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Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Magic Of Fraggle Rock by Nicholas Napoli

Fraggle Rock will forever be timeless, unlike The Muppets and Sesame Street the Fraggles live in their own world only ever interacting with silly creatures when they ventured into outer space. Other than the workshop segments featuring Doc and Sprocket and Uncle Travelling Matt’s postcards the rest of the show feels everlasting. As opposed to The Muppet Show or earlier episodes of Sesame Street the adventures of Fraggle Rock never seem outdated. The fact that Fraggles have no use for technology plays a big part, the same can probably be said for Dinosaurs and possibly Bear In
The Big Blue House. Fraggle Rock was always preaching messages of peace and understanding yet in such creative and fun ways that until you were a little older you had no idea what you were learning during your time down at Fraggle Rock, this is a show the world could find very useful today.

Fraggle Rock was always such a mystery to me as a child, by the age of three I was already becoming a Muppet Fan and thanks to Follow That Bird I was beginning to appreciate Sesame Street too. That same year something very special happened, my Uncle married my Aunty but that wasn’t the special part, they were getting married in Scotland, I was going to ride on a plane for the first time but that wasn’t the special part either. Jim Henson’s Travelling Museum Exhibit: Muppets, Monsters and Magic was also located in Scotland that same year and to my parents surprise and my delight we accidentally stumbled upon it. I was only three at the time and as much as I wish I could write about that incredible experience I can’t as I don’t really remember it. I do recall seeing The Muppets dressed in their Manhattan Melodies costumes as well as the Sesame Street gang, I must have seen the Fraggles too but since I wasn’t familiar with them at the time their image didn’t stick with me. One character from Fraggle Rock did manage to stay with me, I remember this large tall full-bodied giant looking down at me, what kind of Muppet is this? Is this another kind of Sweetums? I’d eventually meet him as Junior Gorg on Fraggle

I remember seeing these because afterwards for the longest time I had dreams of going into toy shops and finding loads of Muppet toys displayed in giant glass cubicles as I had seen the characters at the exhibit. Another special thing about this experience was that this was the place where I purchased my first pieces of Muppet merchandise in the form of keyrings and postcards

Ironically amongst them was a Fraggle Rock postcard, my first piece of Fraggle merchandise and the last one for a very long time, it took me years before finally being able to add Fraggle Rock merchandise to my collection. Growing up before the age of online shopping I was confined to buying my Muppet toys in shops, which meant I didn’t have much of a collection back then. I did have a few Muppet, Sesame Street, Bear in The Big Blue House and even Dinosaur toys but no Fraggles, how I wish I had been born and with internet access when Doozer vehicles were available.

I remember a few years later my parents, my sisters and myself were walking through the fair and to my surprise one of the prizes at a shooting stall was an old Pa Gorg figure released by a German company back in 1983 (I wasn’t even born then) as part of a Fraggle Rock PVC collection. My family spent the whole night at the fair shooting objects but couldn’t seem to win the prize I wanted, my parent’s even offered to buy it from them but they refused to do so. 

The night wasn’t a total lost, at the last stall I found a Kermit pin which my parents bought for me and to this day I still have it. At least now I knew Fraggle Rock toys did exist and was determined to find them yet it would still take years before I could add Fraggles to my collection. The sad part about all this is that at the time I preferred Fraggle toys but after over twenty years Gorgs, Doozers, Trash-Heap, Philo, Gunge, Sprocket, Doc and even Wander McMooch, I want toys of all of them and many of them have never properly been represented in merchandising most notably the Gorgs.

As far as I’m aware the Gorgs have only ever been represented in figure form by the above mentioned German company all the way back in 1983. Not only did I not win the Pa Gorg figure I wanted, it was the only Pa Gorg merchandise ever available to date. Luckily a few years ago Manhattan Toys released Junior Gorg in plush form for the very first time both a full bodied version and a puppet version of the character which ironically has a better likeness than the first one. 

