Welcome to a brand new segment of The Reviewing Network called Do You Remember?
I’m a fan of nostalgic movies and television and I feel that a lot of people are so with this new posting, we’re gonna take a look at classic movies and television shows from the 80s, 90s and even the early 00s. If you want to get an idea of what this is going to be, go check out the recent My Take On… talking about Garfield & Friends to see what this new posting will be like.
With that said, let’s talk about one of the biggest nostalgic animated shows growing up in the 80s and 90s, Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies:
Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, commonly known by the shortened title Muppet Babies, is an American animated television series that aired from September 15, 1984 to November 2, 1991 on CBS. The show portrays childhood versions of the Muppets living together in a nursery under the care of a human woman called Nanny (the whereabouts of their parents are never addressed). Nanny appears in almost every episode, but her face is never shown, only the babies’ view of her pink skirt and purple sweater as well as her distinctive green and white striped socks.
The idea of presenting the Muppets as children first appeared in a dream sequence in The Muppets Take Manhattan, released two months before Muppet Babies debuted, in which Miss Piggy imagined what it would be like if she and Kermit the Frog had grown up together.
Muppet Babies was produced by The Jim Henson Company and Marvel Productions. The rights are now held by Disney–ABC Domestic Television. Although the episodes were 30 minutes (including commercials), it was typically shown in 60 and even 90 minute blocks during the peak of its popularity. Outside of the United States, the show was distributed by Walt Disney Television.
Now, I was born in 1989, right around the time the show was coming to its’ end so I barely remember when this was airing on CBS. In fact, I actually do have an old videotape, I’m guessing from 1991 since the thing before the Muppets Babies episode I had was Prince & The Pauper with Mickey Mouse and that was first released in theaters in November 1990, with an episode of Muppet Babies on it from the CBS years and you could tell because it had the old Fido Dido bumpers CBS was using at the time.
So, that was my earliest knowledge of the show growing up but I really got into the show growing up in the 90s because it was always playing on Nickelodeon. For a good majority of the 90s, no matter what time it was on, Muppet Babies was always there up until it disappeared from Nickelodeon around 1998 to go to the Odyssey Network (later Hallmark Channel) for a year before not airing on television since 2000.
At the height of its’ original popularity on CBS, it ran in two or three episode blocks. Even after the conclusion of the series, it had remained so popular that CBS continued to air reruns of the series until the fall of 1992.
For a brief run in the second season, the program became Muppets, Babies & Monsters, and a second half-hour was dedicated to a new show called Jim Henson’s Little Muppet Monsters. This show featured live action puppets and cartoons starring the adult Muppet characters. The program lasted three weeks before Jim Henson pulled the plug, despite 18 episodes having been made.
The show then reverted to an hour of Muppet Babies; however, a portion of the Little Muppet Monsters theme could still be heard in the show’s end credits for the remainder of its run. Muppet Babies later expanded to 90 minutes after CBS pulled The Garbage Pail Kids before it even aired due to controversy.
Also, Muppet Babies is noted for starting a trend of relaunching popular cartoon characters as younger versions of themselves. This trend can be seen in numerous TV series such as A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, The Flintstone Kids, Baby Felix, Tiny Toon Adventures (the main characters actually are parodies of the Looney Tunes. The Looney Tunes themselves are their instructors), Tom and Jerry Kids and Jungle Cubs (based on characters from Walt Disney’s animated film The Jungle Book) as well as merchandise items such as Baby Snoopy, Baby (Betty) Boop, Disney Babies, Baby Hello Kitty, Care Bear Cubs, and Baby Garfield. In recent years, Baby Looney Tunes, Sesame Beginnings and Baby Mario continued the concept.
So, even if the show doesn’t hold up as a whole, you have to give the show credit for its’ place in animated TV show history.
And speaking of that, does Muppet Babies hold up to this day?
Well, let’s look at the show itself and its’ setup:
The Muppet Babies live in a large nursery watched over by Nanny, who is seen only from the shoulders down. The babies’ imaginary games transition from the nursery into scenes that become “real” to the babies, such as finding themselves aboard a pirate ship or in the land of Oz. Often these fantasies are filled with stock footage scenes or live-action clips from popular movies such as Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and Indiana Jones. Each episode contains a related musical number. When the pretend game becomes too perilous, or when an interruption occurs (often in the form of Nanny checking in or the imaginary game straying too far from its original premise), the scene dissolves and they find themselves in the nursery once more.
The central idea of each episode is the power of imagination. Sometimes the babies use their imagination to solve a problem (when Nanny’s newspaper is accidentally ruined, the babies write their own newspaper to replace it), but occasionally their imaginations run away with them (overhearing Nanny’s phone call to the garbage collector leads the babies to fear that Fozzie is going to be thrown away). Other frequent themes involve the babies coming up with new ways to play with old toys, imagining what life will be like when they are adults, or facing common childhood firsts such as a visit to the dentist or a new addition to the family. Nanny (voiced by Barbara Billingsley) is the voice of reason, congratulating them on their creativity or soothing their fears.
