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Friday, May 19, 2017

Muppet Babies: Then & Now By Nicholas Napoli

When I was three years old I was obsessed with Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles and every Friday my Dad would rent me a VHS tape from a video rental shop which we would then return on Monday. One weekend my Dad accidentally brought home Muppet Babies: Raiders of The Lost Muppet confusing Kermit for a Ninja Turtle and I was pissed, I refused to watch it. In all honestly I can’t blame him for making this mistake, especially once I saw 
Kermit dressed up for Halloween.

Eventually by Sunday my Mom convinced me to watch the video and as soon as I did I was no longer interested in turtles. The next weekend I specifically asked for a Muppet Babies video and my Dad delivered and this time he brought me Muppets Babies: Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Dark, I was terrified. For years my Mom and me have argued over this, she claims I imaged all this but I remember when I was young every time I was being difficult when it came to bedtime my Mom would tell me if I didn’t go to sleep the monster from the Muppet Babies would come to my bedroom. 

I remember having Muppet baby nightmares where I would look out my bedroom window and coming down the steps and then slithering across the road towards my house was that giant green booger monster from that particular episode. Every time I mention this memory to my Mom she insists she never once said that and perhaps she didn’t or did she? Maybe I had also dreamt that part too, making my nightmare even more realistic, thank you Muppet Babies for helping me learn how to use my imagination for terror. This was a nightmare I had over twenty-five years ago on a regular basis and at that time I was so terrified that to this day I still remember those nightmares so clearly. Beaker was my hero for the longest time as he used his flashlight to defeat the slime monster in the actual episode.

The video rental store only carried four Muppet Babies videos at the time, which contained two episodes each. Since Muppet Babies didn’t air on any channels in my country at the time I was forced to watch the same eight episodes repeatedly for months. Eventually I was getting tired of the repeated viewings but my Mom remembers I instead only on Muppet Babies videos even if we had already rented it multiple times. One day my Mom brought home The Muppet Movie, I actually still remember her explaining to me that these were grown up versions of the Muppet Babies from a show she used to watch when she was little, it had Muppets in the title, so I was willing to give it a go. 

I was confused for so many reasons, People? Why were there real people in this grown up Muppets movie? Why did the Muppets not look like cartoons? Who were all these new characters? Who was this blue bird being rude at a grown up version of Kermit? Why did the man and his boomerang fish want to be in Kermit’s movie? Why wasn’t Skeeter in the theatre waiting to see the movie with the rest of the Muppets and in fact why was she not in the movie at all? Then came the biggest question of them all... are The Muppets actually real?

Since I was first introduced to The Muppets through Muppet Babies I always believed this production came first before anythingelse and wondered why they decided to exclude Skeeter once the Muppet grew up. I eventually realized Muppet Babies was a show created based on Miss Piggy’s fantasy sequence in The Muppets
Take Manhattan. 
Muppet Babies came years after The Muppets were first introduced, at that point even Scooter probably didn’t know he was a twin. I still remember how disappointed I was as a kid when neither Skeeter, Animal, Bunsen nor Beaker showed up in the fantasy sequence, I was really hoping to see a puppet version of Skeeter as opposed to the cartoon version I was only familiar with. One of my favourite Muppet productions is A Muppet Family Christmas and the first time I watched it when the Muppet Babies appeared singing “Santa Clause is coming to town” I was so excited hoping Skeeter would appear singing alongside the others. 

At least I was overjoyed when Baby Animal showed up at the end and angry when grown up Animal showed up and ruined the home movie, even Doc thought weirdoes were cute when they were babies. Skeeter has never shown up in a Muppet production outside of Muppet Babies but has been represented in photo puppet form on rare occasions unlike Bunsen and Beaker.

Skeeter appeared in numerous Muppet merchandise, comics and even books where she is also represented as a kid opposed to just a baby alongside the other Muppets but never as an adult, at least not until 2009. Almost ten years ago Boom Studios acquired the rights to release Muppet comic books and produced a number of issues. 

My personal favourite one has to be The Muppets Family Reunion issue where various Muppet relatives show up including Skeeter. Finally after almost twenty-five years Skeeter makes her first official adult appearance alongside The Muppets and even wonders around The Muppet Show theatre. It might only be in comic form but this was a great treat for fans yet oddly enough they don’t once mention Skeeter by name but rather refer toher as Scooter’s sister.

The main cast of Muppet Babies consisted of eight characters including Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Rowlf, Scooter, Skeeter and Animal. Baby versions of Bunsen and Beaker regularly made appearances throughout the show and eventually Bean Bunny began visiting the nursery too. Other characters have also entered the nursery including Kermit’s tadpole nephew Robin who was confined to his fishbowl. Camilla was represented as Gonzo’s favourite stuffed toy but when the Muppet Babies used their imagination she would sometimes come alive. Janice also appeared, since she was a little older than the original Muppet Babies she had the totally cool ability to know how to read. Uncle Stater and Uncle Waldorf showed up on a few occasions bringing gifts for the Muppet Babies rather than heckling them. I wonder why Statler and Waldorf would occasionally randomly show up at a nursery if they hated the actual The Muppet Show. What relation might they have to Nanny to warrant coming by to visit? Might Statler or Waldorf be Nanny’s father? 

The biggest mystery of them all is who is Nanny? Muppet Babies ended its run with so many unanswered questions. I really would have liked to have seen other Muppet characters appear throughout the show’s run as baby versions of themselves. If I had to choose one, I’d have liked to have seen a Baby Sweetums, a gentle giant amongst the other babies. At first the Muppet Babies would have feared Sweetums due to him being bigger than them and somewhat scary looking but then would come to realize never to judge a book by its cover, after all his name is Sweetums.

