It’s a TV special nearly 50 years in the making. Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow, premiering Nov. 21 on Lifetime, is based on characters originally created by Henson and Jerry Juhl back in 1968 — but the story of their Thanksgiving journey was discovered only recently by Henson’s daughter, Lisa Henson.
“The project was just sort of buried in the file cabinets,” says director Kirk Thatcher, who had previously worked with both Henson and Juhl on various projects, including Muppet Treasure Island. “These were two mentors who have sadly passed on, so it was a real gift to work with them again in a time machine sort of way. I feel like they’re helping from beyond. It was a blessed little project.”
The film, which follows a family on the hunt for a Bigfoot-like creature, stars Mary Steenburgen (as an eccentric aunt, of course), Jay Harrington, and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, but the real scene-stealers are the fuzzy critters the family meets along the way, brought to life by a dedicated team of puppeteers who really went the extra mile for the project.
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“We actually buried them underground,” says Thatcher. “We dug a pit and put six puppeteers in there, covered it with planks and then covered it with dirt. People thought we did it with remote control, but nope, we actually buried them.” His commitment to making the creatures of Turkey Hollow look as realistic as possible is reflective of his — and the team’s — love of puppetry, especially as the film industry shifts away from computer-generated imagery. “CG can be too easy,” Thatcher says. “Everything looks great, and for something like Pacific Rim, it’s the only way. But with something like Turkey Hollow, you want to hug these creatures — and we want that to come through. The first day Mary was shooting with us, she sat down and just started to cry a happy cry, they brought her so much joy.”
Check out an exclusive teaser of the holiday special below.