Apparently another Junior Gorg plush has become available recently by a company called Toy Factory but sadly these toys are produced as amusement park prizes only. If Pa Gorg has taught me anything in life it’s that I’m not good when it comes to winning Fraggles, I’m better at buying them. Hopefully I’ll track one down on eBay someday, on the bright side this is good exposure for Fraggle Rock and a good way for kids who won’t ask for Fraggle merchandise to end up with some anyway and hopefully familiarizing themselves with the characters.

When I was thirteen years old my collection was still missing Fraggle Rock merchandise, I had added some new videos to my collection by then but no toys. I had become very secretive about my passion for Muppets, it felt weird at that age, I would hide it as much as possible from my family especially my friends but sometimes I couldn’t hold the excitement in and this was one of those times. 

My Mom had taken me and my sisters shopping in Spain and as we walked through La Plaza we passed by a cake shop and in the corner of the window they had PVC figures on display. I found that interesting as by that time figurines had mainly disappeared from shops as though they had never existed, as I always do I quickly scanned for Muppets or Sesame Street characters and could not believe my eyes when I spotted Boober Fraggle. I was not expecting this at all, I hadn’t seen or heard the Fraggles mentioned anywhere in years, this was such a surprise, It had been ten years but finally I had come across Fraggle Rock
merchandise. I began shaking in excitement as I tried to search for other characters and luckily enough all five Fraggles were there, no Doozers or Gorgs but at that moment I didn’t care, I went into the shop and walked out with Fraggle figurines and a piece of cake to celebrate the occasion.

I don’t think Fraggle Rock merchandise sells very well and after being so many years off the air I imagine it’s even a harder sell for them. Fraggle Fans have been lucky as over the last few years we have been able to add some new Fraggle Rock merchandise to our collections but compared to Muppets and Sesame Street they don’t come anywhere near as close. Imagine my delight and great disappointment when Palisades announced the inclusion of Fraggle Rock characters alongside their Muppets line which never reached past the prototype stage. 

In celebration of Fraggle Rock’s 20th Anniversary Sababa Toys released a collection of Fraggle Rock soft toys, incredible likeness, great quality, they were perfect, sadly it felt incomplete as they never produced Mokey although we did get a few Doozers. 

The Fraggles also released their own version of UNO, playing cards, a CD collection of their best songs, extremely expensive Red and Doozer figures, a series of comic adventures released by Archaia Comics and then Manhattan Toys happened. Fraggle Rock returned in plush form again almost ten years later in celebration of their 30th Anniversary, this time also as puppets and including not only Mokey, Travelling Matt, Sprocket but Junior Gorg too! Now Super Impulse have grabbed the license to release Fraggle Rock toys nearing their 35th Anniversary and so far I could not be more excited, I just really hope they announce Gorgs in their future line-ups.

When my family returned back home from our trip to Scotland I began searching for Fraggles and they were impossible to come across. Luckily during one of my visits to the video rental store accompanied by my Dad we came across a Fraggle Rock video and then another and then even a third, thanks to Palace Home Videos I was about to discover Fraggle Rock. 

The first two episodes I ever saw were “Gobo’s School For Explorers” and “Wembley And The Mean Genie”, finally I got to meet the Fraggles and they were just as entertaining as I thought they would be. I immediately recognized Gobo’s voice as Robin and could tell Wembley and Rizzo shared a similarity, this was the first connection I ever made between The Muppets and Fraggle Rock. I also remember believing that Red was actually Skeeter under a new name, Red was what I imagined a grown up puppet version of Skeeter might resemble and they both shared the same characteristics, for the longest time I convinced myself Scooter was a Fraggle.

At the same time this didn’t make sense because I imagined the Fraggles being much tinier than The Muppets, firstly they lived in a hole in the wall, how big could they be? Secondly if they were not tiny that meant the Gorgs were beyond huge, my world exploded when I finally watched A Muppet Family Christmas in its entirety. It never occurred to me when I was young that Uncle Travelling Matt was a Fraggle and appeared the same size as your average Muppet when standing next to Humans, I feel silly now. As a child I also remember being very attracted by the colours, The Muppets have always been colourful, as a really young child I think that’s one of the reasons they kept my attention and the Fraggles were no different. It might have been the fact that most of the time they resided in dark caves so the colourful characters stood out more but I do remember how entranced I was by the colours of the Fraggles. Imagine my excitement when I finally saw them clearly on DVD, last year all ninety-six episodes were remastered in HD celebrating the return of Fraggle Rock on HBO, the channel they originally aired on over thirty years ago, I can’t wait to see these.