The series stars Kermit the Frog (voiced by Frank Welker), Miss Piggy (Laurie O’Brien), Fozzie Bear (Greg Berg), Animal (Howie Mandel for the first two years;Dave Coulier for the rest of the series), Scooter (Berg), Skeeter (Mandel for the first two years and later Frank Welker), Rowlf the Dog (Katie Leigh), and Gonzo (Russi Taylor) as the main muppets. Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker made regular appearances as did Camilla in the form of Gonzo’s stuffed baby chick. In the final two seasons, Bean Bunny and Statler and Waldorf began making regular appearances.
Several Muppets made guest appearances including Janice, and Kermit’s nephew, Robin, a young tadpole.
The Muppet Baby character Skeeter, Scooter’s twin sister, only appeared in this series, and was never a live-action Muppet. This was done because the producers wanted another female character added to the cast. Despite this, Skeeter was always voiced by a male actor (first Howie Mandel, and later Frank Welker).
Probably the last bit of interesting information about the show is that one of the writers from the original years of the show is Chuck Lorre. That’s right, Two & A Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Mike & Molly, and Mom creator Chuck Lorre, he wrote one episode of Muppet Babies, the last episode of season two, When You Wish Upon A Muppet. But, of course, that’s not Lorre’s only contribution he made to a classic 80s animated series. Ever wondered who helped to make this classic theme song?:
That’s right, Chuck Lorre was one of the co-writers for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song and actually sang the song itself. So, yeah, you can hate some or all of what Lorre has made since then but you gotta give the man credit for creating one of the most badass theme songs ever.
I’m getting off topic again, let’s get back to what we’re hear to talk about, Muppet Babies. How does the show hold up?
While the show was clearly intended for younger children, it didn’t really talk down to kids. In fact, it applauded the idea of imagination and used that element to figure out a way to fix a problem, something that most kids shows nowadays wouldn’t really try to tackle, except for shows for the Disney Junior-PBS Kids-Nick Jr. audience. But for a show airing on network television during the time when most of the cartoons were clearly just trying to sell toys, this show really did focus on telling good stories, giving us memorable characters, and also learn lessons about life.
And for that reason, I think Muppet Babies is a show that holds up as good as it did in the early run. The animation is still pretty impressive, the voice acting is very good, the stories are great, you actually get some good lessons about life and appreciating what your imagination can do.
It’s such a shame that a lot of people can’t fully experience this show anymore because like I said before, it was off of television by 2000 and has not been seen on a network since then. In 2003, there was a brief, and I mean VERY BRIEF, period where they actually promoted new Muppet Babies toys that had DVDs with a couple of episodes for the show. I remember seeing one commercial for it on TV and that was it, that commercial never aired again, I couldn’t find it on YouTube and those toys are hard to find online unless you go to eBay or Amazon.
Probably the biggest sin of all is that Muppet Babies has never gotten a proper DVD release and for the longest time and still probably the main reason why, a lot of the clips from the show were from other studios and production companies. You would see clips from movies and shows such as Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, Roxanne, Labyrinth, they even used The $25,000 Pyramid as one of the clips:
So, yeah, you can see why that’s a main reason why there’s never been a proper DVD release for Muppet Babies, mostly bootleg and unauthorized sets that you find at comic book conventions with episodes that were clearly taped off TV or in reruns, which wouldn’t be bad if the episodes all worked and none of them skipped out every couple of minutes like most of them do including my copy that I bought.
Really, I think the series stands a better chance of getting a release on DVD at this point in time because there are so many ways to do it. For one thing, Disney, who own Muppet Babies, now owns Lucasfilm, who, of course, own Star Wars and Indiana Jones along with other Lucasfilm products, so that’s a good chunk of the clips already in Disney’s hands and I’m sure they could find a way to get the other clips to put out a set. I mean, they’ve already teamed up with other studios on stuff in the past, even working with their rival Warner Bros., who own Turner Classic Movies, on a rehaul of The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and even started airing some of Disney’s stuff on TCM and on the other networks WB owns. I’m sure they can find a way to make deals with these studios to get a proper DVD release of this out to the public.
Another thing is that there are DVD distributors who can put out TV shows under deals with other studios, companies like Olive Films, who put out some of Fox’s TV shows like King Of The Hill, the Napoleon Dynamite animated series, Better Off Ted, and many others, Mill Creek Entertainment, who owns a number of TV shows from different companies like The Cosby Show, Married…With Children, Roseanne, That 70’s Show, The Larry Sanders Show, Newsradio, and many others, and Shout Factory, who own a number of different TV shows from other companies. So, even if Disney wouldn’t want to put Muppet Babies out, they could lease it out to other distributors to do so.
At the very least, you could put it back on television or on a streaming service. Disney owns so many networks and has so many ways it can get its’ movies and shows out to people, it shocks me that they haven’t even just thrown it out there under the radar since they have the rights to the show. But then again, that could be because of the clip rights too. At the very least, you can still find Muppet Babies episodes on YouTube for the time being but I do believe that we’ll see a proper release for this sooner rather than later. I mean, for the longest time, nobody thought Batman or The Wonder Years would get proper DVD releases and now they do.
Regardless, I think a show like Muppet Babies should be seen to the public in some form because it’s a show that definitely does hold up for the adults that grew up with the show when it was airing and kids today who could use a show that’s entertaining and educational too. It’s definitely a show worth checking out all over again or for the first time.
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