The creative force of Jim Henson spanned several decades before his untimely death in 1990, yet his dedicated colleagues (and their most memorable characters) have carried on the Henson legacy. Countless adults from America and abroad can undoubtedly admit to Henson's creations and characters being a large part of their formative years. From long-running productions like The Muppet Show and Sesame Street to one-off holiday specials like Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas and The Christmas Toy, as well as full-length films like The Dark Crystal, Henson's Muppets were a perfect vehicle for his particular brand of character-driven humor. While the colorful characters managed to attract younger audiences, these creations could be watched guilt-free by the older crowd as well; after all, they were created, operated and voiced by adults, and viewers could always expect a careful balance of humor, fantasy and music. In some cases, his characters even taught us a thing or two while we were laughing.
Sesame Street may offer the best pure example of accessible, educational children's programming, but shows like Henson's Fraggle Rock (1983-87) weren't far behind. Originally airing on HBO---which kept it out of the homes of many young viewers, myself included---this colorful, collaborative creation managed to squeeze in lessons about friendship, acceptance and love while showing kids a great time. Though I did manage to catch Fraggle Rock occasionally at a friend's house (and during syndication, of course), it's unfortunate that I couldn't tune in regularly. That's all changed now that the series has been released on DVD, both as separate volumes and a massive boxed set---and even through adult eyes, it's painfully easy to see that the adventures of Wembley, Red, Gobo, Mokey, Boober and company were something truly special. They don't make 'em like they used to, right?
After the first three seasons were released by Lionsgate in 2005, 2006 and 2007, fans were expecting the final volume last year---but what they got instead was a partial double-dip: the aforementioned Complete Series Collection, which has since been whittled down to a more compact version. Though this massive 20-disc set served up several new bonus features---and, of course, all 96 episodes---fans had a right to be outraged. Therefore, the delayed but welcome release of this final season (originally produced as one set of episodes, but broadcast as seasons 4 and 5) should please those who didn't shell out for the oversized boxed set: for starters, all the new bonus features are present and accounted for. As such, those who already own the Complete Series Collection shouldn't bother with this one...and it's not exactly Song of the South, but Fraggle Rock: The Final Season is a welcome release that many thought would never see the light of day. Three cheers for mutually beneficial business agreements!
For now, it's the content that matters. Again, this five-disc set serves up all 24 episodes and plenty of terrific extras for a relatively low asking price. Let's take a look at what this final season includes, shall we?
(24 Episodes on 4 single-sided discs)
From start to finish, it's easy to see that The Final Season maintains the high level of craftsmanship that made previous seasons of Fraggle Rock so successful, even more than two decades after its original broadcast. Fan-favorite episodes like "Uncle Matt's Discovery" (Gobo and the returning Matt stumble upon a new and frightening cave), "The Perfect Blue Rollie" (a shiny discovery leads to friction between Boober and his friends), "A Tune For Two" (the upcoming Duet-a-thon reveals that Doozers are not welcome), "Wembley's Flight" (the lovable Fraggle's wishes literally come true), "Gone, But Not Forgotten" (Wembley's encounter with a rare creature leads to a short-lived friendship) and "The Honk of Honks / Change Of Address" (the two-part series finale where Doc and Sprocket move to the desert, but not before meeting Gobo face-to-face) are around every corner, balancing fun adventures with necessary lessons about life and our relationships with one another. These serious issues are handled with great care and rarely drift into sentimentality, while the fantastic music (largely written by composer Dennis Lee and lyricist Phil Balsam) helps to move the stories along nicely.
While Wembley, Red, Gobo, Mokey and Boober are give the lion's share of face-time during these adventures, the continued appearance of supporting characters provides additional layers of interest. "The Silly Creatures of Outer Space" (Doc and Sprocket) still bookend the episode segments, but episodes like "Sprocket's Big Adventure" merge their two worlds in a decidedly different way. "The Trial of Cotterpin Doozer" focuses on the young Doozer in a racially-tinted story not far removed from To Kill A Mockingbird. The giant Gorgs get some face-time as well: in "The Gorg Who Would Be King", simple-minded Junior gets an unexpected reduction in size that changes his outlook on life. Fraggles are still at the forefront here, but these slightly different takes on the traditional formula offer refreshing changes. Of course, they're still chock full of important life lessons, delivered in a way that's easy to relate to.
