Brian Henson resisted the fantasy. He never let himself imagine Kermit the Frog pummeling Micky Mouse. Yes, he was angry with Walt Disney Co. His father, Muppet creator Jim Henson, had agreed in 1990 to sell his firm to Disney. But after Jim died unexpectedly of pneumonia that year at the age of 53, the deal fell apart. Brian, chosen by his four siblings to take over Henson Productions, sued Disney. Disney countersued. "There was such a dark cloud over our relationship with them," Henson says. He survived the ordeal by recalling his dad's philosophy. "He didn't believe in holding grudges. That inspired me to make peace." Now, having settled with Disney, Henson Productions remains a thriving family business with this week's release of Muppet Treasure Island. "We're such a vengeance-driven culture," he says. "We're taught to get even, get justice. That can become your purpose in life. But that wasn't my father's way." "I remember when I was 8 or 9, someone stole my father's camera and wallet from the trunk of his car [in a New York garage]. He just said, 'I guess they need it more than I do.' He closed the trunk; we drove home. He never mentioned it again. Someone else would have been angry for days. But it didn't cause my dad to stumble for a second." Henson spect his entire childhood in the Muppet workshop. He expended his imagination watching his dad create characters that America came to love. In his 20s, Brian was a top Henson puppeteer. Now, at 32, he leads the company by following his father's ideals. His dad felt holding a grudge hardens people. "Often, things happen that harden you bit by bit. A woman walks out on you. That hardens you to women. Your accountant steals your money, so your hardened to accountants. You have to let stuff blow off you, so your life can move on in a possitive way." "Draw what lessons you can from being wronged, without bitterness," he says. "My father did. He stopped leaving cameras in his trunk when he parked in New York."
MORE ADVICE FROM HENSON
Empower children: "When kids watch a movie that they don't quite understand, they get more intrigued. Don't assume things are over kids' heads. Don't talk down to them or simplify stuff. Treat kids with respect and you empower them."
Value Differences: "My dad's message was that we should respect other for how they're different from us, not hos they're similar. He appreciated eccentrics and dreamers. That's what his characters are."
Make your own name: "Working at you father's company, you get some respect because you're the son. That can make you insecure because you don't know how honest it is. So you've got to leave the company for a while. If you develop your own reputation, you develop self-respect. I was gone from age 19 to 22."
Open your mind to the new voice of Kermit (formerly voiced by Jim Henson): "Look beyond the voice. Open your mind and you'll see Kermit is still the same. His heart is still the same."
Don't bash Barney: "Barney [not a Henson creation] is a purely supportive, nurturing character. That makes him socially unacceptable. You wouldn't want to bring him to a party. But our society [is] too intense for young kids. They need Barney. Leave Barney alone."