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STUDIO: Jim Henson Company
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 596 minutes
* Let the Music Play featurette
* Directing the Fraggles featurette
* The Inner Gorg: Interviews with performers inside the costumes
* Designing the Puppets: Interviews with puppetmakers
* You Cannot Leave the Magic: Last day of Shooting
* Celebrating Fraggle Rock: Excerpts from wrap party
* Dance Your Cares Away: Evolution of Fraggle Rock Theme Song
Dance your cares away,
Worry’s for another day.
Let the music play,
Down at Fraggle Rock!
Puppeteers – Jerry Nelson, Kathryn Mullen, Steve Whitmire, Dave Goelz, Karen Prell
Jim Henson’s epically weird and equally brilliant puppet show about a subterranean world with an intricate system of symbiotic relationships among different races of creatures. That’s the dry nutshell. For some juice, I’ll quote the late Henson himself: “It is a high-energy, raucous musical romp. It’s a lot of silliness. It’s wonderful.”
Like most kids of the 80’s, I loved all things Jim Henson, but for me Fraggle Rock stood out from the rest. Probably because it was so… elusive. As one of HBO’s very first original programs, I was not able to watch Fraggle Rock in my woefully cableless home. But Dayton’s furniture store in Edina, Minnesota had a kid’s section where parents (like my mother) could dump their greasy-fingered-furniture-destroying kids (like me) while they shopped. And I loved it. My mom says I used to beg her to go furniture browsing. Why? Cause aside from having a totally tits hot-chocolate machine, they also had VHS tapes of Fraggle Rock. The point to this window into my weird furniture store loving childhood is that in the end I couldn’t have seen very many episodes total, yet the power of the show’s imagination was so strong that lo these decades later, my memories of the show are vivid enough that it’s as though I never stopped watching.
Thank God the show didn’t premiere during the Limp Bizkit craze, otherwise we might have gotten Fraggle Rap-Rock.
For those in the dark: the titular Fraggle Rock is a cavernous underground ecosystem, so named by its primary inhabitants, the Fraggles. Fraggles are about a foot and half tall and are peacefully hedonistic creatures. They love music, lazing, playing and eating the constructions of the Doozers, gnome-like and hard hat wearing creatures who are the polar opposite of the Fraggles. The Doozers love to work. In fact, they like that the Fraggles eat their structures, as it allows them to just keep building more. Our main Fraggles are Gobo (the every Fraggle) and his friends Mokey (the flaky artist), Wembley (the goofy one), Boober (the neurotic mess) and Red (the lesbian?).
Then there are the giant Gorgs – a king, a queen, and a prince – who believe they rule over the entire universe. They view the Fraggles as rodent-like pests, but the Fraggles frequently enter the Gorgs’ property to speak with Marjory the Trash Heap, a living pile of garbage who offers guidance and wisdom to the Fraggles. This whole crazy world exists under the floorboards of Doc, an elderly human handyman-wannabe-inventor, and his dog Sprocket. Sprocket routinely spots Fraggles and tries to alert Doc, but the old man always narrowly misses seeing them. Uncle Traveling Matt is one of the show’s more entertaining reoccurring characters. Gobo’s uncle, Traveling Matt is an explorer of our world, which the Fraggles refer to as “Outer Space.” Matt sends Gobo postcards, which Gobo must bravely retrieve from Doc’s workshop, telling of Matt’s daring adventures studying humans; aka “silly creatures.”
That’s a pretty flavorless breakdown, but it’s a nutty shows to try and sum up.
To those who have never seen the show I really can’t say enough about it. It has all the wit, music and madness of The Muppet Show, with the added prudence and humanity parents want from good children’s programming. Make no mistake – this is a children’s show. Straight up. Adults coming to it for the first time now will likely lose interest after an episode or two. It’s not as kiddie as Sesame Street, but it’s certainly not as all-audience refined as the Muppet films. It contains the kind of “message” storylines about working together and self-esteem that inevitably seem hokey to jaded sacks like us now. But for nostalgic fans of the series, or more importantly, parents looking for something quality for their wee ones, this is a must have (as are the other seasons).
Part of what makes Fraggle Rock stand out from other kids shows of its era is its philosophy, which is decidedly hippie but (fear not Republicans) not in an obnoxious or propaganda way. Frankly I assume most parents will appreciate the allegorical message of the show: everything and everyone in the world is interconnected. Cause that’s true. What’s interesting is that the show isn’t dealing with literal allegory. The Fraggles aren’t “us” and the Doozers aren’t the Native Americans or any crap like that. Doc is a human. Fraggles are Fraggles. Gorgs are Gorgs. The show is simply dealing in ideas, often somewhat abstract. A running theme in the show is how all the denizens of Fraggle Rock are totally unaware of the roles they play in each others lives (such as the discovery that the Doozers need the Gorgs’ radishes to make their structures, which the Fraggles need for food).
Of course the show isn’t just hippie spiritual parables. The episodes tackle all the good themes, from being okay admitting you’re afraid of things (“Uncle Matt’s Discovery”), to repression (“Sidebottom Blues”), to bigotry (“A Tune for Two”). Fraggles got a lot of issues, yo. Tru.
