Brow Beat

Did You See This? Jim Henson’s 1963 Short About Robots

Still of the Robot in Jim Henson’s Robot.

Six years before he lent his hands to Sesame Street and thirteen years before The Muppet Show, Jim Henson made the short film Robot, embedded below. AT&T uploaded Robot earlier this week, and explained that the lost film had been made only for business seminars, but to my eyes it’s a buried classic.

As Open Culture pointed out, Henson’s shorts at the time—including Ripples (1967) and the Oscar-nominated Time Piece (1965), both of which are also on YouTube—were often artsier than his later Muppet fare, but Robot has something for everyone. I’m struck not only by the robot’s campy resemblance to the tin-can creations of movies like Forbidden Planet, but also by its hilariously open disdain for humans, which reminds me above all of Flight of the Conchords’ much more recent “The Humans Are Dead.”

The short tells an archetypal man and machine story. Still, it’s unexpected to see a robot imagined in 1963 not just as a possible weapon of war or spaceship pilot but as a means for “digesting vast oceans of information.” Of course, Henson also finds room in the machine’s address for robot burps and silly noises—something I think both telecom men and audiences today can agree on.