Judge Erich Asperschlager sometimes asks his compost pile for advice.
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: Meet the Fraggles (published May 19th, 2013), 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: Wembley's Egg Surprise (published February 22nd, 2010) are also available.
"Dance your cares away,
Just in time for gift-giving, HIT Entertainment's massive box set release of the Fraggle Rock: Complete Series Collection is the perfect opportunity for fans old and new to visit Jim Henson's wacky universe of hippie Muppets, memorable music, and life lessons galore.
Facts of the Case
Through the hole in the wall of a workshop belonging to an inventor named Doc (Gerry Parkes) and his canine pal Sprocket (Steve Whitmire) is a maze of caves and tunnels leading to "the center of the universe"—a place called Fraggle Rock. Fraggles are peaceful creatures who love music, fun, and eating the intricate towers constructed by Doozers, a hardworking diminutive species whose one joy in life is to keep building towers. Beyond the caves of Fraggle Rock lies the world of hairy giants known as the Gorgs, the self-proclaimed rulers of the universe.
The series centers around a group of five Fraggle friends: goofball Wembley (Steve Whitmire), worry-wart Boober (Dave Goelz), the hyper-active Red (Karen Prell), the artistic Mokey (Kathy Mullen), and Gobo (Jerry Nelson), who ventures weekly into the workshop, which he calls "outer space," to collect postcards sent to him by his uncle. Travelling Matt (Dave Goelz). Their adventures often require them to leave the safety of Fraggle Rock and travel through the garden belonging to the Gorgs—Ma (Myra Fried and Cheryl Wagner), Pa (Jerry Nelson), and Junior (Richard Hunt)—to ask the advice of the oracle known as the Trash Heap (Jerry Nelson).
One of the defining moments of my childhood was getting cable in the mid-'80s. As psyched as I was to watch Nickelodeon and the six other channels that came with our package, what I really wanted was HBO. Not, as you might imagine, for all the age-inappropriate movies (though at some point I discovered that stacking exactly five dominoes under the cable box knob would unscramble premium channels—a story for another day), but because I was a die-hard Muppet fan and wanted to watch Fraggle Rock, HBO's first foray into original programming.
It's hard to imagine a modern kids' show sitting behind the same pay cable wall as an adult series like The Sopranos, but Fraggle fans should be glad it had the support of the fledgling movie channel. One of the smartest moves Henson and Co. made was convincing HBO and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to co-sponsor the production of the entire series. That perfect storm of financial security and creative autonomy allowed the best minds in youth entertainment to create perhaps the most unique children's television series of all time.
Even 25 years later, what stands out most about Fraggle Rock is its quality. There's nothing disposable about this show. The characters are endearing, the stories are engaging, and the music is phenomenal. Best of all, it never talks down to its audience.
Fraggle Rock's creators know full well that children are smarter than most kids' shows give them credit for, and they don't shy away from tackling heavy topics like racism, the environment, and death. Jim Henson went into the project because he wanted to make a show that could help end war. He believed that if children were taught to embrace other cultures instead of fear them, the world would be a better, more peaceful place. It's hard for many adults to imagine a TV show making that big of a difference, but maybe that's because they lack the innocence and imagination that made Henson so special to so many children.
Though Jim Henson was the driving force behind Fraggle Rock, credit for its success belongs mostly to the talented group of like-minded writers, performers, and mechanical wizards—many of whom worked on The Muppet Show—who brought it to life. Henson's faith in his associates allowed him to spend long stretches away from the show working on other projects, like the 1986 fantasy Labyrinth, returning now and then to play his signature Fraggle roles of Convincing John and the mystical minstrel Cantus.
Sitting down to watch Fraggle Rock after so many years, I'm struck by both the number of songs written for the series and their quality. When the search began for the right composer to fill the music-heavy show, most of the demos that poured in were of the typical upbeat "kids' show" variety, but one stood out to co-creator Jerry Juhl—a tape submitted by a poet named Dennis Lee and his amateur songwriting partner Phil Balsam. Lee and Balsam may be unfamiliar names to most Muppet fans, but without their music it's tough to know whether we'd be talking about Fraggle Rock today. Ranging from folk to rock to blues to pop, the 200-plus songs (by some counts) they wrote for the series are the opposite of what many adults think "children's music" should be—which makes them perfect for this show. In a youth television landscape dominated by Doodlebops and Wiggles, it's refreshing to hear songs that don't condescend, even if they were written more than two decades ago.
