Shrinkenstein and Beyond



Today, we return to more of Jim and Muppets, Inc.’s commercial work. All of them, as far as I can tell, are from 1967. The first is yet another Pak-Nit storytime, like the earlier Shrinkel and Stretchel and Rumple Wrinkle Shrinkel Stretchel Stiltzkin, however this time, rather than a fairy tale, Jim adapts and skews Mary Shelley’s classic horror tale, Frankenstein, into a fractured Pak-Nit fable called Shrinkenstein about a mad scientist–played by the apparently ever-popular Prime Minister muppet from Tales of the Tinkerdee–who creates an evil creature–played by the Muppet monster, Big V (who first devoured Kermit in the “Glow Worm” sketch)–who rampages across the countryside, causing clothes to shrink in the wash! And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for that meddling scientist, who “goes sane” just in time to create Pak-Nit, who defeats the evil creature, and joy rings out throughout the countryside! Huzzah! You can watch Shrinkenstein here.


Next up, we have yet another Wilson’s Meats presentation film, which directly references the previous one by having Scoop and Skip appear on screen in order to apologize for the atrocious behavior that Jim and his staff displayed while making the commercials the previous time around. This time, they promise, things will be much different. And so we see a much more sedate, serious-seeming Muppets, Inc., team striving to come up with a variety of new commercial options for Wilson’s Meats. None of them feature the Muppets, and each one is worse than the previous one! Each of them is a parody of a different style of commercial that other brands have done, including the following one which has a model frolicking in a nightgown on a desert hillside in order to seductively plug…bacon, of all things:



Another very amusing bit features a bedraggled Frank Oz being sent door to door to various suburban homes in order to do market research for the company to figure out exactly what people want from the product, but effectively destroying each house in the process of lugging his briefcases, film projectors, and projection screens to each place, knocking over vases and lamps, etc., and eventually returning back to the Wilson’s offices covered in bandages and casts from having been physically tossed out of the homes he ruined. And by the end of all this madness, Muppets, Inc., realizes that they really need to just go back to their original work model, and so they bring back the Muppets and the music and the girls and parties and presto! chango! They have another batch of great commercials! And interestingly, this time around, at least in the ad I saw, Scoop and Skip’s general attitudes are flipped. Here, Skip is the one who doesn’t eat Wilson’s, and Scoop is the one suggesting he should.


Again, great meta, great self-parody, and yet another example of how companies that allowed themselves to jump onto Jim’s wavelength were in for some really subversive and effective work that worked because it was intelligent and funny, and not in the way commercials are typically (uncoolly) “funny” but a way that seemed to understand that zany, anarchic comedy and selling products can work hand-in-hand as long as you trust the audience to be in on the joke.


Then, I watched an ad that Muppets, Inc., did for Southern Bell, which has the same basic set-up as the ones he did for C&P Telephone, with a sweet little girl suggesting another Muppet, the one here being Mack, use a certain phone company service or face dire consequences. You can watch the above Wilson’s Meats presentation and the Southern Bell ad within a longer compilation video located here.


This following one is more of a curiosity than anything else, being fully silent, but it’s interesting to see because it’s test footage that Jim shot for commercials for a Proctor & Gamble toothpaste called Gleem. The concept behind the commercials was again in the old Wilkins and Wontkins mode, but with two characters called Clyde and Horace, and this time around, the doubtful Horace would cheerfully convert to the positive stance by the end of the ad, although often due to having been forced to use it. And apparently, the Jim Henson Company historians today don’t even know whether or not these commercials ever aired!



The last ad for today is a spot filmed for Bufferin, which again shows off Jim’s artsier, short film side, being quite reminiscent of some of the more cerebral, abstract stuff he did both in Time Piece and with Limbo. In it, a man talks about the memories filling up his mind, which the ad goes on to illustrate through surreal imagery and quick cut shots depicting the inside of his brain just like the computer it is. He remembers a lovely day he spent with his wife and kids (the wife played by Jane, the kids by Jane and Jim’s actual children!) that was almost ruined by a splitting headache, but one which Bufferin was able to take care of so thoroughly, he later nearly forgot he had it in the first place–all of which is depicted with nifty camera tricks, editing, and music. Also, although the male actor on screen at the beginning and end clearly isn’t Jim, the man is actually lip syncing to Jim’s narration, which again underlines the Limbo connections.



And come back later today for two more of Jim’s short films, as well as a look at one of his more surprising ideas at the time: a psychedelic nightclub!


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