Judge Jim Thomas would go to Fraggle Rock, but he doesn't like radishes.
Our reviews of Fraggle Rock: The Complete First Season (published November 9th, 2005), Fraggle Rock: A Merry Fraggle Holiday (published November 16th, 2009), Fraggle Rock: Scared Silly (published September 19th, 2010), Fraggle Rock: The Animated Series: The Complete Series (published January 21st, 2010), Fraggle Rock: The Complete Final Season (published November 9th, 2009), and Fraggle Rock: The Complete Series Collection (published November 19th, 2008) are also available.
Chase your cares away
In 1983, Jim Henson followed up the Emmy Award-winning classic The Muppet Show with Fraggle Rock, a children's show of exceptional sensitivity and sophistication. Henson, setting more ambitious goals, eschewed placing the characters in a controlled environment such as a theater; instead, Henson created a complete ecosystem to serve as an allegory to the human world.
The Fraggles live in caves called Fraggle Rock—caves filled with all manner of creatures. Fraggles spend their lives, playing, exploring, and generally enjoying themselves. One exit from the Rock leads to the workshop of a human inventor, Doc (Gerry Parkes). One of the Fraggles, Travelling Matt, uses this exit to travel throughout the human world (or, as the Fraggles call it, "outer space"), sending postcards to his nephew Gobo. "Travelling Matt" is nice in-joke, referring to the "travelling matte" process used to show Matt moving around in the human world.
The Fraggles share the caves with, among others, the Doozers. Standing only six inches (Fraggles are eighteen inches tall), Doozers are dedicated to work and industry, spending their time constructing a system of scaffolding throughout Fraggle Rock. Only the Doozers themselves seem to understand the actual purpose of their intricate structures, made from a radish-based candy-like substance that Fraggles love to munch. No worries, though; the Doozers want the Fraggles to eat their constructions because "architecture's supposed to be enjoyed," and also to clear areas so they can build again.
A second exit from Fraggle Rock—through a well—leads to the world of a small family of Gorgs, giant furry critters standing twenty-two feet tall. The husband and wife of the family consider themselves the King and Queen of the Universe, with their son Junior as its prince and heir, but they seem to be simple farmers, with a rudimentary house and garden. The Gorgs regard Fraggles as pests, as they steal radishes from the garden. So, the three main groups of the Fraggle Rock universe—Fraggles, Doozers, and Gorgs—are all dependent on the radishes for different reasons. Beyond the garden is the mysterious oracle known as Marjory the Trash Heap; on occasion, the Fraggles will risk going through the Gorg's garden to seek Marjory's advice.
The disc, Fraggle Rock: Wembley's Egg Surprise, has three episodes:
• "Wembley's Egg": Wembley feels he has no purpose, but when an egg falls out of a nest and into the Fraggle Pond, Wembley decides to care for the egg until it hatches, despite everyone else giving him a hard time. When the egg does hatch, the tree creature that emerges thinks Wembley's its mother; Wembley decides to be the "mama" until the creature causes some problems in the Rock, forcing Wembley to make a difficult choice.
• "The Great Radish Famine": Marjory the Trash Heap hides all the radishes from the Gorg's garden in an attempt to get the Fraggles, Gorgs, and Doozers to cooperate. The plan backfires, leaving all three sides blaming each other. Can Marjory convince them all that they need each other in order to survive?
Theme: Acceptance, understanding
• "The Finger of Light": When the Finger of Light shines upon Mokey to be Ruler, she has to decide what her three commands should be, and when her first two commands come out unexpectedly, she ponders on what she can do for the betterment of the Rock.
Theme: Putting too much emphasis on silly things
Henson himself described the show as "a high-energy, raucous musical romp. It's a lot of silliness. It's wonderful." That pretty much covers it, particularly the last two words. Getting a glimpse of the show's richness in just three episodes, though, is a tall order, but these three episodes do a good job, full of heart, infectious energy, and characters with whom you can truly empathize. Consider the "Wembley's Egg" episode. The whole "one animal hatches another animal's egg; wackiness ensues" storyline had been run into the ground long ago (you could probably fill a DVD or two with just the Looney Tunes variants on the theme). Instead of just repeating the same visual gags, Henson takes the usual storyline and adds unexpected warmth, so that Wembley's struggles echo the struggles of parenting—but in a way that a child can understand. There's real love, real sacrifice, and real joy.
Lionsgate serves up a decent set of extras. An episode of the animated Fraggle Rock is entertaining, but lacks the heart of the original series. Two sing-a-longs, "Catch a Tail by the Tiger" display the Henson gang's knack for catchy songs. Finally, there's a clip from Jim Henson's Animal Show with Stinky and Jake, a show that aired from 1994 to 1997, first on Fox, and then with a final season on Animal Planet. The show was set as a talk show, with polar bear Jake and his sidekick skunk Stinky. In each episode, they interview a couple of animals, who talk about themselves and their species, using clips of live animals to illustrate. The clip just has the first half of an episode, featuring an interview with a chimpanzee. What's there is pretty neat, but it's annoying to have the episode just cut off halfway through. Surely they could have fit ten more minutes on the disc.
Jim Henson considered Fraggle Rock his finest achievement. Watching this disc, it's hard to argue the point. After one viewing, my four-year-old already knows the names of some of the main Fraggles ("Can I watch Gobo, Daddy?"), making me seriously consider picking up the complete series, or at least a full season.
P.S. A Fraggle Rock film is due out in 2011.
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