The 20 discs of the Fraggle Rock: Complete Series Collection include not only all 96 episodes, but enough extras to fill several Fraggle caves. The first 15 discs are reprints of the three already-released season sets, with the same menu animations and content—though they at least have new labels. Each season comes with a full disc of extras running between an hour and a half and nearly three hours. The fourth season episodes, available for the first time in this set, have their own jam-packed bonus disc, adding to the previously released extras for a total of more than eight hours of bonus material! Most of those extras are interviews with the cast, crew, and creators, covering everything from the origins of the series to the individual characters, stories, themes, technology, music, and how the show was changed to suit international audiences.
The new extras for season four include "The Inner Gorg," an interview with the dance-and-movement performers who brought the Gorgs' bodies to life; "Designing the Puppets;" a "Season Four Overview;" "Directing the Fraggles," featuring Eric Till and George Bloomfield; "Let the Music Play," which showcases songwriters Lee and Balsam; "Dance Your Cares Away," the story of how the theme song was written; "You Cannot Leave the Magic," footage from the last day of shooting; and "Celebrating Fraggle Rock," highlights from the series wrap party.
With so much bonus material, there's bound to be some repetition, especially considering three-quarters of this stuff was produced for other sets, and I doubt kids are going to want to sit through this much talking. Still, I can't think of a better way for adult fans to carry on the Fraggle fun once their children have gone to bed.
The full screen presentation looks pretty good for having been shot on video back in the '80s. The colors are oversaturated in places, and the green screen technology has come a long way since, but none of that should prevent anyone from enjoying the show. The Dolby 2.0 stereo track does a fine job of delivering Lee and Balsam's music and the Muppet performers' voice work. In the quiet places, there's an audible hiss, but. like the image quality. it doesn't detract from the experience.
Some people complained about the flimsy packaging for the single-season Fraggle Rock sets. The Complete Series Collection does a good job of addressing those concerns by balancing structural integrity with cool design. The discs are housed in a custom-made three-ring binder (which is held closed by a small magnet) fronted by the logo molded in 3-D plastic to look like it has been carved out of rock. The DVDs themselves are slid into pockets, two to a hole-punched cardboard sheet, with episode names and photos from the series. The interior of the binder is decorated with concept sketches, characters, and the theme song lyrics. The set also includes a folded map of the Fraggle universe, drawn by co-creator Michael Frith.
The only downside to this binder design is that the uneven shape (and possible fragility) of the molded plastic front means it's going to need more room on your DVD shelf, and extra care in handling it. If the plastic is worrisome, you can keep the binder in the box it came in, though it fits a little too tightly to be a good solution if you want easy access. Minor quibbles aside, HIT Entertainment gets points for trying to make this set look as special on the outside as it is on the inside.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you don't own any of the Fraggle Rock single seasons on DVD, this set is well worth the money. If you're one of the people who purchased those sets, however, it's a tougher sell—not because the fourth season is any less excellent than the previous three, but because the only way to get those last 24 episodes is to re-buy the first 72.
HIT Entertainment has said they have no plans to release the fourth season as a stand-alone set, and fans have every right to be furious about being forced to shell out big bucks to finish their collection. Without the support of these people, who knows if this complete set would have made it to store shelves. Here's hoping HIT and Lionsgate do the right thing and release a fourth season set.
Though Fraggle Rock's underlying message of peace and understanding comes from a place of sincerity on the part of its creators, the show makes no apologies about questioning authority or promoting a left-of-center worldview. I like the idea that kids might learn how to live in harmony with each other from fuzzy Muppets, but parents will have to decide for themselves whether the show's crunchier ideas are right for their kids.
I don't envy fans who already own the first three seasons of Fraggle Rock. If this Complete Series Collection were a dud, they might not care, but this is an impressive package adding up to just shy of two full days' worth of content. All I can suggest to those fans is that they consider gifting the old sets this Christmas and use that savings to get a little something for themselves. Those who haven't taken the Fraggle DVD plunge should buy this set with confidence, and share this magical show with a brand new generation. They need it as much as we did.
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