Before there were the Muppets we know and love today, there was Alexander — the little grape who longed to be a watermelon.
The little piece of fruit is the subject of a cut-paper animated short made by the late muppeteer Jim Henson that was recently unearthed by the Jim Henson Company. Alexander, the puniest grape of them all, works hard to become as big as a watermelon so he can defeat his bully. The unfinished cartoon subs in storyboard stills from Henson’s Red Book, his hand-written journal of ideas.
See the film after the jump.
The film gives us a glimpse at Henson’s early inspiration. And it demonstrates how far cut-paper and cut-felt animation, which have been enjoying a revival lately, have come. It’s a labor-intensive art requiring hundreds of shapes for just a few minutes of footage. For Spike Jonze and Olympia Le-Tan’s recent felt cutout film, “To Die By Your Side,” the pair used more than 3,000 felt figurines.
Though much of the early cutout animation featured 2-d cutouts against a flat backdrop, contemporary animators have experimented with 3-d paper figures, using computers to assist. “The Seed,” by Johnny Kelly, and “My Paper Mind,” by Javan Ivey, are two examples — and their themes are analogous to Henson’s strong little grape.