From my first viewing of Fraggle Rock I remember how captivated I was by the opening theme song, not only was I introduced to all the characters but I finally saw the Muppet giant from Scotland in action and also realized he had parents. I would actually rewind my video time after time simply to watch the opening theme before I settled down to watch the same two episodes over and over again. As much as I enjoyed my Fraggle Rock video the only two episodes it consisted off didn’t feature the Gorgs other than in the opening theme. 

The other two videos contained episodes from Fraggle Rock The Animated Series and as much as I enjoy it now at the time I hated it, I had become a true Muppet Fan without realizing it yet, at that age I already preferred puppetry over animation. I was finally properly introduced to Junior Gorg as well as Ma Gorg and Pa Gorg although it was in animated form but I knew the puppet versions had to be out there somewhere, I had already seen them in the opening theme, a video would show up
sooner or later and I’d meet them properly.

Jim Henson was starting to confuse me, just when I became comfortable with a new group of his characters they went from live action to animation, it was all very confusing for me as a child. I had already experienced this with The Muppets and Muppet Babies, by this time I was waiting for an animated Sesame Street video to show up at my local video rental store. I rented the same three Fraggle Rock videos over and over again, we went to other stores, my Mom searched the TV listings but we could not find any Fraggles, as much as I liked my videos I needed new episodes, I was ready to start breaking holes in my house in my search for Fraggles. 

I never came across any other Fraggle Rock videos at the time but did continue expanding my Muppet video library and one day I rented The Muppets: A Celebration of Thirty Years. I was expecting The Muppets to host a birthday party for Kermit or maybe Miss Piggy but was excitedly surprised when I watched it for the first time and found it was a celebration of all things Jim Henson. This special was exactly what I had been looking for as a child, it was basically everything I wanted to know on one video, I had found a Muppet documentary. Internet still didn’t exist or at least I wasn’t aware of it, had I had internet access everything in this special is what I would have searched for. The best part was all the characters that were there from all my favourite videos including Uncle Travelling Matt and Sprocket. I paused that special so many times trying to figure out who all the characters sitting at the tables were but in those days if you paused your video the screen became fuzzy, I remember I ended up taking pictures of the screen, photos were even harder to distinguish. Then Big Bird came on screen and introduced Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock and teased at Little Muppet Monsters, I was so glad he found his way back to Sesame Street during Follow That Bird allowing him to attend the party and provide me with this information. This special also helped me realize I was missing out on one of the Muppet movies, I had seen The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper but I had never heard of The Muppets Take Manhattan. The biggest surprise of them all was that at the end Jim Henson himself makes an appearance, sitting at a table, interacting with waiter Grover whilst paying the bill for the entire party. This was the first time I had ever seen Jim Henson, although he also made an appearance in The Great Muppet Caper that cameo as a child would go unnoticed, for me this was the first time I ever “met” Jim Henson. Best video I had ever rented, eventually when these video rental stores went out of business I collected all my childhood videos including this one.

Now this is when I realized the Universe didn’t want me to watch Fraggle Rock, I don’t remember this part but according to my Mom they began advertising on TV a Muppet special airing soon and promoted it as The Muppets, Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock spending Christmas together. The day they were supposed to air the special we had other plans, had I been older I would have cancelled those plans, fortunately my grandparents weren’t doing anything and were intrusted with recording it for me. 

