Muppet Babies: Close Encounters Of The Frog Kind
Review By: Gringo

I always felt sorry for Gonzo. In the intro song for their show, all the other Muppet babies listed their great talents, even at those tender ages. Kermit, Piggy and Fozzie liked adventure, romance and great jokes ew. Ever wonder why Scooter became one of the forgotten Muppets in later life? The clues are there in the introduction to the show, as he boasts "I've got my computer". It's a little known fact that he became the secret, less ugly part of the hitherto unknown Paul Allen-Bill Gates-Scooter trio and went on to retire at an early age, his pockets bulging with money. Bulging, I tell you! Continuing, Skeeter (Scooter's freakish sister) was a talented gymnast whilst Rowlf was better at playing the piano than Linus and his mumbling Peanuts friends, hands down.

Where did all this leave Gonzo? I used to think that Animal was as big a loser as his obscenely sized blue nose friend, but that was because I thought he said "Animal pants!" as he proud boasts in the intro. However, when I grew up (physically, not mentally) I found out it was "Animal dance!". So even he's got a future, probably as a slightly camp choreographer. Gonzo's boast however was perhaps the saddest I've ever heard, a testament to how little his fellow Muppet babies liked him or nurtured any of his hidden talents. With a forced smile on his face he says, "I've got blue hair". That's it. He doesn't write. He doesn't sing. He doesn't act. He has blue hair. The poor, unfortunate little freak.

Then of course they brought out the reserves from time to time. Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker showed up now and again, and the storyline usually revolved around Bunsen's attempts to create another face-beating device for his hapless sidekick. Waldorf and Statler were famous as the two old, incontinent men who heckled the felt-faced characters of the Muppet Show. But apparently they were really Uncles of the Muppet babies; showing up in a couple of episodes, no doubt beating them with their canes when the program went off the air. Even Bean Bunny showed up in a couple of episodes, and there's entire websites devoted to his amazing talent of being the least popular Muppet in the world, ever.

And what effect did these hangers-on have on the Muppets? There's a dearth of literary evidence that speaks for itself. Kermit hit the bottle hard, drinking day and night, waking up with the feeling that only a drink would get him through the next twenty-four hours. That was until Nanny set him on the road to recovery, and he could proudly say (in a voice that was not even remotely like his adult one) "Bye, bye, bottle!". However, that tubby little ham Piggy just threw caution to the wind. Never mind Kermit's alcoholic recovery, Piggy decided to dispose of her diapers - and fast! Not as bad as poor old baby Grover, who upon discovering he wasn't cool enough to be a Muppet, realised "I have to go".


Still, the first few seasons of Muppet Babies were relatively free of annoying cameo appearances. Except for the episode I'm reviewing now. I'll reveal who the mystery character is shortly, but firstly I'll set the scene. The show starts with the Muppets trying to destroy the nursery as usual. Kermit appears to be the Sheriff of the First Bank of Muppets, or whatever the little freaks called it. Gonzo, full of spite, decides that his supposed friends are having too much fun and robs the bank. How does he make his getaway? On Animal. Right. I'd forgotten that Animal finished every sentence with the phrase "ackle-backle-backle". Never mind; he was quite simply the coolest of the Muppet babies, with his I-don't-give-a-damn attitude and penchant for eating the nursery, generally trying to destroy it whenever he could.

Sheriff Kermit races off after the Lone Weirdo (Gonzo's words, not mine). A short chase sequence ends with a showdown between good and evil...with chewing gum! Kermit blows his bubble faster than Gonzo, covering the freak in sticky goo (so to speak). Oh, I'm sorry. I've only just realised how immature the direction I'm taking this paragraph is. So to quickly change tack - because pressing delete is clearly so much hard work instead of continually typing - I'll gloss over the conclusion of the mini-Western movie and simply say that the Lone Weirdo is vanquished and the babies all get their valuables returned to them. Guess what Piggy's were? Cupcakes. And she wonders why she's so porky. That ain't just baby fat, you future ham.

