Muppet exhibit at Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago

The gist: Jim Henson’s Fantastic World at MSI is terrific for all ages – sentimental and interesting for adults, and engaging and funny for little kids. To walk through the exhibit was to walk through my childhood and best of all, I could share those memories in a very concrete way with my three sons.

Runs through: Jan. 23, 2011

I don’t know who was more excited about the new exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, me or my kids. I grew up with Jim Henson’s fabulous creations, from Sesame Street, to The Muppet Show, and even five years of Fraggle Rock. To walk through the exhibit was to walk through my childhood. Best of all, I could share those memories in a very concrete way with my three sons.

The exhibit begins with Henson’s sketches and personal history. His fantastic world included a close-knit family who encouraged his love of arts and television. My sons loved the blown up pictures of Henson’s early years, especially one of him playing snake-charmer. I was surprised to find he got his start in commercial advertising, but the power of his creative genius came through even then. Kids and adults chuckled as early Muppets sold fabric softener.

The exhibit is not all watching and reading. Several interactive stations engage children (of all ages). We all enjoyed creating storyboards on magnetic erase boards. After viewing Henson’s sketches of potential puppets, kids can create their own characters on felt walls. MSI wisely includes Chicago-centered sports jerseys into the mix, a popular option for ages 8 and up.

Right next door, visitors can create their own shows with a wealth of puppets, props and backdrops. A constant video feed displays the “shows” to the audience as well as the performers behind the scene. Every half-hour a docent organizes a barely scripted show with child volunteers and audience participation. My sons liked it so much, we participated twice.

Don’t miss the Jim Henson Soundstage. This short film gives a great overview of Henson’s career with key songs and scenes that many generations will find familiar. I found myself getting emotional listening to Henson discuss the joys of Sesame Street while clips are shown.

Jim Henson’s Fantastic World is on exhibit through January 23, 2011. This exhibit is not included in Museum general admission and requires an additional timed-entry ticket, which is for adults and seniors and for children 3-11.

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