Written by Alex Guttridge.
Muppet Babies – Season 1, Episode 01 – ‘Noisy Neighbours’
The Muppet Babies try to keep the noise down, and keep Animal quiet, so they don’t disturb their policeman neighbour.
In all honesty there is nothing about this episode that makes it in anyway an introductory story, it could fit anywhere in the shows run and not look out of place. I would imagine this is a consequence of multiple stories going into production at the same time and the first one finished was the first one shown. It is especially odd that the first episode doesn’t have Bunsen or Beaker in since they are in the opening titles, although they would only ever be bit part players in the fabric of the show. The animation it’s self isn’t particularly stunning, it’s very standard for the time, Toei Animation also animated ‘Transformers’, ‘GI Joe’ and ‘My Little Pony’ and the look is very much of a piece with them. The design is well thought through but the animation is a bit wobbly and off model in places, a criticism that would be appropriate throughout the show’s life.
Integrating live action footage, more often than not from movies, as a way to shoe the grandiose size of the babies imagination is a great idea, if a little jarring the first time you see it, and is only used a couple of times in this episode. Some stock footage of a Navy Destroyer whilst they are playing a sea battle game and a Star Wars Star Destroyer turning up behind a door when Gonzo is checking for trouble is all there is. The sea battle they are playing is really fun, from Rowlf being under a couch as a way to create a ship’s engine room and using Gonzo as a periscope to Animal being the ship’s missile, it’s really inventive and something you could imagine children actually doing. I think the show is best when it’s demonstrating things like this, how to use your imagination to turn every day objects into anything you want them to be, animating the reality of what they are doing rather than the fantasy.
The two main set pieces of the show are a medieval dragon slaying story and a Superman parody. I found the latter to be quite fun and enjoyable but found the former a bit of a slog to get through. It will depend entirely on your personal opinion but I find baby Piggie’s constant desire for affection from Kermit to be quite annoying, in a way it never is in ‘The Muppet Show’ or any of the films. As the medieval segment is all about Piggy doing that it didn’t gel with me at all although the fact that they have all the characters mispronounce sword and say it as it’s written in a nice touch since they are supposed to be reading the story. The superman parody was much more fun and worked well within the context of the show with some nice in jokes and references to the source material. The score of this sequence is excellent, nicely echoing John Williams score for Superman without sounding like a cheap rip off.
Technically this is the debut of not only Skeeter but the character of Nanny. Famously never showing her face she was the calm voice of authority even though it was never established who she was. Was she hired to look after the babies at their house, implying they all lived together? Was it her house and the Muppets were taken there as babies to stay for extended periods of time? Was she a relation of some kind? We’ll never know.
‘Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies’ would always include a song in every episode and this is no exception, with Rowlf singing a Rock n Roll lullaby to try and put Animal to sleep. It’s an OK song, it’s not particularly annoying but it’s not greatly catchy either, a serviceable song for a show that felt compelled to have a song, probably due to the shear volume and quality of songs in ‘The Muppet Show’.
Overall I still find the show to be a very enjoyable and well made children’s show, it doesn’t really transcend the genre but I think it does excel at exactly what it’s trying to do and is a fantastic example of children’s television. I don’t think the characters have huge depth if you watch the show devoid of any knowledge of who the characters are, being sketched only in the broadest strokes. If you do know the characters, however, you bring all that knowledge with you and they do feel like baby versions of them. The fact that my 4 year old nephew was happy to watch the episode with me is a testament to the fact it still works as a show today.
– A couple of nice references to the adult versions of the characters with Fozzie telling jokes in a spotlight and Piggy giving a Hi-Ya!
– When Gonzo, as Cluck Kent, goes into the elevator there is a sand ash tray with cigarette butts in next to the door, I don’t think that would be allowed today but was a nice bit of set design.
– I’m not sure about the wisdom of having a rock n roll song for a lullaby but if anyone would respond to it Animal would.
– In the Superman sequence there are some very off model adult characters, if they were an example of what the adults of this world looked like I’m glad we never saw Nanny’s face.
And there you have it, the building blocks for a show that would last 7 seasons, embed itself in pop culture and never see a proper DVD release due to the shear amount of clips from other media it used.
A quick note on its place in the fictional history of the Muppets, I’m a firm believer in what I like to call CYOC, Create Your Own Cannon. I find it best to just enjoy things as they are and decide for yourself where they fit within the overarching text of a show, or if you hate something just ignore it. ‘A Muppet Family Christmas’ (in the top 3 things the Muppets have ever done) has Fozzie introducing Kermit to his Ma as if she’s never met him then later shows a film of the Muppet Babies all together and it’s made clear that it’s footage from their first Christmas together. The two facts don’t really go together but the special is so good you don’t notice it as you’re enjoying the show too much. That’s exactly how I like to think of Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, as long as everyone’s having a good time who cares where it fits in?