When I finally collected the tape from them I rushed into my bedroom and began watching my favourite Muppet special up to this day, that part I remember. The Muppets and Sesame Street were interacting in one place together like at the party but with more of a storyline. This was amazing, even the Muppet Babies made an appearance, I was so excited not only to see the Fraggles in something new but have them interacting with not only The Muppets but Sesame Street too.
Best yet my little brain would finally be able to determine what size the Fraggles were and what most excited me was the fact that Doc and Sprocket were already there, I was expecting to finally meet puppet versions of the Gorgs for the first time too outside of music. When I reached the part where the Sesame Street gang are performing their Christmas pageant and Ernie introduces the Two-Headed Monster as Santa Clause the screen cuts to black and restarts with a stupid Disney Parade, since that day I’ve always hated parades. Apparently my grandparents were a little too eager to record the parade and for years I watched that tape never knowing how it ended, never having met the Fraggles. Years later my Mom surprised me with my very own VHS copy of A Muppet Family Christmas and finally I got to see the Fraggles interact with The Muppets. They were the same size as Kermit and Robin, this meant if the Gorgs showed up at the end not only would they accidentally destroy Emily Bear’s entire house but would probably also squish all of Jim Henson’s creation with one step.

Sadly a sequel to A Muppet Family Christmas will never happen, the closest we’ll ever get is having Sprocket appearing throughout The Muppets Christmas Carol. 

Disney owns The Muppets, Sesame Workshops owns Sesame Street but luckily Fraggle Rock still remains part of The Jim Henson Company and fortunately because of this the last few years have found the Fraggles slowing making new appearances. Red Fraggle has made various appearances throughout the years bu it wasn’t until 2012 that she was joined by Wembley and Uncle Matt at Jim Henson’s Musical World. Later that year The Fraggle five finally returned together after so many years in a music video, which not only had them explore outer space but mingling with humans other than Doc, best of all Uncle Travelling Matt introduced the clip. The next year in celebration of their 30th Anniversary Fraggle Rock held a special event in which Gobo and Red made live appearances and that same year Gobo and Red also appeared in new videos which had been created to promote their Fraggle Rock-A-Thon on The Hub.

Since then The Fraggles have been making the occasional rare appearance here and there but it was the tiny Doozers who have recently made most noise, so much so that they returned with their own pre-school spinoff show. At one point Jim Henson played around with a spinoff idea featuring Uncle Travelling Matt accompanied by two new Fraggles as they travelled the world together by hot air balloon that would have been very interesting to watch. 

Growing up I always found the Doozers boring, I couldn’t
appreciate the puppetry back then and every time they appeared the episode slowed down for me. This was actually the point as Doozers were workers who did not have time for fun, now I could never imagine Fraggle Rock without it’s Doozers. 

These new Doozers however do look slightly more evolved and fashionable than our original Doozers luckily there’s an explanation for that, they’re from another Doozer colony located at Doozer Creek. Although I haven’t actually read them yet in the Archaia comic series titled Fraggle Rock: Journey to the Eversprings the Fraggles come upon a new colony of Doozers located in the Crystal Cave. The idea of other Doozer clans located throughout the Universe fascinates me, I wish this idea had been explored in the television series, I wonder how the Doozers of Fraggle Rock ever came to reside there in the first place. I’m surprised that throughout the years the Doozers have not taken advantage of their building skills to introduce the world to some sort of Doozer app, board game or even a figurine statue concerning Doozer Towers, I hope the Minions or Smurfs don’t beat them to it.

By the time I was six I had given up trying to discover new Fraggle Rock material and was just happy watching my same videos over and over again. Then one day The Disney Channel began airing Fraggle Rock and announced it like crazy, finally I was going to be able to see new Fraggle Rock episodes every day but sadly they began at the same time I started school. The first week I pretended to be sick and managed to watch five new Fraggle Rock episodes, the second week my Mom realized what I was doing and I was back at school. Luckily my Mom would record every episode each morning and when I returned home for lunch I’d watch the episode alongside my sisters before going back to school again. 

This is where I finally became familiar with Fraggle Rock, one of the first episodes I remember watching was “Capture The Moon” where the Fraggles believed Junior Gorg had stolen their Fraggle moon when he blocks it’s reflection from entering Fraggle Rock and decide to capture it back. I loved this episode because at six years old I knew this was the reflection and felt so sorry and clever at the same time that the Fraggles hadn’t figured it out. Uncle Travelling Matt also believes rainbows are hatched from eggs in this episodes, again I felt so sorry for him, I knew he was wrong but truly believed he hadn’t figured it out yet. This episode was also my first proper introduction to the Gorgs, I finally met Junior, Ma and Pa Gorg and ever since have always wondered are they truly the last three Gorgs in the Universe?