Muppet Babies is possibly the only Muppet production I have not seen in its entirety, I’ve probably seen about twenty episodes in total and is one of those few Muppet productions where I won’t remember I ever saw it unless I see it again. As I grew older I added a few extra Muppet Babies videos to my collection and I watched them over and over again for years.

 It’s been roughly over twenty years since I last saw these episodes and off the top of my head I remember the slime monster (obviously), Beaker using his flashlight to scare it away and the Muppet Babies making a big mess in the kitchen. The Muppet Babies scared to go up into the attic believing there are pirates upstairs, Kermit unable to decide what career he wants when he’s older, The Muppet Babies in Toyland and Scooter falls ill and the Muppet Babies travel inside his body to fight the infection. I also remember the Muppet Babies spoofing a few classics such as Snow White, Cinderella, Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz. The only thing I clearly remember about Muppet Babies is the opening theme song.

I even remember an episode where they pretended to be The Jetsons which was actually my first introduction to Bean Bunny, he was such a random character, at that time I had never seen him before outside of Muppet Babies. By that age I was already familiar with other characters such as Sam the Eagle, Swedish Chef, Rizzo amongst others but not Bean Bunny, why did they not use one of the familiar characters instead? Why did they invent a new one? I remember how excited I was when I finally saw Bean Bunny for the first time in The Muppets Christmas Carol singing outside Scrooge’s front door. Muppet Babies spoofed lots of shows and movies within seven seasons including a Labyrinth inspired episode and one where somehow baby Gonzo visits Kermit on The Muppet Show. Sadly Muppet Babies has never been released on DVD, no season sets or best of episodes and has not aired on TV for years. If fans are never going to get complete episodes I wish at least segments only including the Muppet Babies would be released in some official form in good quality. Perhaps Kermit could use these clips to tell Robin bedtime stories similar to The Muppets video story books from the past. This would have a double nostalgic effect, first people would be fond of seeing the animated Muppet Babies they grew up watching with the added bonus of having them spoofing shows and movies also from our childhoods.

Muppet Babies was produced by Marvel Productions, 107 episodes were created and originally aired on CBS between 1984 and 1991.

Afterwards it continued airing reruns for many years whilst continuing to produce merchandise but no new content has ever been produced since then. By the time Disney acquired The Muppet back in 2004 Muppet Babies had already become a thing of
the past, the Muppet Babies had mostly been forgotten. Marvel Comics also produced 26 issues of Muppet Babies inspired comics, all of which are being released in a Muppet Babies Omnibus on October 17th 2017. This is great news for many reasons, reprints of old Muppet collectables are always welcomed but the most interesting thing about this is the fact that it will be the first official Muppet Babies merchandise to be released in a very long time, probably the first one since Disney acquired The Muppets. I might not have seen all the episodes but I sure will read all 680 pages of Muppet Babies comics.

Back in 2005 I believed as I think so did most Muppet Fans that eventually we could expect a Muppet Babies revival and although that never came baby Muppets have appeared recently. Kermit and Miss Piggy introduced us to their offspring’s in Muppet Most Wanted (2014) with the help of Celine Dion. Lipton Tea also introduced us to a baby version of Animal (amongst a whole
army of Animals) in one of numerous Lipton Muppet commercials which also premiered in 2014.

The Muppet Babies will be making our dreams come true again after almost thirty years when they return in 2018 for their new show on Disney Junior. I’m glad this is happening and will be using my nephew as an excuse to watch Disney Junior without feeling weird about it. From the first picture we’ve been given it seems like it’s heading in the right direction, computer animated, no surprise there yet still somehow resembles that Muppet felt look, I like the designs and upgrades.

So far only Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and Animal have been confirmed to return and apparently they will be joined by a new female Muppet sheep named Bobbi-Baba. I’m not sure how I feel about this, on the one hand I enjoy the introduction of new Muppet
characters. Muppets do lack female characters which makes it a bonus yet I feel sorry for today’s kids waiting years and years for an adult version of Bobbi-Baba to show up in a Muppet comic book. This new show will not just introduce a new generation of kids to the Muppet Babies but hopefully will also get them interested in all things Muppets in general. This opportunity should be used to introduce kids to baby versions of as many characters as possible, find their favourite characters which they can then continue watching in other Muppet productions, past, present and future. If more female characters are needed continue to reintroduce Janice, Yolanda, Camilla, Wanda or even Mildred. I really hope the cast unlike the original series is not just limited to a select number of characters and allows different characters to enter the nursery at various times. 

Let’s hope Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Animal, Rowlf, Scooter and if we’re lucky and wishful even Skeeter appear in every episode as in the original but that does not mean other characters can’t stop by the nursery on occasions. Bunsen, Beaker and Bean Bunny appeared regularly and although he wasn’t part of the main cast it was Baby Beaker that got me excited to meet Beaker when I saw The Muppet Movie for the first time.

Allow kids the chance to find a new favourite Muppet Baby from the vast selection of Muppet characters that have appeared in hundreds of productions throughout the years. This is also a good
way to determine which characters are more popular with kids, which ones they relate to most, allows for more ideas and stories to be created. This new Muppet Babies reboot is obviously aimed at kids, as an adult Muppet Fan I’ll probably watch a few episodes out of interest, if there are only a select group of characters I’ll lose interest after a few episodes but the excitement of meeting different baby versions of various Muppet characters might keep me watching. Is getting adults to watch this new reboot a priority? Of course not but getting the adults to enjoy it alongside their children, nephews, nieces, cats, whatever’s makes for a better family viewing. There’s also a better chance parents who are the one to control the television remote will sit their child down to watch a show if it is one they too enjoy (or can at least tolerate). Most importantly of all will this new reboot finally answer the burning question we have all been wondering for years... who is the Muppet Babies Nanny?

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