Then - perhaps mercifully - mystery woman Nanny interrupts the crazy fun with great news! Kermit is an uncle! And he's about to spend the next twenty minutes with one of the many cameo characters! Yes, his nephew Robin (the whiny Muppet in most of the movies) is brought in. Back in the day, he was still a tadpole and as such he is placed in the nursery inside his bowl. "He's very young" says Piggy. "And so pitiful" snaps Gonzo, bitter as usual, continuing "I bet we can't even play with him without breaking him". I don't get it. Why the hell does he feel the need to belittle people and make sarcastic comments all the time? I mean, I'm just a fool, so I've got a reasonable excuse. Gonzo on the other hand seems to have evil pulsing through his veins - and most of it used in this episode to ruin Robin's time in the nursery.

In addition, there's Gonzo's sadomasochistic love for Piggy. He constantly throws himself at her (literally in several instances), and all he gets in return is a karate chop followed by the pork baby making some strange noise. After disposing of the blue-haired one for the 156th time, Piggy sits Robin down (in his bowl) and tells him a story. Robin looks confused to say the least as Piggy uses the book as a cue to leads into a bizarre sequence in which Alice In Wonderland becomes Piggy In Wonderland. No sooner has she begun talking about a tadpole in a hurry disappearing down a tadpole hole than - guess what? - Gonzo interrupts again! Hooray! He sarcastically reminds Piggy that there's no such thing as a tadpole hole, and that the book specifically states 'rabbit hole'. Undeterred, Piggy beats Gonzo up again and keeps him silent for about five minutes by threatening to shove him down a 'weirdo hole'. I have no idea what one of those is, but if my imagination is anything to go by then Piggy is a sick, sick Muppet.

The story continues with Piggy chasing the mystery tadpole-in-a-hurry (hint: it's Robin. Ssssh! Mystery!) down a long corridor of doors. He disappears through one of them, and Piggy - realising she's a chubby ham - decides she'll never make it through the door. Fine. You'd think that'd be the end of the sequence. But oh no! Thirsty to wreak his vengeance on anyone who'll listen, Gonzo reappears wielding a very strange looking device. Piggy asks if it's a shoehorn. "No", says Gonzo, "it's a pig horn". And without warning, he rams Piggy through the tiny door with the aid of his new weapon. All the while a look of evil glee spreading across his blue face. No doubt it was partial recompense in his mind for Piggy refusing to give him her loving. It's probably safe to say that being rejected by Piggy led Gonzo towards his future insane chicken obsession.

On the other side of the door - which Gonzo forces the fat ham Piggy through - is Fozzie's Funny Farm. Someone's clearly been taking something, because the next scene involves Fozzie flying through the air on a sunflower, telling jokes to an audience of smiling crops. Great. Whilst in Wonderland, and experiencing as much insanity as one pork chop can take, Piggy runs across Scooterdee and Skeeterdum - who both take out their rage at being Muppet rejects on each other. They insult each other's names, poke each other a bit and generally act like annoying fools. Piggy knows better than to stay, and runs towards...a giant piano. Within a minute of talking to Rowfly Wolfy (the Muppets' version of Humpty Dumpty), the lid of the piano has opened up - revealing every single damn member of the Muppet Babies cartoon. Slightly frighteningly, they all have objects like saws and hammers in their grasp - and start attacking the piano, destroying Piggy's story in the process.

With everyone brought back to sanity, a stunning secret is revealed. Robin has clearly developed a liking for pianos after hearing the story as he - keep in mind he's a tadpole - decides to leap onto Rowlf's baby grand piano and play a few keys. With his entire tadpole body. Piggy she-pig-bitch-slaps some sense into the little pre-frog by telling him he'll never be able to play the piano. Besides, he's far too young. Gonzo, still fuelled by an intense hatred of sentient life in general, also throws some demeaning abuse Robin's way. But Rowlf - who has consistently proved himself the wisest Muppet, not least by being conspicuous in his absence from the latter Muppet movies - is more positive. He tells Robin that if he practices a lot, he can be whatever he wants to be.