It may have arrived a year late, but Fraggle Rock: The Final Season is worth looking out for. In short, Lionsgate has simply taken the final seasons' worth of content (including the respective "new" bonus features) from the Complete Series Collection and now offers it as a separate package. Here's how everything stacks up:
Presented in their original 1.33:1 format, it's no surprise that these episodes looks a little worn around the edges. Since they were originally shot on video, fans can expect a mild step up from original broadcast quality...and that's about as much as we can hope for. Mild amounts of interlacing can also be spotted from start to finish, especially since there's an awful lot of fast movement during many sequences. As such, the visual rating may look a little low on paper---but if you saw and enjoyed Fraggle Rock growing up (or own any of the earlier DVD collections), I doubt you'll be disappointed.
The audio presentation is slightly more satisfying, as these 24 episodes are presented in their original Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mixes. Dialogue and musical numbers come through clean and clear, largely free of hiss, distortion and other such problems. Though no optional subtitles have been offered during the episodes, Closed Captions are supported; if nothing else, they may help fans decipher some of the more obscure character names and song lyrics.
Up next is "Silly Humans Speak", which starts off with a general Season 4 Overview (26:52, below left). This extended chat features co-creator / creative producer Jerry Juhl, producer Lawrence Mirkin, co-creator / writer Jocelyn Stevenson, Susan Juhl, writer Laura Phillips and other key members of the crew. Aside from a few general production stories, this session deals with the decisions faced by the creative team during this final season. It doesn't shy away from some of the behind-the-scenes friction, either: Juhl explains their disagreements with Henson about how the series should end, though both parties obviously had a lot of respect for one another. Also of note here is the brief "Directing the Fraggles" (5:42), a retrospective chat with episode directors Eric Till and George Bloomfield.
Our next session is "Sounds of Fraggle Rock", which obviously focuses more on the music from the series. Leading things off is "Let the Music Play" (14:56), featuring musical collaborators Dennis Lee (lyrics) and Phil Balsam (composing). It's interesting to note that Lee---a poet and author by trade---was originally asked to try his hand at scriptwriting for the series, but persuaded co-creator Jerry Juhl to let him try penning some song lyrics instead. More than anything else, though, the duo (recorded separately) mostly chats about learning to work together---and, of course, the growth that they achieved as a songwriting pair. This section also includes "Dance Your Cares Away" (10:44), another chat with Balsam and Lee about how the memorable theme song came about.
The fourth and final section, "A Fraggle Celebration", takes a closer look behind-the-scenes during the final season's home stretch. Up first is "You Cannot Leave the Magic" (6:14, above right), an abstract collection of scenes from the last day of shooting. It's a wonderful little trip back in time and includes a look at the puppeteers in action, as well as a few brief farewell speeches and tours of the set. On a similar note is "Celebrating Fraggle Rock" (15:24), which includes scenes shot during the official wrap party. Of course, Jim Henson is the first to give a speech, but Jerry Juhl and a few other members of the creative team get their two cents as well. More than anything else, it's great to see the cast and crew in high spirits during such a bittersweet occasion...and it goes without saying, but it's the perfect way to wrap up these retrospective extras.
All bonus features are presented in 1.33:1 and, unfortunately, do not include optional Closed Captions or subtitles. Even so, it's great to see another terrific batch of extras here; overall, there's nothing more and nothing less than what was found on the Complete Series Collection, which is perfectly fine. Kudos to Lionsgate for assembling another strong assortment of extras!
Fun, entertaining and downright magical for audiences of all ages, Fraggle Rock: The Final Season serves up the last 24 episodes with style and charm. Those with fond memories of Wembley, Red, Gobo, Mokey and Boober will enjoy revisiting the songs, adventures and colorful characters found here, while new viewers should undoubtedly start from the beginning. Lionsgate's belated but affordable five-disc package is largely satisfying, pairing a decent technical presentation with a host of excellent bonus features---and though owners of last year's Complete Series Collection shouldn't bother with this one, those who purchased Seasons 1-3 will want to add The Final Season to their collections without hesitation. In all honesty, it offers a pitch-perfect ending to a classic series that the whole family can enjoy and comes Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, mocking passers-by and writing things in third person.