HIT Entertainment // 1983 // 715 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // November 9th, 2005
Down at Fraggle Rock! (Clap! Clap!)
From the brain of Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets, comes Fraggle Rock, a creativity-driven concept show marketed to a global marketplace with the idyllic and lofty aspirations of stopping all war on Earth. No, seriously, I kid you not. Designed as an alternative to the difficulties in adapting Sesame Street to an international audience, Fraggle Rock was to unite all under its euphoric message of friendship, compassion, understanding, and tolerance, airing across the planet with only minor cultural alterations.
Ninety-six episodes and five seasons later, unfortunately, war still exists between men, but not for the lack of trying on behalf of the Fraggles. Now on DVD for the first time in complete form, Fraggle Rock: Complete First Season becomes available for an entirely new generation of children; it's a show that preaches harmony between all beings, regardless of species, creed, or beliefs. How can you not get behind that?
Deep underground lies Fraggle Rock, a magical land of ponds, caves, and vibrant creatures known as Fraggles, who play all day, dance their cares away, and live as vivaciously as possible. They coexist with a small industrious race known as Doozers, who are the polar opposites of the carefree Fraggles; they are obsessed with endless construction jobs and work, building elaborate architecture out of radish candy, which the Fraggles take great pleasure in eating.
The Fraggles rarely venture far from their idyllic paradise, occasionally venturing into the garden to visit the all-seeing Trash Heap, and to harvest radishes from the Gorgs gardens, careful to avoid these giant ogre-like creatures. But one Fraggle in particular, the stoic Gobo, gets the traveling bug after hearing about his uncle's adventures. Traveling Uncle Matt has ventured into "outer space" (e.g., the human world) and sends postcards back periodically about his findings about the "silly people" who inhabit the strange land. Gobo and his friends -- the sensitive Mokey, the exuberant Red, the fretful Boober and the neurotic Wembley -- must venture into the outside world, which leads them to an abandoned workshop being revitalized by an eccentric professor and his trusty dog to retrieve Uncle Matt's correspondences.
All 24 episodes are included in this DVD set:
* "Wembley and the Gorgs"
* "Let the Water Run"
* "You Can't Do That Without A Hat"
* "The 30-Minute Work Week"
* "The Preachification of Convincing John"
* "I Want To Be You"
* "The Terrible Tunnel"
* "The Lost Treasure of the Fraggles"
* "Don't Cry Over Spilt Milk"
* "Catch the Tail by the Tiger"
* "The Finger of Light"
* "We Love you Wembley"
* "The Challenge"
* "I Don't Care"
* "Capture the Moon"
* "The Minstrels"
* "The Great Radish Famine"
* "The Garden Plot"
* "Gobo's Discovery"
* "Mokey's Funeral"
* "The Beast of Bluerock"
* "New Trash Heap in Town"
For anyone old enough to have grown up watching, the opening bars of the Fraggle Rock theme song are as instantly comforting as a warm blanket fresh from the dryer, a musical trip back to a time when things were simplistic, harmonious, and full of delicious radishes to eat. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing such shows finally arrive on DVD, preserved for future generations to enjoy. If ever there was a children's show that bordered on the timeless, Fraggle Rock could be it. It is as instantly comforting and entertaining as it was 20 years ago.
It is also of great significance to note that Jim Henson himself often commented that Fraggle Rock was his finest achievement; not in the sense of puppeteering, but simply in creating something meaningful and important. As mentioned earlier, the show was designed with international distribution in mind, a singular vision of harmony that all children, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, could enjoy, a show designed to tackle the notion of war between people. In each market, the "human" sequences were re-shot to reflect the nationality of the country in question (in France, the hole to Fraggle Rock was in a bakery; in the UK, it was in a lighthouse.) But always, the core Fraggle footage remained the same, emphasizing co-existence between all beings, regardless of differences in race or action.
It is elating to watch a children's show so inherently innocent, well-meaning and forthright with positivism, for the pure sake of contributing something good to the world. Long before the Mouse got its hands on the Frog, Jim Henson's name used to signify something important, something meaningful in the world of children's entertainment, before words like "cross-marketing" and "product tie-ins" became the norm in children's programming. This is not to say that children's shows today are products of ill motivation, or that Fraggle Rock was not guilty of hocking cheesy merchandise; simply that, back in the day, shows like Fraggle Rock genuinely were meant to make the world a better place, with few ulterior motives. We need more of that kind of thing today.
Jim Henson had such a marvelous talent for creating characters that were inherently loveable and appealing to children of all ages, yet managing to convey important, relevant, and mature lessons of life. Watching Fraggle Rock again, after so many years, just makes me miss him all the more. Despite the carefree and joyous attitude of the Fraggles in all things, it is always emphasized that one's actions affect those around us, and we must always take care to respect others. But above all else, despite our differences, the world would be a boring and lonely place without the diversity of race and culture around us. What better lesson can a child learn today?
I hadn't seen an episode of the Rock in many, many years, so revisiting the show was quite an experience. I immediately realized two things. First, I was amazed at how incredibly clever Henson and company were in creating the endless camera tricks, blue screens, animatronics, remote controls, and puppeteering chicanery to create a seamless illusion of independent and free-moving Fraggles, Doozers, and the like, with technology 20 years old. The second thing I realized is how hilariously bad it all looks 20 years later. Okay, just kidding. While the effects have not exactly held up the test of time, admittedly, one can still appreciate the incredible cleverness that went into the illusion, especially the use of radio-controlled devices and early animatronics. It is the little touches, like the wind-up Doozers that walk behind on a bridge in the background, or Wembley rolling his ping-pong ball eyes comically during a bit of dialogue that made the show so magical back in the day.
