In The Muppets Take Manhattan Miss Piggy fantasizes about what her and Kermit’s life would be like if they met as babies. This leads to a dream sequence music video in which baby versions of Piggy and Kermit are joined by baby Fozzie, Rolf, Scooter, and Gonzo. (I don’t know why those four were chosen.) Somebody got a brilliant idea during production because only two months later (and it takes longer than that to put a cartoon together) Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies premiered on CBS’s Saturday morning line-up and stayed there for seven seasons. I think only Superfriends lasted longer.
The show followed baby versions of Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo (with stuffed chicken Camilla), Rolf, and Scooter, joined by Animal and original character Skeeter, Scooter’s twin sister, to add to the female cast. Although there were other girl characters in The Muppet Show for them to use. Janice only appears once as a teenager and both Sue Ann and Miss Mousey were also available but never used. Adult versions of Statler and Waldorf popped up in the later seasons as did Bean Bunny while Honeydue and Beaker were always recurring characters who would visit the nursery to play with the others. Even Robin showed up as a tadpole. The show sparked a trend of kid versions of classic cartoons at both kid and baby stages. And their imagination-fueled adventures (often using clips of movies and TV shows for some visual appeal) may well have inspired the tales of the Rugrats, though I can’t confirm that.
Recently in 2018 Disney decided to revive the concept for their Disney Junior lineup. Even though they now own Marvel and the Show branch of the Muppets (Sesame Workshop, formerly the Children’s Television Workshop, owns the Sesame Street Muppets and I think Jim Henson Productions still owns the rest) they opted not to bring Skeeter back. (If you were here for my review of the Muppet Show comics this is why, in her appearance, everyone called her “Scooter’s sister” and not by name.) Rolf and Scooter are also absent and Camilla is one of a group of baby chicks who live in the backyard. Instead of using one of the established female characters the Disney version created their own character to round out the cast, the art-loving penguin Summer. So how well does the new version fare? Is it like other remakes or is it relatively faithful to the original while doing it’s own thing? Well, they posted an episode to the Disney Junior YouTube channel so let’s find out.
They altered the theme song but it isn’t bad. Where the original had a full-length story this follows the two stories per episode format, but the stories do fit into that space. I think this was designed for younger fans than the original…actually, obviously it does because it’s part of the preschool lineup where the original was probably elementary school-aged. Nanny seems younger than she did on the original show and I don’t know why they shortened the cast. These aren’t complaints, which I thought they would be going in, just observations on the changes. As for Summer, she blends in rather well with the rest of the group and as a cartoonist I can get behind her as someone who likes to make art. I wonder if she’ll get a regular Muppet version? Although Skeeter never did even though Henson himself was behind the cartoon.
However, everything else seems intact. While they don’t use old clips (I think it would have been neat to use the old cartoon for the in-flight movie Fozzie was watching as a nod) the babies still use their imaginations, which was a central premise of the show. There’s a bit more attention to the moral here. While the old show covered things like the dentist or a new baby (in this case Kermit’s nephew rather than a brother), it seems to be a stronger element here, possibly due to the shortened story length. Plus this was only one episode. I saw a short online with Gonzo trying to get the chicks to help him launch himself out of a makeshift cannon which made me worried fourth-wall breaking would be the norm. A number of preschool shows do this to get the kids at home to play along with the characters. That doesn’t seem to be the case with the full series. We even got a song with Kermit and Dot, which is also from the original show. (Each episode featured a sort of music video, which makes sense given the inspiration.)
They also play a bit with art styles. Notice the style of Dot the dragon or outside the window of the airplane. We also get a nod to the Indiana Jones boulder that was part of the old show’s intro, which was nice and fit that story well. The CG models do look like Muppets while the original cartoon seemed to be drawing them as normal cartoon characters.
I was kind of worried when the show was announced because I enjoyed the show as a kid although I didn’t really follow the last few seasons. I was concerned that they would mess this up as much any other reboot because it doesn’t matter what the old fans thought. But it seems to have captured the spirit of the show they’re remaking while still modernizing the concept and giving a new generation of kids a similar experience to the one their parents had. It’s sad that the preschool remake of a Saturday morning show is better at that then stuff created for older kids and adults. This isn’t not-stalgia but a rather good update. I’m sure most of you won’t bother with this (but given what I watch you won’t be surprised to hear I might check this out again) but it’s a good show for your kids/siblings/nieces/nephews that you might be willing to sit through for the memories.