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STUDIO: Lions Gate
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
Old school muppets tackle environmentalism.
Jim Henson and his merry band of puppeteers.
Jim Henson Production treats us with four shows illustrating the delicate balance between man and nature. Pollution, deforestation, and wildlife conservation are all topics handled with a child’s attention span and comprehension level in mind. Along with Song of the Cloud Forest the DVD also includes an environmentally themed episode of Fraggle Rock and two episodes of The Animal Show.
The Budweiser frogs in their natural habitat, before being seduce by the lure of Western culture.
As an expectant father I find myself suddenly concerned with what passes for children’s programming these days. Yes, I’ve heard of Dora the Explorer and I’m already getting the Baby Einstein stuff rammed down my throat, but just like everyone else that’s ever been alive I can’t help but feel like the stuff I grew up on is better than the stuff out there today. Lucky for us we live in a brand new era. A new age where every comic book ever published will be re-released in trade paperback and every TV show ever aired will be re-released on DVD. The Song Cloud of the Forest (and Other Earth Stories) rehashes some of Jim Henson’s classic work from the late 80’s, and manages to try and teach the youngin’s a thing or two about saving the planet.
The disc’s title attraction is the half hour stand alone program The Song of the Cloud Forest. Originally part of The Jim Henson Hour, this self contained story chronicles to journey of Milton (one of the last golden frogs) as he searches for a prospective mate. In usual Henson fashion the program is stocked full of colorful characters and settings. The rainforest theme allows for some really vibrant visuals, and there’s some pretty early green screen work going on here that, while doesn’t always come across so hot, is at least technically impressive for it’s time.
In true Jim Henson fashion The Song of the Cloud Forest has some really dark and strange moments. It’s easy to forget the dude that did Sesame Street is also responsible for Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Some of that stuff seems downright horrific when compared to today’s children’s programming, but honestly as a child I can remember it being the only type of stuff that held my interest. That, along with the story’s overall environmental message of protecting nature and wildlife, is what makes this a winner for kids. Then again that’s assuming you want your kids to turn out like we did.
While seeing humans portrayed a Easter Island headed creatures eating trees may be disturbing to some kids, it serves as an excellent primer for an appreciation of Fishbone.
The Fraggle Rock episode is pretty standard fare if you’re familiar with the series. There’s two tunes, one sounds like it was recorded by Tusk era Fleetwood Mac, the other is a toss away. In this episode Doc allows the limestone caves the Fraggles inhabit to be used as storage for chemical waste. This wreaks habit with their fragile ecosystem and poisons the water supply. It’s up to Boober to travel into ‘Outer Space’ and convince Doc to cease contaminating their environment. Of course he succeeds, but not until overcoming fear and taking responsibility for the lives of his friends. It’s a great little message that one Fraggle can make a difference, even in the face of a monumental task and impossible odds.
The two Animal Show segments at first seemed kinda disposable, just filler to pad the disc’s running time, but they actually turn out to have some of the best bits and are also very educational. Animal Show combines muppets and live footage of specific animals in their natural habitat, giving kids the skinny on owls, frogs, bats, wild pigs(!) and kangaroo’s. It’s like Animal Planet with dancing bears and musical numbers. If your kids are fascinated animals in the
wild this might be right up their alley.
The Song of the Cloud Forest comes with the subtitle “A Wondrous Celebration of Planet Earth”. As a disc of collected material aiming to introduce kids to the basic concepts of environmental conservation it’s a success. There’s no mention of global warming, and any and all political aspects of the issue are completely side stepped. As a kid I can remember one specific animated Sesame Street segment where a young boy was brushing his teeth at a bathroom sink. Just outside the bathroom window was a lake full of fishes, and as the boy let the faucet run the lake grew smaller and smaller until all the fishes were cramped in right on top of one another. As simple as that one that 30 second segment was it had a profound effect on me and is stuck with me to this very day. I’m no eco-terrorist but I understand the wastefulness of leaving water faucet’s running unchecked. Let us never underestimate the power of well made children’s programming.
I’m convinced these guys are from Blue Island.
Outside of a pair of trailers for non-Henson related animated features the disc is pretty bare. It does come with the option to pop the disc in and let it play through all four shows back to back though, giving it a continuous 100 minute running time.
9.0 out of 10