DVD Bonus: Meet the Fraggles

Jim Henson's fantastical creations dance our cares away

DVD Bonus: Meet the Fraggles

I met Red Fraggle once. No, seriously, I did.

It was back in 2006 at the old Alamo Drafthouse on Colorado, as part of a Texas Puppetry Theater event. The show was a collection of modern and classic puppet shorts, showing the diversity of puppeteering styles, from Indonesian shadows to underwater marionettes and stop motion.

And then there was Red Fraggle, the chaotic, chirpy, creative havok-wreaker of Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock. Well, actually, it was Henson's daughter Heather, his inspiration for the character. It was like having a childhood friend in the room.

Fraggle Rock was Henson's first real attempt at world building. There are the Fraggles, a happy-go-lucky subterranean race that slacks off and somehow gets by. They share their home at Fraggle Rock (which, as every Fraggle knows, is the center of the universe) with the tiny, industrious Doozers, and evade the dangerous attentions of the huge, grumpy Gorgs. Above them, the human world – exemplified by affable and oblivious amateur inventor Doc (Gerry Parkes) – carries on unaware of the ecosystem beneath their feet.

Running from 1984 to 1987, it's no surprise that the generation that grew up on Fraggle Rock went on to see themselves on the couch at the coffee shop in Friends. Red has more than a trace of the controlling monomania of Monica, Mokey channels Phoebe's hippy dippy habits, while loyal but accident-prone Wembley and sardonic Boober play a proto-Joey and Chandler.

Of course, those that grew up waiting patiently every week with Gobo for his uncle Traveling Matt's latest missive from Outer Space (aka anywhere beyond the rock) will go straight for the 30th anniversary box set on release this week. But the six episodes collected for this best-of disc will introduce a new generation of kids to the charming world of the floppy, happy, musical Fraggles. Each episode gives the central five their own moment in the spotlight, learning a fantastical lesson that would resonate with the audience.

Creatively, it's a fusion of every aspect of Henson's work. There's the Sesame Street morality tales, the joyous hijinks of The Muppets, and then there's the first strains of the creative adolescence that he transmitted through Labyrinth (Henson even inserts a blatant piece of product placement for The Dark Crystal in the disc's third episode, Boober's Dream.) Puppetry aficionados will appreciate what a masterful step forward it was for the art. It mixed traditional marionettes with blue screen, full body suits and even remote control and motors for the Doozers. But the end result is just a charming, childlike, wondrous trip into a complete world.

As an Englishman abroad, there is some slight weirdness to this release. Henson understood that his stories were truly without borders, and so he repackaged them so that kids of different countries could really associate with them. In the UK, there was no workshop, and there was no Doc. It was the revered character actor Fulton McKay as a lighthouse keeper who looked after Sprocket the dog. Of course, we all glossed over the fact that there were a bunch of furry critturs with American accents living on a small Scottish islands. But it's just a little strange seeing Doc where the captain should be. But this was a show that unified the world. True fact: It was the first Western show to be broadcast in Soviet Russia. And that's because, even now, it can make you dance your cares away.

Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock: Meet the Fraggles (Vivendi Entertainment) is available now. Also on release this week:

Fraggle Rock 30th Anniversary Collection (Vivendi Entertainment) All four seasons, plus the animated series, an all-new graphic novel and a Red Fraggle key chain. Just break out your credit card now.

Cloud Atlas (Warner) A close run with The Hobbit for the most ass-numbing literary adaptation of 2012, the Wachwowski siblings turn David Mitchell's multi-layered novel into a hammered-over-the-head morality tale. The film divided audiences at a sneak screening during Fantastic Fest 2013: At least Tom Hanks' remarkable array of time-travelling facial hair is a distraction (Read our review here.)

Texas Chainsaw 3D (Lions Gate) The sequel that tried to convince you that Leatherface was just misunderstood (Read our review here, and our coverage of the original sneak screening at the Alamo South Lamar.)

Beware of Mr. Baker (SnagFilms) Ginger Baker is a leviathan of rock drumming, and his own worst enemy. Jay Bulger's remarkable documentary about Cream's resident mad man won the grand jury award at SXSW 2012 (Read our review here.)

Frankie Go Boom (Universal) Another memorable SXSW veteran: Before they paired up in this Summer's hotly awaited kaiju flick Pacific Rim, Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Ron Perlman (Hellboy) shared a tender moment in this bizarre, hilarious oddity that defies description, but needs to be seen.

The Bletchley Circle (PBS) Britain's ITV network turns the true story of the Allied code breakers who helped turn the tide of World War II into a crime drama (Read our review here.)

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