The show’s easiest to overlook brilliance is its music. Each episode of Fraggle Rock has two to three new songs in that characteristic Henson-rock style written by Philip Balsam (music) and Dennis Lee (lyrics). Astonishingly the songs all range from decent to good. This is an element I appreciate a lot more as an adult, now that I’m fully aware of how hard it is to churn out that much material and maintain any level of quality. Especially after several seasons.
What makes this final season so interesting, special and unique is just how final it in fact is. It’s highly unusual for a kids show to have a definitive ending (especially back then), as that makes it less appealing for syndication where episodes are generally shown randomly out of order. Jim Henson was wholeheartedly against a definitive ending for this exact reason. But the writers eventually wore him down and he agreed to let them wrap up the series in three fantastic episodes: “The Gorg Who Would Be King” “The Honk of Honks” and “Change of Address.”
“The Gorg Who Would Be King” wraps up the Gorgs storyline in a neat bow. In it we are introduced to the Nirvana Tree, which determines the reign of King of the Universe. When the last leaf has fallen off the tree, it’s time for a new king. When Junior Gorg discovers that there is now only one leaf left, he panics. He doesn’t want to be king! Being the clod that he is, he figures if he pulls the leaf off himself then it can never actually “fall off.” Then he decides to eat the leaf to destroy the evidence. The magic in the leaf shrinks him down to the size of the Fraggles. When the King spots Junior, he mistakes Junior for a Fraggle, forcing Junior to flee for his life. Fortunately Wembley takes Junior in and Junior learns that the Fraggles are people just like him. Once he’s returned to full size, and becomes King himself, he declares that Gorgs are now friends to all Fraggles. What a progressive ruler!
“The Honk of Honks” sets into motion the final events of the show. Doc gets a sad phone call from his one and only friend, Ned Shimmelfinnie. Ailing, Ned must move to Arizona and Doc must make the tough decision if he and Sprocket should move too. The episode also features Cantus (Jim Henson), a reoccurring traveling minstrel, who shows up to lead all of Fraggle Rock in “the song of songs.” Each Fraggle plays a part. Gobo’s part is to blow the “honk of honks,” and it is up to Gobo to figure out how to build his horn. The major revelation of this episode is that Doc, who for 5 seasons has always JUST missed seeing the Fraggles, in fact can’t see the Fraggles at all. They are invisible to him. The climax of the episode is Doc finally getting a look at Gobo, and Gobo finally figuring out how to honk that damn honk. What will happen next?!
“Change of Address” is the triumphant swan song to the series. Doc has made the decision to move to Arizona, and when Gobo returns to see him, Doc invites Gobo to come with. Gobo is tempted to go. Like his uncle, Traveling Matt, he too could be a bold explorer of “Outer Space.” But Doc also informs Gobo that Arizona is far away. Gobo might never be able to return to Fraggle Rock. Torn, Gobo consults the Trash Heap, who basically lays out the entire thematic scope of the show – interconnectivety and all. She tells Gobo to tell Doc that he “can’t leave the magic.” Gobo races to tell Doc, but it’s too late. Doc and Sprocket have left. All is lost! Then in what is possibly the most surreal moment on this entire surreal series, Doc and Sprocket arrive in their new Arizona apartment, which looks more alien than anything we’ve seen before. It’s a sad moment, seeing Doc and Sprocket trying to make the most of things. Then Sprocket starts sniffing at a box against the wall. When Doc moves it out of the way, they find a hole almost identical to the one that used to lead to Fraggle Rock! Of course, it turns out this one does too. What the Trash Heap meant wasn’t that Doc musn’t leave the magic, but that he literally can’t. It will follow him. Everything is connected! So the show ends on a happy note, with all the Fraggles partying to the theme song in Doc’s new digs.
While I personally prefer multi-disc sets that give a slim case to each disc (like Futurama), this set is still easy enough to manage and none of the discs seem in danger of popping out and knocking around inside the case. The presentation isn’t stellar. The show’s picture has the ruddy look of 80’s BBC (though it WAS produced in England; maybe this is as good as it gets), and I would’ve liked a little booklet with brief plot summaries for each episode. But the set more than makes up for those minor flaws with a wealth of amazing docs on the bonus features. “The Inner Gorg” is an interview with the three puppeteers inside the Gorg costumes that fills you in on the Henson casting process and how the suits worked. “Celebrating Fraggle Rock” is video from the show’s wrap party, containing the bizarre and oddly touching site of the Fraggle puppets thanking the crew (oh, puppeteers). “Directing The Fraggles” is a series of interesting interviews with the shows various British directors talking about working with puppets for the first time and their creative approaches. And by far the most fascinating feature is “Let the Music Play,” which talks about the process of writing the show’s music and the creation of the famous theme song (it includes numerous rejected versions, some of which are very different in style).
The show gets a solid 8 from me and the bonus features a big Henson nerd 10. So for the set…