Lionsgate // 1983 // 596 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 9th, 2009
You can never leave the magic of Fraggle Rock!
Jim Henson is responsible for two genuinely iconic television milestones. The first is the still-running Sesame Street, an educational program geared at young children that gave us such memorable characters as Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Grover, and Bert and Ernie. The second is The Muppet Show, an all-ages variety show featuring a blend of puppets and big-name celebrity hosts that aired during the 1970s. It gave us the likes of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and Fozzie Bear. Henson's third major television outing was Fraggle Rock, which was just as worthy as its predecessors in many ways but simply never reached that remarkable level of success.
While Sesame Street was primarily about providing kids with education and The Muppet Show was about providing viewers of all ages with entertainment, Fraggle Rock falls somewhere in-between. It's a fun, sweet-natured program that offers a good deal of laughs and some very positive messages for kids. Adults may not find it as enjoyable as The Muppet Show, but it holds more rewards for older viewers than Sesame Street. It's certainly the most plot-driven of all three programs, focusing less on self-contained sketches (only the "Uncle Traveling Matt" sequences break up the ongoing storyline of each episode). In many ways, it's also the most consistently satisfying of the shows. Fraggle Rock was one of those rare programs that had almost everything right from the very beginning and never lost its way over the course of all four seasons. You'll find very little difference in quality between this final season and the first season. All of the program's attributes are still very much intact: great music, fun plotting, surprisingly complex issues addressed in an accessible manner and generally masterful puppetry.
The 24 fourth-season episodes are spread across four discs:
* Sidebottom's Blues
* Uncle Matt's Discovery
* Junior Faces the Music
* The Perfect Blue Rollie
* A Tune for Two
* Wembley's Flight
* Wonder Mountain
* Red's Blue Dragon
* Space Frog Follies
* Boober Gorg
* Mirror, Mirror
* The Riddle of Rhyming Rock
* The Voice Inside
* The Trial of Cotterpin Doozer
* The River of Life
* Beyond the Pond
* Gone But Not Forgotten
* Mokey, Then and Now
* Ring Around the Rock
* Inspector Red
* The Gorg Who Would Be King
* The Honk of Honks
* Change of Address
The status quo never really changed over the course of the show, and as such we find our characters in more or less the same place they began in. Our beloved Fraggles (cute little creatures who live underground in a magical world of wonder) Mokey, Boober, Red, Gobo, and Wembley continue to go about their carefree existence, attempting to avoid the dangerous grasp of the giant Gorgs and getting involved in all sorts of wild adventures. Most episodes manage to include at least one musical number, and every major character gets a chance to step into the spotlight. Much as I love the Fraggles themselves, my favorite episodes have always been those that focus on the goofy-yet-dangerous Junior Gorg and his desperate attempts to capture the little furry Fraggles. Junior is one of Henson's most entertaining creations, a bumbling bully so inept at being villainous that one can't possibly dislike him.
Though there weren't many ongoing plot threads over the course of the program, the final episode of the series does resolve some elements in a rather charming manner. Each episode is bookended by scenes of a human named Doc (Gerard Parks) and his dog Sprocket in the house that sits just above Fraggle Rock. In the last episode, Doc and Sprocket are moving away, and Doc is disappointed that he has never been able to speak to the elusive Gobo Fraggle. At long last, the two characters meet, and Gobo must determine whether to stay at home or travel with Doc to a mysterious place known as "the desert." It's a lovely episode, filled with appropriately melancholic musical numbers and a generally elegiac feel. Considering that many children's programs simply quit without warning, it's nice that this series gets a sense of closure.
Now, there's a bit of controversy surrounding the release of this set. A box set featuring the complete series was released in late 2008, but Fraggle Rock fans who had purchased the individual releases for seasons 1-3 were ticked off at the prospect of having to purchase the expensive box in order to get the final season of the series. I'm glad that Lionsgate is finally getting around to giving the fourth season its own individual release, but it seems like too little, too late. A whole year has passed since the release of the box set, and I'm sure that many fans of the show have already caved and bought the box in order to get the last 24 episodes. Still, those who haven't will undoubtedly be happy to have this set. It should be noted that the previous seasons were given rather lavish cardboard packaging, but this set is offered up in a rather ordinary, underwhelming plastic case inside a simple cardboard sleeve. On the other hand, with a retail price of only $30 (with most online retailers offering it for $20), you get what you pay for.
Just like the other seasons, the transfer for this season is quite disappointing. This looks very much like you would expect a television show from the '80s to look. It's too soft, too grimy, off-color at times and generally flat and underwhelming. Even so, not even a weak transfer can completely kill the joy and color of this program; certainly a testament to Henson's enthusiasm. The 2.0 audio is a bit better, offering generally clean and clear sound (particularly during the musical numbers).
Also just like the previous seasons, this one gets its own bonus disc loaded with goodies. "The Inner Gorg" (23 minutes) offers interviewers with the performers inside the Gorg costumes, "Designing the Puppets" (6 minutes) offers interviews with the puppet makers, and "Directing the Fraggles" (6 minutes) offers interviews with regular helmers Eric Till and George Bloomfield. "Season Four Overview" (26 minutes) is one of my favorite pieces, offering a look at some of the high points and memorable musical numbers of the final season. Jerry Juhl and the other writers talk about the importance of giving the series a sense of closure rather than just letting the show piddle out with standard episodes. It's surprising to learn that Henson initially opposed the idea due to his fears about how the final shows would play in syndication, but eventually caved to the requests of the writers. "Let the Music Play" (15 minutes) offers thoughts from Phil Balsam and Dennis Lee on the music of the show, while "Dance Your Cares Away" (10 minutes) focuses specifically on the creation of the theme song. Finally, "You Cannot Leave the Magic" (6 minutes) and "Celebrating Fraggle Rock" (15 minutes) offer footage from the final day of shooting and the wrap party, respectively. This is a terrific batch of supplements, informative and entertaining through and through.
Fraggle Rock is a wonderful program. If I have children of my own some day, I plan to make sure they get plenty of exposure to this show, because it remains a timeless, entertaining, rich experience that any youngster is sure to enjoy and because it's a program that finds a way to integrate positive lessons organically rather than awkwardly forcing them in. If you own the complete series, there's nothing new here, but if you don't yet own this season I certainly recommend it heartily.
Not guilty, though Lionsgate is reprimanded for failing to release this set
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 596 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated