There was always more — much more — to Jim Henson and his merry band of puppeteers than the Muppets and Sesame Street. In 1979, the children's entertainment icon founded Jim Henson's Creature Shop, the visual effects company responsible for some of the most famous critters to grace the big and small screen over the past 40 years.
You can see the Creature Shop's latest creations in movie theaters this weekend with the release of Five Nights at Freddy's, in which the animatronic pizza joint inhabitants from the popular video game franchise came to live action life courtesy of the Henson wizards. And Freddy Fazbear and his pals are all the more impressive when you remember that they're real. Throughout its history, the Creature Shop has emphasized practical puppets and costumes with little to no digital assists.
"We wanted the characters to be game accurate," Freddy's director Emma Tammi tells Yahoo Entertainment, praising the Creature Shop for a "fantastic" collaboration. "They used all their artistry and skill to make these things able to movie through space and feel tactile, detailed and expression-filled. It was a huge job in terms of the build and the actual puppeteering."
That huge job yielded a huge reward for FNaF fans. And it's definitely not the first time that the Creature Shop's artistry has dazzled viewers. Here are our picks for the best creations to emerge from one of the best visual effects companies around.
Not the momma! This early ’90s TV show made prehistory come alive for a generation of kids, and the Creature Shop's super-sized dinosaur suits are the key to its success. In fact, the Sinclair family of giant reptiles are arguably more memorable than the photorealistic CGI dinos seen in 1993's Jurassic Park. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment in 2016, Leif Tilden — who played teen son, Robbie — recalled the seemingly cumbersome costumes being very "actor-friendly" and a unique collaboration between performer and puppeteers. "I was one of a group of people who played Robbie," Tilden emphasized. "I don’t stake a claim that this is my work — it's our work."
Dinosaurs is currently streaming on Disney+.
4. Where the Wild Things Are
Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's immortal children's book perhaps suffers from being a bit too emo for its own good at times. But the Wild Things themselves are marvels of Creature Shop craftsmanship, with their terrible teeth, eyes and claws all faithfully replicated. And when the Wild Rumpus starts — complete with Wild Things careening through the air — it's hard not to skip your dinner and watch them play.
Move over Star Trek — with Farscape, the Creature Shop reached the final frontier of alien creature design. From Hynerian rulers to Leviathan pilots, the four-season series featured some exceptional intergalactic species. Unfortunately, the cost of those creations ran up the show's budget and ate into the production schedule — perhaps contributing to its too-early demise. But Farscape still lives on in the hearts and minds of fans, not to mention their descendants.
Farscape is currently streaming on Prime Video and Tubi.
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie famously made audiences believe that a man could fly. Well, Steven Barron's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made audiences believe that humanoid bipedal turtles could fight like ninjas. If the TMNT cartoon series was part of your Saturday morning diet back in the day, it's hard to overstate just how much your mind was blown to see the Creature Shop-made versions of Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Donatello on the big screen.
And the performers really suffered for our youthful enjoyment. Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment in 2021, martial arts star Ernie Reyes Jr. — who wore a turtle suit in the first movie before playing a human character in the Vanilla Ice-infused sequel, The Secret of the Ooze — remembered an exceptionally sweaty shoot. "We were in North Carolina, where it was 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity. And I was in a giant latex turtle costume! It was kind of like what happens when you put a Nerf ball in water."
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is currently streaming on Paramount+.
1. The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth
Don't ask me to pick between these formative ’80s viewing experiences. If I'm being honest, The Dark Crystal probably has a slight edge for the amount of labor it took the Creature Shop artisans to make and operate the Skeksis alone. But Labyrinth is filled with characters that loomed large in my childhood, from hulking Ludo to spirited Sir Didymus. Sorry, Jareth — I have the power... to choose both.
The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth are both streaming on Philo and Sling TV.