Interview: Lisa Henson Talks 'Fraggle Rock's' 30th Anniversary, Upcoming Jim Henson Projects

fraggle-rock

By Aaron Sagers

For three decades, a race of subterranean Muppets has taught us a few things about living. Sure, there are the obvious lessons from these Fraggles, creations of the Jim Henson Creature Shop, that it is good therapy to dance your cares away instead of worrying, and that Doozer constructs are tasty.

But more than that, for children of the ‘80s and beyond, “Fraggle Rock” emphasized notions of community, environmentalism, spirituality … and even radish appreciation.

The series, which originally aired on HBO from 1983-87, was itself a community project. Because he was involved in other projects Muppet maestro Jim Henson enlisted the creative talents of artist Michael K. Frith, head writer Jerry Juhl, writer Jocelyn Stevenson and producer Duncan Kenworthy on the show. Additionally, filmed in Canada, “Fraggle Rock” was an international production where the United Kingdom, France and Germany created separate wrap-around stories that didn’t include Doc and Sprocket in a workshop.

To celebrate the 30th birthday of Red, Gobo, Boober, Wembley, Mokey, Uncle Traveling Matt --  and all the Fraggles, Doozers, Gorgs and Silly Creatures from Outer Space -- a special DVD set of “Fraggle Rock” is on sale now and includes  all four seasons of the series, a graphic novel, and a plush keychain. The Fraggles, along with a lot of other material from the Henson library, will also be appearing on the company’s paid YouTube channel, announced last week.

To talk about the legacy of the Fraggles, as well as get updates on other Muppet projects, we caught up with Lisa Henson, daughter of Jim and CEO of The Jim Henson Company, as well as a veteran producer.

MTV Geek: What makes "Fraggle Rock" special within the family legacy?

Lisa Henson: For the people who made the show, it was a unique opportunity to build an entire world. Quite a few people created it with Jim so it wasn’t just his own personal property. After “The Muppet Show” ended, Jim was turning his attention to doing “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth” and he wanted these close collaborators of his to take a show and run with it, and build something special … For a lot of people who worked on it, it was really their biggest accomplishment and the thing they’re proudest of that expresses their creativity. The 30th Anniversary really is a big reunion year for the people who created “Fraggle Rock.”

Geek: What about for the fans?

Henson: [It is special] because the show has this completely original world, and everything is interconnected in that world – and it has its own logic, but is alternative. When people learn about “Fraggle Rock,” they leap in with both feet and immerse themselves in the lore. We feel that because the Fraggles have this special philosophy, and because they love music and resolve differences differently from humans, it in some ways appeals to artists and musicians; maybe more than even the other Henson characters. We have had musicians from every kind of band, from hip-hop to alternative and blue grass, and said the Fraggles were the characters that spoke to them.

Geek: As a mom of two kids, what was the best part about sharing “Fraggle Rock” with your kids?

Henson: Well that’s really funny. My children showed little interest in “Fraggle Rock” until the Ben Folds Five video [“Do It Anyway”], at which point they both decided Fraggles are very cool. But they took a little longer to come around to “Fraggle Rock” than some of the other properties, I think, because they were a little bit younger and “Fraggle Rock,” I think, appeals to a slightly older kid.

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Geek: What’s your favorite Fraggle?

Henson: Well, I love Red. Any person who looks at the Fraggles is going to naturally play that game of, “which Fraggle am I?” I would be a Red type of Fraggle. I relate to her. But from a creativity and design point of view, I love Boober. Having a character whose eyes are obscured and just emotes with his voice and body is fabulous.

Geek: What’s the status of “The Doozers” project announced last year around this time?

Henson: It is in production and looking beautiful. We’re doing that in CG and not with puppets. We thought the original Doozers, or many of them, were similar looking and they were great small puppets. So extrapolating from the way they looked to make them animated characters seemed natural to us. We’re actually in the middle of a pretty big CGI of 52 11-minute episodes. It is really a huge show. We’ve taken the theme of the original Doozers. They love to work, they love to build, they love to be industrious. But we went a little further with that for this, for pre-schoolers, and we have a curriculum of invention and problem-solving.

Geek: Will there be interaction with the Fraggles?

Henson: No, they live in a place called Doozer Creek, and it is a little removed from where we met them in “Fraggle Rock,” but presumably connected by the tunnels.

Geek: I know you aren’t involved with “The Muppets ... Again!” sequel, but what is your connection to Syfy’s “Jim Henson Creature Shop” show?

Henson: We’re in development on that and very excited about the prospect of inviting amateur creature builders from hopefully all over the world to audition to become part of the Creature Shop. That’s a project we cannot wait to sink our teeth into.

Geek: What was the inception of that?

Henson: It turns out we were percolating it for a while, like several years we were thinking about it. Then we met a reality producer who had the right angle … I like to think there are already people out there drawing and sculpting their portfolio materials just on the basis of the show’s announcement.

Geek: Do you think parent company Disney has done enough with The Muppets?

Henson: When they first bought The Muppets [in 2004], it took Disney a little while to get going with Muppet productions. At first, I have to admit, we were a little concerned because nothing big went into production right away. But at the moment we’re really happy because the last movie was so good, and The Muppets are beloved at Disney. I’m working on another project at Disney, and when I go up and down the halls, and I see Muppet photos, posters and paraphernalia in every person’s office, it makes me really happy. The fact they’re doing another movie so quickly is a big sign of their commitment.

Geek: What other Henson projects can we look forward to? I personally would like to see more of “The Storyteller.”

Henson: We would like to do “The Storyteller.” We’d absolutely like to some day! Our fans know we want to do more with “The Dark Crystal.” It is a little complicated but we have big plans for that. We are looking at “The Dark Crystal” world from multiple points of view, in as much as publishing, online and other media, instead of just a really expensive sequel – which is what I was focusing on for a while. Actually we have some very exciting stuff to talk about “The Dark Crystal” this summer. And we’re really excited about our Amazon pilot “Teeny Tiny Dogs.” It is all miniature dogs who go to doggie day care, and it is pre-school acted out by dogs. We’d like to urge as many people as possible to check it out.

The "Fraggle Rock: 30th Anniversary DVD Collection" is out now.