A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
“Meet the Fraggles”
In many ways, “Fraggle Rock” remains the redheaded (well, sometimes yellow- or purple-haired) stepchild to “The Muppets” and “Sesame Street,” ubiquitous and enduring franchises inhabited by similarly colorful critters dreamed up by puppet pioneer Jim Henson.
“Fraggle Rock” aired on HBO from 1983-87, so even among people who grew up in that era, your childhood exposure to the musical population of Henson’s underground civilization largely depends on whether your family had cable at that time. My husband’s family did and mine didn’t, so he views the quirky Fraggles with a nostalgic fondness that I can’t hope to achieve since they weren’t part of my formative years.
For fervent fans of the show, a 21-DVD “Fraggle Rock: 30th Anniversary Collection” box set recently debuted on the same day as “Meet the Fraggles,” a single-disc six-episode collection that makes a fine entry into the tunefully entertaining puppet series, even without the benefit of bonus materials like making-of featurettes or behind-the-scenes interviews.
“Meet the Fraggles” starts with the series’ first episode, which introduces the Fraggles, a carefree Muppet-like species that lives by the credo “Dance your cares away/worries for another day,” which happens to be the opening line of the show’s catchy theme song. The other residents of their underground realm include the tiny industrious Doozers (an impressive puppeteering feat for that pre-CGI era), the giant bullying Gorgs and a sentient wisdom-dispensing trash heap named Marjory. (Yes, you read that correctly. It is quite a trippy experience watching a garbage oracle deliver sage advice for a Muppety critter with neon-hued hair. It was the ’80s).
In the opening episode, the intrepid Traveling Matt follows a tunnel that leads into Outer Space, AKA the human world, via a hole through the basement workshop of aspiring inventor Doc (Gerard Parkes) and his expressive puppet dog Sprocket.
While Traveling Matt explores the human world, which involves close encounters with sheep, drive-in movies and ice cream cones, he shares his experiences with the other Fraggles via postcards his mild-mannered nephew Gobo picks up in Doc’s shop. Gobo and his circle of friends emerge as the main characters of the series, and the other five “Meet the Fraggles” episodes each focuses on level-headed Gobo or one of his four pals: the hyperactive and bossy Red, the dreamy hippie-dippy Mokey, the helpful self-described wimp Wembley; and the deliberately dour and boring Boober.
With its kaleidoscopic characters, well-crafted rock songs and gently delivered life lessons, the Fraggles still appeal to youngsters, especially those like my 6 ½-year-old and almost 3-year-old, who already have met the Muppets.