If you would like to contribute to our Muppet Retro Reviews series, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Wermuth, Jr. – Billy Bunny’s Animal Songs is the first of five “Muppet Sing Alongs” videos, released in 1993 but produced in 1990. In fact, it’s one of the first productions made after Jim Henson’s death. Like the “Tales from Muppetland” specials, Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, and The Christmas Toy, this video focuses entirely on new characters, with Kermit serving as host and narrator. Kermit’s scenes take place inside a log cabin where he tells the story of Billy Bunny, whose favorite activity is singing, but unfortunately for his family, he only knows one song, “Hoppity Boppity.” Annoyed with hearing the song over and over, Billy’s mother asks Billy to go into the woods and learn some other songs.
On Billy’s journey to learn more songs, he meets a variety of animals who teach him songs related to their species. First he meets several gophers who sing “We are Different,” showing that they all have different interests. Then Billy meets a group of bears, who act polite as opposed to rude like Billy thinks bears act, and they sing “Bear Rap.” Then Billy meets a termite, who sings “Termite Chew.” After this Billy meets two raccoons who sing “I Got a Secret,” then Billy gets hurt after bumping into a porcupine, who gives Billy the musical advice “Please Don’t Bump Into Me” in a nightclub-style setting. Going into the swamp, Billy learns “Frog Talk” from a group of frogs, and then meets a turtle who doesn’t know any songs, so Billy helps him write a song, “Swim Away, Hooray!” Billy then comes home to tell his family that he now knows eight songs but his favorite is still the song that had been annoying his family, leading to a grand finale reprise featuring all the animals Billy had met during the video.
As noted, this video was produced in 1990, but didn’t come out until 1993. I assume that Kermit’s scenes were all shot closer to the videos release. Aside from a brief interaction with Billy at the end and him joining in the finale, Kermit’s scenes could have easily been recorded after the rest of production ended, and it looks like Steve Whitmire didn’t perform anybody else in this video. Billy Bunny is a good character, and Kevin Clash does a great job as him, but it is a wonder that Bean Bunny wasn’t the star, considering The Jim Henson Company had been trying to make Bean into a main character at the time. Aside from Kermit, no other major Muppet character appears in this, though many generic Muppet frogs, bears, gophers, raccoons, and penguins from past productions make appearances. I really like the design of the termite who appears in this.
The songs are good, though not as great as the many songs from Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, or Fraggle Rock. “Hoppity Boppity” is a fun song, and the reprise is a lot better than the first performance. My favorite song from this is “I Got a Secret,” with Jerry Nelson and Richard Hunt as two sneaky raccoons. I also like the showbiz-quality of “Please Don’t Bump Me.” “We are Different” and “Frog Talk” are both very catchy songs as well. None of the songs are bad, but my least favorite is “Swim Away, Hooray!” which feels slow compared to the other songs.
All in all, Billy Bunny’s Animal Songs is a good special. I wouldn’t list it among my favorite Henson productions, and it’s not even my favorite Muppet Sing Alongs video (that honor would go to “It’s Not Easy Being Green”), but I do recommend watching this video at least once, though it’s long out-of-print and has never been (and probably never will be) released on DVD.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, email@example.com