The Smithsonian is having a Muppets exhibit.
I went on the very first day.
(Of course, it conveniently opened on a Saturday and I was coincidentally looking for something to do that was free. I'm not that big of a dork, okay???)
The Muppets exhibit was so freaking awesome. The Muppets themselves weren't the draw, unfortunately. Sure, a Kermit behind glass is pretty fun to look at, but thanks to toy stores and the like, we've all seen a Kermit before. The one at the Smithsonian doesn't even have the qualification of being the "real" Kermit, because there's, like, 600 of them.
Nope. The real draw is the multimedia. Old, unsanitized Muppet footage from back in the days when, as Jim Henson himself put it, "We always ended our skits with someone getting eaten or someone getting blown up." (Can't source the quote -- it was from the exhibit itself so there's no hyperlink.)
It almost makes me wish I had been around in the early 1960s, to see things like Henson's series of commercials featuring two Kermit-esque Muppets who talk about the various merits of Wilkins Coffee and then, true to form, blow each other up. (Youtube footage is here.)
It was also fascinating to see how the Muppets were animated. I knew, of course, that the puppeteer was hidden behind the brick wall or trash can or ship deck or windowsill or whatever filled the lower half of the television screen, but I always assumed that the brick wall started at floor level and the puppeteer was sitting or crouching.
Not at all. When Muppets are filmed, the puppeteers stand, and the entire Muppet world (brick wall, background, etc.) is mounted up in the air. The puppeteers hold the Muppets above their heads and manipulate them while staring down at video monitors. (Hard to explain, so the Youtube is here. It's about a minute in.)
The exhibit was, in truth, two exhibits: one for little kids and one for nostalgic Gen-Xers. (In other words, the "pre-Elmo and post-Elmo" years.) The gift shop was similarly divided, with the vintage metal lunchboxes, of course, intended for the adults.
And it was interesting to learn that, even though the Muppets I grew up with have now been determined to be "no longer appropriate for children," there was an even earlier generation of Muppets that were even more violent and creepy, and an even older generation of fans.
They're showing a (free) double-feature of Dark Crystal and Labyrinth next week. Labyrinth is a favorite movie from my very young days (it has puzzles! and logic! it's a movie for dorks!), but somehow I've grown up without ever seeing Dark Crystal. So... looks like I have plans for next weekend!