. This is also the period where Disney is at its weakest, with Walt dead and the company stagnating under his unimaginative, bean-counting successors.

(This is when Don Bluth left Disney to create The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, and The Land Before Time. Here's one interview I did with Bluth and Gary Goldman that goes deep into the history there and here's another.)

Disney's situation got so bad, especially after the failure of The Black Cauldron, that it was subject to a "corporate raid" that could have sold the company for parts. It was defeated and new management brought in that revived the company, but it shows how bad of shape they were in despite their appearance of great power and wealth.

Although the scenario is still in its early stages, there's a lot of potential for serious changes to some very well-known properties:

*The Black Cauldron might not have bombed so badly. As was discussed in the Myopia podcast episode about it, TBC throws together bits and bobs of several books in the Chronicles of Prydain fantasy series and it comes out a mess. Several people in the thread were convinced Henson could save the project, although something not involving puppets might be a bit out of his wheelhouse.

*Something really interesting is what might happen with The Dark Crystal, which at one point got shelved due to some corporate mergers and skeptical money-types. To get it released Henson had to buy it from the new owners and release it with his own money. With Disney's resources behind it hopefully it'll be something more lively than our history's version--we did a Myopia podcast episode on that one too and although it was beautiful, it was very dull. And hopefully more successful too. The Netflix show Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is set in the same world and is very fun and entertaining. Disney was capable of producing darker fare in this period (see The Black Hole), so it's possible this could be the return of the old magic.

*Hopefully nothing bad will happen to Labyrinth, which was a pretty good film as-is. Maybe with Disney behind it, the film could be even better, but things could also be worse, or at least different. At least we could have Sarah (hopefully still played by Connelly) as a Disney Princess. And ye gods, Jareth as a Disney Prince.

(Also we did a Myopia podcast episode on that one too.)

*Henson apparently had a vision for making puppetry a lot more than something for little-little kids. And puppetry can be used to that effect--The Dark Crystal, especially once you factor in Age of Resistance and hopefully sequels, is something like the Lord of the Rings. And the original Pumpkinhead shows just how scary puppets can be.

I'm definitely looking forward to more. So to paraphrase Epic Rap Battles of History, let's hop on Walt's steamboat with a puppet-loving hippie at the helm and see where it takes us.

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