Netflix's new Dark Crystal prequel series draws on the essence of the original film but carves out its own place as a modern children's classic, writes David Skipwith.
Almost 40 years after the original Dark Crystal film, a brilliant new Netflix prequel series breathes life into Jim Henson's work to thrill long-time fans and win over a whole new audience.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance returns to the world of Thra, with 10 episodes fleshing out a new story that reveals how three Gelflings uncover the horrifying secret behind the Skeksis' power and embark on an epic journey to spark rebellion and fight to save their world.
A star-studded cast including Taron Egerton, Helena Bonham Carter, Lena Headey, Mark Hamill, and Bill Hader, give voice to the Gelfling, Skeksis and Mystics characters, while Sigourney Weaver narrates the story.
For Henson's daughter, Lisa, chief executive and president of The Jim Henson Company, seeing the project successfully expand upon her dad's legacy while remaining faithful to his original conceptual vision is beyond rewarding.
"It's so satisfying it's almost overwhelming, because we had a dream to see this happen and it's come out so well," Henson says.
"Creatively we're so proud of it. Seldom does something happen where the result meets your dream of it, so we feel that satisfied by the whole creative production."
Take that as reassurance, loyal fans of the 1982 Dark Crystal movie - this series draws on the essence of the original film but carves out its own place as a modern children's classic.
The end result comes after various ideas were considered for a follow-up, but Henson explains her late father, the puppet mastermind behind the creation of The Muppets, Fraggle Rock and Labyrinth, never intended on revisiting the project.
"My father just didn't have any plan to do a second Dark Crystal," she says.
"It's something that we as a family and company took up later. I started working on it in the early 2000s.
"I first contemplated doing a sequel film and then we contemplated doing a prequel animated series.
"We developed both of those and ended up combining the two, with Netflix doing the creative concept for the animated series but with the director, Louis Leterrier (Clash of the Titans, The Incredible Hulk), who was attached to the sequel film.
"So it was a bit complex but if it were not for Netflix it wouldn't have happened at all. We've been waiting and so eager to do more Dark Crystal for so many years and Netflix made it happen and we're incredibly grateful for that."
What makes this new series so satisfyingly authentic is the fact it uses much of the same puppetry and visual effects techniques to ensure the series' production values match that of the original film.
Henson lauds the work of Brian Froud, the 72-year-old conceptual and costume designer, his wife, Wendy – best known for creating Star Wars' Yoda – and their son Toby (who made his screen debut as the baby in Labyrinth), for keeping the spirit of the original film alive.
"We loved working with the whole Froud family because Brian designed and worked so closely with my father on creating the world of the Dark Crystal.
"He met his wife, Wendy, on the movie, and she was the woman who was sculpting the Gelfling heads. Their son, who is a talented sculptor in his own right, joined the team and became the design supervisor.
"And it was fantastic to work with them as a team. They have a very unique look and design sensibility and if we had hired people to copy it, it might have looked similar but it wouldn't have the great original gestures and special things that Brian brought to it."
However, fresh eyes within the writing team of Jeffrey Addiss, Will Matthews, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, also helped to ensure the new story embraced all that made the original tale so compelling.
Addiss and Matthews initially interviewed looking to pitch their idea for a Labyrinth sequel, but being huge fans of The Dark Crystal, they were easily swayed.
"They were actually very knowledgeable about all of the Henson properties and because we were in the middle of our planning and thinking about Dark Crystal, we just steered the conversation toward that," Henson explains.
"It works well for new viewers, [because] the writers worked hard to create these new protagonists that are easy to relate to, and to bring you into the world, and you see the world through their eyes."
Like the film, the series is dark and confronting in ways that many contemporary children's stories often avoid. In particular, the conniving Skeksis are extremely gross.
But Henson is comfortable that viewers won't be scared away and feels satisfied that it will resonate with fans young and old.
"We made the show for a family audience and we feel confident that kids will be able to watch it and parents will feel okay about their kids watching it.
"This has darkness but the darkness is there because the stakes are dangerous and real for the characters. You know we're not trying to shock or terrorise people."
What: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
When: Available now on Netflix