Does Piggy argue with this advice? Does she buggery. Ever eager to steal the limelight, she does a complete about face and joins in an impromptu song urging Robin to persevere because "practice makes perfect". The song tends to just repeat those three words over and over again, whilst showing the Muppets apparently practicing all sorts of activities in a desperate hope that they'll get them perfect. I think Beethoven, Brahms and Bach showed up at some point in this Muppet version of MTV, but I can't remember quite why.

Animal decides to help Robin out and take him away from the madness, climbing to the top of the bookshelf and having a heart-to-heart. Even though they're enjoying themselves, telling jokes and bitching about the other freaks in the nursery, Piggy uses her considerable weight (both figuratively and literally) to force Kermit to retrieve his tadpole nephew. So Kermit marches up to the bookcase, ordering Animal to bring Robin back down to the ground. Amusingly, he complies with the order - by simply throwing the tadpole into the air! Robin must have some in-built parachute system, because rather than fall down and hit the ground, he glides - yes, glides - before bouncing across the heads of several Muppets. Where does he end up, you ask? Well, okay, you don't ask. In fact, if you're still reading by this point instead of just looking at the colourful pictures, I'd be amazed. Anyway, Robin lands in a toy car - which he then proceeds to drive with the most determined look I've ever seen on a cartoon tadpole.

As was always bound to happen with a tadpole - who has three fingers - driving a car, an accident happens. And he didn't even have any pre-Frog car insurance! Disaster! Realising that his creditors and lawyers will be racing after him, Robin crawls into a picture of the ocean in an open book. Pessimists out there will be doubting the possibility of anyone simply jumping into a printed picture, and immersing themselves in whatever world is depicted. I can think of several picture-heavy magazines I'd like to jump into. No, you diseased freak! I'm talking about TIME magazine. Yes. Of course. Anyway, before we're allowed to think for ourselves and guess exactly what story Robin has jumped into, Kermit gives the subtle culture reference away by saying "Oh no! That book's 20,000 leagues under the sea!". Animal, no doubt disappointed that Kermit had to spoil the mystery so quickly, feels the need to once again say something sounding like "ackle-backle-backle".

The rest of the Muppets decide to take whatever medication Robin's on, and all jump into the book too. After a pretty dull scene aboard a pirate ship, they all find diving equipment - out of absolutely nowhere - and descend into the sea. They descend 20,000 leagues under the sea, to be precise. What do they find? Not Robin, that's for sure. Instead, they're Muppet-napped and taken aboard a submarine. Someone in a diving suit drives this contraption. Why they felt the need to wear a diving suit inside a submarine is beyond me, but then again my state of confusion is still back at the whole smashing-the-piano-in-Wonderland part. The submarine driver - actually Robin in disguise, hiding inside the driver's helmet...shh!) threatens to keep the Muppets underwater forever, so they make a run for it. With no dramatic or interesting interlude whatsoever, the Muppets find and escape in a pink submarine. Why it had to be pink, I don't know. If it had been yellow, Kermit could no doubt have said another drawn-out explanation of the pop culture reference, saying something patronising like "We are all in a submarine, which happens to be yellow. A yellow submarine, if you will".

Such excitement! I'll escape now from that world, from the world of Mr. Jules Verne, and finish off this review as quickly as I can. Back in the nursery, with Robin safely back in his tadpole bowl, the wacky fun draws to a close. As the Muppet babies know, when you're good to Nanny, Nanny's good to you. She finally arrives to take Robin away from this circus of misfits. He doesn't stop to look back once as he's led out to freedom. The other Muppets stand around, wondering exactly what has gone on for the last twenty-or-so minutes. Gonzo does some more moaning. Piggy continues to act selfish. And Animal? He comes out with something really quite profound: "ackle-backle-backle".

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