STUDIO: Jim Henson Company
RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 74 minutes
- Animated episode “Wembley and the Bemble”
- The Ballad of Sir Blunderbrain sing-along
- Animal Show with Stinky & Jake episode “Tarantula & Mole”
A trio of “scary” episodes from beloved Jim Henson series Fraggle Rock
Starring Michael Laskin, Patricia Parris, Rob Paulsen, directed by Al Kouzel and Bob Kirk
For those who don’t know, Fraggle Rock is a children’s show created by Jim Henson, about a race of colorful humanoid Muppet creatures that live in caves. They’re a fun loving bunch that sing and play and go on adventures. Their elaborate system of tunnels opens up into two different worlds: on one end, the real world, with an eccentric old man and his dog whose antics mirror the theme of each episode. On the other end is a fantasy world inhabited by giant rotund hillbilly creatures known as Grogs and a sentient trash heap that serves as an oracle/sage to the Fraggles. It’s a strange show, full of Henson’s trademark imagination, wit, and puppeteering artistry. This DVD collects three episodes in which Fraggles face their fears in spooky situations.
Reviewing this DVD was a pretty significant nostalgia trip for me. I loved Fraggle Rock when I was a kid; I watched it religiously and had a couple plush toy Fraggles and everything. So watching it again for the first time in years was a nice walk down memory lane. But I was careful to separate my sense of nostalgia from looking at the episodes objectively as a reviewer. The nostalgic part of me is relieved that the critical side of me still sees a great show.
The thing in the middle looks like it escaped from the box art for Hausu
But with one caveat. Fraggle Rock holds up very well as a kids show, but an adult revisiting it in the hope of something akin to The Muppet Show may be slightly disappointed. I see Fraggle Rock more as a stepping-stone between Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. It’s subtler, more nuanced and allegorical about teaching lessons than the former, but still has a distinctly childlike sensibility that separates it from the all-ages appeal of the latter. I only chuckled a few times, and got the moral of each story right from the beginning, but I’m not the target audience. Kids should still eat this show up, and learn from it – it’s refreshingly not heavy-handed for a children’s show and presents its messages subtly through situations kids understand and relate to, with ample imagination and silliness. It gets children, it gets what they like, how they think and act, and it doesn’t condescend to them. That’s a lot more than can be said about a lot of kids entertainment.
The show’s idea of “scary” is a clear indicator of its intended age group. The first episode, Scared Silly, features the gang scaring each other with a series of pranks and learning not to hold grudges or seek revenge. In The Terrible Tunnel the Fraggles succumb to superstition and eventually overcome their fear of a local legend about a spooky tunnel. Finally, The Dark and Stormy Night is about adventurous Gobo spending the night in the Gorgs’ castle, and the ultimate message is that there’s nothing to fear but fear itself. In fact that’s sort of the message of all three episodes, more about teaching kids to be brave than trying to scare them; so even for younger viewers this is fun-spooky stuff, not fodder for kindertrauma. Worthy Halloween viewing for wee ones but tame for everyone else.
Phyllis Diller: the only actor to portray a Fraggle without the use of a Muppet
With only the hazy memory of the rest of the series to go on right now, I can’t say if these are exemplary episodes, but they’re about on par with each other. In fact, maybe a bit too samey. The first two in particular, as they both lean heavily on the perpetually anxious Fraggle Wembley going around being scared of everything then learning to face his fear. A Dark and Stormy Night changes things up by focusing on the braver Gobo, throwing the Gorgs into the mix, and shifting the setting from the Fraggles’ caves to a classic spooky old house. Scared Silly is probably the strongest of the three since it includes most of the show’s trademark elements and a good, relatable message for kids.
The fact that it’s three episodes plucked from different points in the show’s four season run may be the biggest drawback, though I may also be selling kids short by saying that. I wouldn’t choose this as an introduction to the show, but children have a pretty high tolerance for randomness. The Halloween season appropriateness might trump familiarity with the characters and setting. Even a little kid can figure that stuff out from context. If the Halloween connection is the best way for you to introduce your children to this classic series, go for it. Talent and imagination like Jim Henson had don’t come around often, so his work deserves to be shared with new generations.
I’m just gonna throw this out there: somewhere on the internet there’s probably Fraggle Rock slashfic. Good luck scrubbing that awful thought out of your brain!
There’s a sing-along version of the folkloric “The Ballad of Sir Blunderbrain” song from The Terrible Tunnel. We all know kids love sing-alongs. There’s the dubious inclusion of an episode of lesser Jim Henson creation The Animal Show, which is like a Muppet-ized TV show version of the venerable Zoobooks. It seems to be thrown in here because it includes a segment about tarantulas – which are scary! – but it doesn’t add much, even for kids. Finally there’s an episode of the short-lived 1987 animated version of Fraggle Rock, another “Wembley is scared” story. The animated series really underlines how great Muppets are in design and performance, because you really lose something without the texture and feel of the live action version.