Down in Fraggle Rock
February 20, 2014
I have always loved Jim Henson’s creations. I grew up watching Sesame Street, and I couldn’t wait to see The Muppet Show every week. And one of my strongest memories as a child is the complete and utter disappointment that I felt when we showed up at the movie theatre to see The Muppet Movie and discovered that it was sold out. The legacy of Henson, who died way too young at the age of 53, and his company of incredible puppeteers continues to this day. However, one of his best creations rarely gets the same kind of attention as the others, and it happens to be my favorite. Have you ever been down to Fraggle Rock?
Back in the 1980s, we didn’t have HBO, but every so often, cable subscribers would be treated to a free weekend of certain pay-per-view channels. Every time that HBO appeared on our sets, one of the first things I would do is check when Fraggle Rock was on. This was the only way that I could see the show back then, and I looked forward to it much more than any of the other offerings that HBO had at the time. Fraggle Rock was one of the most sophisticated and well-written shows for children that I have ever seen produced, and it remains a favorite of mine to this day.
The Fraggles of Fraggle Rock live in an underground series of caves that can be accessed from our world through Fraggle holes. One of these holes is located in the workshop of inventor Doc and his dog Sprocket. Sprocket often catches sight of the Fraggles and will occasionally chase them around good-naturedly, but Doc always ends up missing them. There is also another exit from Fraggle Rock that leads to the Gorg Garden, but more about the Gorgs later. The Fraggles love adventure and have a passion for music and storytelling. Basically, they live for fun.
However, the Fraggles are not the only species that lives in the caves. A small and industrious race known as the Doozers resides there as well. These tiny green creature’s entire lives surround the building of complex structures using materials known as Doozer sticks. These sticks are made out of radishes, which just happens to be the Fraggles’ favorite food. As a result, as soon as the Doozers put up their constructions, the Fraggles eat them. This causes no problem for the Doozers because it creates new space for them to build in. In fact, one time when the Fraggles stopped eating the Doozer sticks because they were made to feel guilty about destroying the Doozer constructions, the Doozers were bereft because there was no more room to do their life’s work. The Fraggles quickly realized their mistake and had a feast.
There are five main Fraggles that form the heart of the series: Gobo, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, and Red. The disparate personalities of these characters make for an endless array of great stories. Then, there is Gobo’s Uncle Traveling Matt, who left home to travel another world populated by what he calls “silly creatures” (that’s us by the way). Matt’s wry observations about the human world are absolutely hilarious. And we can’t forget Marjory the Trash Heap, the wise pile of refuse whom the Fraggles go to when they need advice. Last, but not least, there are the aforementioned Gorgs: Ma, Pop, and Junior. These huge beings consider themselves rulers of the entire universe. They also take care of the radish garden from which the Fraggles constantly steal their favorite food.
The detailed and intricate world created for Fraggle Rock allowed the show to look at many interesting and complex issues over the course of its run. And it did so in a way that was entertaining for adults and informative for children. One of the subjects that the series tackled more than once was death. Now this is not something that a lot of shows produced for children like to deal with unless they have to. For example, it was only the death of the actor who played Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street that brought about the subject on that legendary show. However, Fraggle Rock dealt with it by choice. One of the most poignant episodes occurred when two of the Fraggles became trapped in a cave and were running out of air. They actually talked about dying and their fears. It was a beautiful episode and showed that you can talk about difficult things with children in a way that doesn’t confuse of frighten them.
One of the things that I find very frustrating about people who write for children is the apparent belief that they have to dumb things down or kids just won’t get it. Often dialogue will be stilted and the moral message will be brought home with a sledgehammer. Fraggle Rock avoided this by telling stories that did carry a strong theme, but in a way that was more subtle and much more entertaining. And the issues that the show dealt with, like death and learning to get along with others, was encompassed in fun and adventurous tales. Add to that some incredible music and fantastic production design (each world, from the Gorg Garden to Doc’s workshop, was unique and beautiful) and you had a truly special series.
There has been talk about Fraggle Rock coming back in some form for a while, but I have a feeling that there might be an inclination to make it more CGI and less live puppet. I am also confused as to why it has not garnered the kind of attention that Sesame Street or The Muppet Show has. However, I am hoping that with the show available on DVD, more kids can discover this little gem. Not to mention the fact that adults like me can once again travel back down to Fraggle Rock.