There are few visionaries quite like Jim Henson. For every genius you can name that changed the world of pop culture, few can confidently say they did it with actual magic. What Henson and Co. are able to do with just felt, their hands and a rod can only be referred to as magic. There’s no other word for it. They make you believe those puppets, excuse me, Muppets, are living, breathing things. Ventriloquism is the closest art form to Henson’s signature brand of hand puppetry and not a single person has ever been tricked into thinking a ventriloquist’s dummy is alive. It’s a trick only Henson and those inspired by him can pull off. Even as far back as 1957 with his coffee advertisements starring Wilkins and Wotkins (who didn’t make the cut), he showed he could put anything on his hand and make you believe it was real. These fifty characters (not including The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth) are the greatest examples of his magic.
These are the 50 Greatest Muppets.
30. Mahna Mahna | The Ed Sullivan Show (1969)
“Mahna Mahna! do doooo dododo. Mahna Mahna! do dodo do!” … Dooooooooooo I really have to say anything else about this character? This has to be one of the catchiest two-note songs to have ever been produced and once you hear it, you can’t help but sing along! Yeah, good luck getting that out of your head for the rest of the day.
29. Crazy Harry | The Muppets Valentine Show (1974)
Crazy Harry only has one schtick; blowing things up. That’s really all there is to say about him as he mainly appears whenever an explosion need to occur, whether planned of by his own admission. He doesn’t really appear all that much because it’s difficult to naturally work into a script having many things needing to explode for the sake of them exploding.
28. Red Fraggle | Fraggle Rock (1983)
Red Fraggle is a Muppet I feel personally connected to. Why? She’s competitive! She’s also insecure and cynical, which hello, she might as well be me in Muppet form. I, however, do not have red hair, nor do I know how to play rock hockey. However, Red Fraggle is energetic and loves to tease while never being malicious about it. She’s a take-charge kind of gal and if it’s possible to have a Muppet as a role model, then Red Fraggle is that Muppet. Step aside Miss Piggy… Red Fraggle may be the Muppets’ greatest feminist. “Who needs a prince? I can rescue me!” Dang right, you can!
27. Dr. Bunsen Honeydew | The Muppet Show (1976)
Dr. Bunsen Honeydew isn’t a mad scientist in the sense that he doesn’t want to take over the world, nor does he want to get revenge on those colleagues who “couldn’t understand his genius!” No, he genuinely thinks all his inventions – from exploding clothes, to a banana sharpener, to insta-grow-pills – are all designed to be kinda awesome. Unfortunately for his assistant, Beaker, they often result in unintended consequences that leave Beaker somewhat worse for wear. (And really, what else was going to happen with exploding clothes?) I always loved that Dr. Honeydew (for his head is the size, shape and color of the same melon) has no eyes – glasses, sure, but he literally can’t see what he’s doing. It’s a great metaphor for scientists who might choose to ignore certain aspects of their work. I just can’t help but like the good doctor, though. He’s always happy and undeterred by his setbacks. We should all have that level of self-confidence.
26. Gorgon Heap | The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (1975)
Gorgon Heap, as Vincent Price once declared, is “”one of the world’s greatest eaters.” His entire modus operandi is to eat whatever Muppet he comes across, whether it be a one off supporting character or an A list host like Kermit. None are spared. I don’t know if he was born out of the puppeteers desire to watch Muppets get eaten (weird kinks aren’t exclusive to the internet, folks) or as an easy out for any sketch, either way, watching pop up out of no where and consume a Mullet whole is always satisfying.
25. The Doozers | Fraggle Rock (1983)
Of all of Jim Henson’s creations, Fraggle Rock seems to be the most underrated. Everyone loves Sesame Street (which he didn’t create but he had a strong hand in) and The Muppets and Dark Crystal and Labyrinth are cult classics, which puts Fraggle Rock somewhere in the middle. Everyone who watched it has fond memories of it and some even have its theme song in their playlists but there’s not a big enough fan base for Disney to even consider a reboot. Which is a shame because I think younger generations are missing out on the extreme cuteness that is The Doozers. They’re tiny little construction workers who are always building structures that the Fraggles proceed to eat. It’s the same relationship Tokyo has with Godzilla, except the Doozers aren’t actively trying to murder Godzilla. But could you imagine?
24. Lew Zealand | The Muppet Show (1978)
Lew Zealand has a very odd performance on The Muppet Show, which involves boomerang fish. He was only meant to have one appearance but the creators loved him so much, they decided to bring him back and he has appeared in every Muppets outing ever since.
23. Janice | The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (1975)
Janice is the lead guitarist of the Electric Mayhem. She is a bit of a valley girl as most of her dialogue includes the words “for sure” and “really”. The character was originally meant to be male as her lips being inspired by that of Mick Jagger, however, the idea was eventually scrapped. She was named after Janice Joplin.
22. Boober Fraggle | Fraggle Rock (1983)
Even though he looks like the hippest of cats, Boober Fraggle is actually the Eeyore of his friend group. Unlike other Fraggles, Boober does not like fun and games and spends most of his time worrying about doom and disease. When he’s not worrying about himself, he’s busy warning others about a variety of potential threats. He is easily frightened and suffers from a variety of phobias and takes solace in cooking and doing the laundry. As a kid, he’s an annoying fuddy duddy but as an adult, it’s refreshing to see a character who is clearly on the spectrum. Not every character has to be happy and full of adventure. Some can just be riddled with anxiety and have few hobbies. Like most twentysomethings are.
21. Sam the Eagle | The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (1975)
“You are all weirdos!” Ah, Sam. Self-important, stiff, moral to a fault (for his version of morals anyway) and a bit of a stick-in-the-mud. Being a bald eagle, the symbol of America and official national bird, has really done a number on the poor guy. He’s the perfect foil for the rest of the Muppets and their wackiness, finding even Kermit – arguably the most “normal” of all the Muppets – to be too “weird.” Somehow I never felt like Sam was a bad guy, despite his constant irritation with the rest of Muppetdom. He really did just love America that much. Even he, though, could understand when patriotism went too far. Also, he does a mean rap of the Gettysburg Address. “Does this film have socially redeeming value?” Maybe not, Sam, but if it has you then it’s worth watching.
Who are some of your favorite Muppets? Maybe they’ll show up later in the list!