Even at that young age I understood Junior Gorg was not evil, with time he didn’t scare me as much as he did at the beginning, Ma Gorg never scared me either, Pa Gorg now that’s a whole other story, he terrified me. I continued watching Fraggle Rock on The Disney Channel until they stopped airing the episodes, at least now I had watched quite a few episodes and had them recorded on tape for repeated viewings. I also remember around this time one day whilst walking through town with my family I spotted three new Fraggle Rock videos and on the cover it read “Fraggle Rock with The Muppets”. 

I was so excited, I believed these episodes featured Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the rest pf the Muppets travelling into Fraggle Rock. I could already imagine Scooter interacting with Red, Junior Gorg chasing after Animal and The Swedish Chef, Rizzo and the Rats climbing the Doozer towers and Rowlf having another conversation with Sprocket, one I would love to hear again even though I still can’t speak the language. I was misled yet still enjoyed my new videos the following week once my parents allowed me to buy them. What I most remember was the second volume featured an episode centred around Cotterpin Doozer, I
found it so boring. Another episode I found boring was one where Mokey and Red get lost and no other familiar character from Fraggle Rock showed up throughout the entire episode. My point being that the episodes I found most boring when I was young are actually the ones I find most interesting and enlightening now that I’m older yet was still able to enjoy them as a kid. That’s what I most enjoy about Fraggle Rock, it truly is family entertainment, it works for any age group as long as you’re open minded.

Eventually Fraggle Rock finally made it onto DVD and released twelve episodes on a two disc set only available on Region 2. Not only was I excited to see Fraggle Rock on DVD quality as opposed to videos but since it was the UK version I got to meet the Captain at the lighthouse that replaced Doc in the UK version. Then in 2005 my wish ever since Season Sets had become the new trend finally came true and Fraggle Rock Season One was released on DVD. I remember I was working a summer job at a video store when this was first released and I actually opened the box that carried about ten copies inside. I worked hard displaying nine copies that day alongside other Muppet and Sesame Street videos we had in the store then I stopped working and admired my new DVD box set, best part was it included a little Fraggle notebook, I read the whole thing at work. 

That weekend I sat in my room and binge watched the entire first season, this was such an enjoyable experience. I had spent years trying to watch new Fraggle Rock episodes and the closest I got was a few months’ worth of episodes on The Disney Channel on a daily basis plus my six original video tapes. Finally I was able to watch twenty-four episodes uninterrupted, some I hadn’t seen in years and others were completely new to me. Plus it came with loads of extras and special features including interviews and behind the scenes footage, this was the way a fan should watch Fraggle Rock. The following year I did the same when season two was released, then with the third season and I remember the fourth season took much longer to be released but in the end once it was it was worth the wait. Finally I had seen all ninety-six episodes of Fraggle Rock not excluding Fraggles Look For Jobs which I hunted down online a few years later.

The best part was I had never seen any of the episodes that made up the three episode arc finale and although I was now twenty-one years old I was still captivated by the finale, probably one of my favourite series finales ever. Part One “The Gorg Who Would Be King” finds Junior Gorg finally befriending the Fraggles by shrinking down to their size and exploring Fraggle Rock as Sprocket had done a few episode earlier. In this episode Junior Gorg also takes over as King from Pa Gorg and decides the Universe works well without anybody ruling over it and tosses his crown away up into the air. 

Doc and Sprocket who had gone camping that episode end up discovering the Gorgs crown the next day, my whole Fraggle world exploded at that moment, I loved the connection but most importantly the crown was huge compared to Doc. Part Two “The Honk of Honks” finally finds Doc learning the truth about the Fraggles, after almost twenty years I was relieved more so for Sprocket than anything else. In the final episode “Change of Address” Doc along with Sprocket move away but since “you cannot leave the magic” the Fraggles find their way back to them away from the workshop.

Today there are various Fraggle Rock best of episodes available on DVD, multiple versions of the complete series, Fraggle Rock is airing on TV again and merchandise is easy to come by. 

I hope this generation of kids will have an easier time finding their way into Fraggle Rock.

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