Musical numbers are disturbingly plentiful in Fraggle Rock, each episode featuring numerous songs ranging from rock, pop, evangelical, calypso, and ragtime to literally everything in between. Luckily, the songs are charming and clever; otherwise, watching the show would be an onerous affair, since they occur so very frequently. The episodes are presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, which is more than sufficient. The music is clean and well-defined, and bass response is reasonable, especially in the opening throbs of the theme song. Hard to tell if the original source is mono or stereo, as the channels sound fairly identical to my ears, but either way, it sounds just fine. Dialogue occasionally distorts during sudden bursts of excitement, but this is very infrequent, and no doubt a result of the recording fidelity used to capture the show back in the day.
Speaking of fidelity, the video presentation is a bit more complicated. Recorded on analog video, Fraggle Rock survives the transition to DVD with the benefits of video, almost no print damage or defects, but unfortunately comes bundled with all the problems associated with television-grade video in the early 1980s...terrible chromatic aberrations and flares (especially on the Doozer architecture), murky color palates, streaks of colors (especially reds), and a soft detail level. Given the source material, the show looks quite good; but the problem is, the show never looked that good to begin with. Expect nothing even remotely approaching reference quality for this one. Very disappointing.
Discussing packaging is normally reserved for other DVD sites, but it bears a mention here with Fraggle Rock: Complete First Season. I have never seen a packaging design so inherently stupid, yet so handsome at the same time. Similar to the first season of Six Feet Under, the box unfolds itself like a book, the joints held together with cardboard that bend ominously with the slightest movement. It's hard to imagine this packaging holding together on the long term. Still, the design is pleasing on the eye; it makes up for its inherent flaws with its strengths. Each plastic "page," double-sided with episode synopsis for each disc, folds out cleanly, and the coup de grace comes in the form of a postcard stock reproduction of Jim Henson's original notebook, accurately reproduced. The decision to make this an actual paper reproduction, rather than simply scan the pages in as digital features, is a novel and appealing one...nice to have some tactile interaction now and again.
In addition to the notebook, a 50-minute "behind-the-scenes" documentary narrated by Jim Henson takes the viewer onto the set of Fraggle Rock, introducing us to the cast and crew who bring the show to life, systematically spoiling the illusion with jaw-dropping effect. Each puppet is exposed in great detail, with detailed explanations on how each is brought to life, from the simplest of hand puppets to the most complex of full-size animatronics. An absolute treasure from some forgotten vault, the documentary is as old as the show and worth the price of admission alone in its detail and retro charm (star wipes, anyone?). But, man, I miss Jim Henson, especially when his regular speaking voice takes on a particularly Kermit-y tone. The final extra, an all-new set of interviews with surviving cast and crew members sitting down in roundtable forum discussing various aspects of the show, runs well over an hour and a half, each subject divided into chapters selectable via menu (with a handy "play all" feature).
Overall, not a bad set of extras for a children's show...between the notebook and the two documentaries, virtually every aspect of the show, from its early origins to its final execution, is covered in detail by two-and-a-half hours of extra material. What more can you ask for?
The only real problem with Fraggle Rock is that everyone who watches it is a Communist sympathizer. That's right, pinko! This kind of Socalist propaganda might have flown in 1983 during the Cold War, but not today, mister! We have standards today, and -- Wait, where are you going? Come back here, I'm not finished.
What's the matter, don't believe me? As with The Smurfs, the working underclass of Fraggle Rock, the Doozers, slaved endlessly for the benefit of the ruling elite, working day and night for no pay, only to have the Fraggles destroy the fruits of their endless labors for no reason other than boredom, bourgeoisie excess, and an elitist sense of self-importance. The Fraggle bourgeoisie are terrorized by the Gorg "father," a manifestation of the Russian Czar and his family, imposing their stern Socialist manifesto on...on...
Sorry, I had a coughing fit there. Umm...yeah. I myself welcome our new Gorg socialist overlords...
A playful and simplistic show with surprising depth and meaning, Fraggle Rock is at heart an allegory of human social and racial interaction the kind only Jim Henson and company can create, played out with fuzzy Fraggles, Doozers, and all manner of wondrous creatures. As varied and diverse as the real world, the characters conflict with one another down at Fraggle Rock, inhabiting the same space, occasionally challenging their differences but always celebrating their sameness. The show is a microcosm of a multicultural world, a metaphor for young minds to strengthen notions of friendship, co-operation, harmony, and diversity, and, above all else, learning to love that which is different from you. Awwww.
Long overdue on DVD, Hit Entertainment has done a marvelous job with Fraggle Rock: Complete First Season, a show equal parts nostalgia and wholesome entertainment. It would have been nice to see the video quality better, but alas, one cannot go back in time and replace analog video with high-definition cameras. Once my Wayback machine shows up from eBay, though...
All I can say is, if I had children, I would be introducing them to Fraggle Rock as early as possible. Preferably at birth. In the hospital delivery room, if they had a TV set. And what better seal of approval can you place on a children's show?
Oh, man, did I just have way too much fun typing up that Socialist manifesto. Holy moley.
Dance your cares away. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2005 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: HIT Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 715 Minutes
Release Year: 1983
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Exclusive New Interview with Cast and Crew
* "Behind The Scenes" Documentary narrated by Jim Henson
* Jim Henson's Original Notepad Replica
* Fraggle Rocker: The Unofficial Fraggle Rock Site