"You Cannot Leave the Magic"
After twenty years, Fraggle Rock's message is as timely as ever
Most Muppet fans are familiar with Jim Henson's 1980s children's hit series, Fraggle Rock.
Or are they?
I rarely got the opportunity to see Fraggle Rock as a child. It debuted on January 10, 1983, the year I turned five. Growing up in the country, we were not blessed with cable television. Then one day my grandparents got this cutting edge thing called a "sat-el-lite dish", and during the brief period where they had HBO for free, I had my first exposure to Fraggle Rock.
I loved it.
I admit, I wasn't too fond of Doc and Sprocket at that age. When I watched Fraggle Rock, I wanted to see FRAGGLES! (The same goes for episodes that were about the Doozers---they just didn't do it for me). When I got to see my Fraggles, I was thrilled---elated---taken into a fantasy realm that hurt to leave. In a way, it's funny that this is a "children's show". Have you really thought about how everything is intricately woven together? There's really so much more to the series than meets the eye, and if you look at the different elements of it, it's just mentally astounding what Jim Henson did by creating this series.
First of all, there are the characters. Not just little one-dimensional cardboard personalities running around with gimmicks, but real layered complex characters. The "Fraggle five" (Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, and Red) are prime examples of this. For instance, look at Gobo, the leader of the group and his relationships with the other four.
Gobo’s best friend is Wembley, who is rather insecure, indecisive, and just kind of lost. This causes Gobo to take Wembley under his wing, and be a big brother of sorts. Then there is Boober, the poor pessimist who follows his own path. Gobo makes Boober feel like one of the others, includes him in activities, visits him, and sees that he is not left out or left alone too long. Red and Gobo see each other as somewhat equals, though they draw out each other’s competitive nature more than any other characters can.
Gobo has more maturity about him though, and Mokey, the eldest and most sensitive of the group, brings that out of him. Thus it is not surprising that Mokey and Gobo are the two Fraggles most comfortable around the Trash Heap. Consequently, Wembley and Boober---the youngest and most insecure---find her frightening and even Red seems a bit intimidated by her, albeit not nearly as strongly as the other two.
This is merely scratching the surface of layers of character relationships, yet you could write an essay on those observations alone.
The environment of Fraggle Rock itself is also wondrous to behold. The caves and caverns look so real and inviting. The entire spectrum of color seems to have been utilized throughout the series in the sets and your eyes can always find something fascinating to gaze upon. There are rich, warm, bright colors, cool, subtle, subdued tones; neutral, earthy, “cavey” colors---all of which help create a wide range of moods and feelings for scenes or songs.
Even the sound of the program is an element that deserves attention. When the Fraggles speak in caverns, passageways, and tunnels, their voices have an open, sometimes slight “echoey” sound, to enhance the effect of the cave’s acoustics. Something as simple as water dripping into a pond can add so much to the realism and overall feel.
Some of my favorite things about the environment of Fraggle Rock are the unsung background characters. There are countless species of little cave creatures and rock dwellers that appear from time to time---sometimes to accompany a Fraggle in song---who never get any lines, but are a part of the visual whole. Even if they are rather far away or almost blend in with their surroundings, a few simple movements let you notice them right off---but with just the right touch of strangeness and subtlety.
Phillip Balsam and Dennis Lee have to be two of the greatest songwriters ever to be involved in children‘s entertainment. Sure, they wrote some fun, silly, nonsensical songs for the series (which are great), but the fact that they can take a children’s show and compose such meaningful, deep ballads for it---and make it fit with the story and characters perfectly---just leaves me in awe of their talent. If you have been fortunate enough to hear “Dreaming of Someone”, “Time to Live as One”, “Helping Hand”, “We are the Children of Tomorrow”, and “Petals of a Rose”, then you know what I’m talking about; and those are five off the top of my head, from an entire canon filled with such masterpieces. Many a Fraggle fan has confessed to getting really touched or even shedding tears in moments like those.
If one praises the songwriters, one must also praise the scriptwriters. As with the heartfelt ballads, some of the stories of Fraggle Rock contain scenes that flow with sensitivity and feeling, but never overly so. The pilot of the series was largely hysterical, but the series grew so that the finale was filled with intricate, believable emotion. This was able to come about because of the complexities of the characters. They have fun, they argue, they lose their tempers and fight, but now and then when they’re in trouble or separated or in a crisis, their real hearts shine through to each other---and our hearts are incredibly affected. The characters (even our absolute favorites, as hard as it can be to admit) also have their own individual flaws. We may not like to acknowledge that, much like with ourselves, but it only gives the characters that much more depth, complexity, and layer. I would gladly argue with anyone that the “Fraggle five” are the most well developed characters in all of children’s entertainment.
The multi-talented Muppeteers must also, of course, be given great credit for the amazing success of these characters. Without them, the words and songs and actions would not have come alive. The puppetry, the subtle movements, the earnest voices, the unique interactions...everything they did looks and sounds incredibly natural; just brilliant.
Outside of the Rock, the Doc and Sprocket segments of the show are almost always an interesting parallel of what is happening in Fraggle Rock. As a child I was bored by these, simply because I was crazed to see Fraggles, but now I appreciate them and find them entertaining---especially the superbly performed Sprocket. (I also appreciate the Doozers now too, just to let you know---heck, Flange Doozer is my favorite).
And of course, who can forget Gobo’s Uncle Traveling Matt? The link between Outer Space and Fraggle Rock, his postcards and misinterpreted adventures are often hysterical. It is a fun way to show us how simple things to us in our world could easily be seen as something completely different to a foreigner from another realm.
Characters, environment, songs, stories, parallels, links...”Fraggle Rock” had it all---and still does. Yes, it was created for and geared toward children, but the people involved obviously embarked on the series as a labor of love. There is much about the show to entertain and touch adults as much---if not even more---than children. I just wish that everyone could share in the delight of this gem.
Thank you Jim Henson and everyone involved in Fraggle Rock. I will always treasure this series and I can only dream of what it must have been like to be involved. As for everyone else, I truly hope that you too will love the Rock. After all, “You cannot leave the magic.”
And I will
certainly never try.