Kieran Moore – The Muppets have been a big exponent of fairytales pretty much since they first appeared on TV back in the 1950s. Certainly by the time we got the “Tales of the Tinkerdee” in 1962 and the later “Tales from Muppetland” specials, they were a big part of what Jim Henson was known for. Since then we’ve had parodies, grown-up retellings and fantastical movies, all exploring the worlds of fairies and mythical creatures. From Sir Didymus to Sweetums, it’s a field that’s been well and truly ploughed.
This makes it all the more fitting that one of the most famous Muppets on the planet today is a fully-fledged fairy. Abby Cadabby burst onto the Sesame scene in 2006 and has never looked back. Infinitely likeable and so much fun to watch, she was an instant hit with viewers and is now a major star. Today I’m counting down the top 10 examples of just why the world (and I) fell in love with a little pink fairy from far, far away…
10 – Kids with Wings – Sesame Street
This might just be the best way to start looking at the character of Abby as it really encapsulates one of the main driving forces behind her introduction. As the song title suggests, this is all about how Abby has wings, but most kids don’t (unless there’s something no one’s telling me). She sings about the ways people differ and that rather than treating differences with suspicion, we should all learn things from each other instead. It’s a message of acceptance that is a key part of Sesame Street’s curriculum. For many years Sesame Street has been filled with humans, monsters, animals and grouches, and all were treated as if they were seen on any street corner in any major city. Finding a way to introduce a new type of character who was purposefully different was therefore going to be tough. Sesame Street had used fantasy characters sparingly in the past (with the possible exception of Count von Count) so making Abby a fairy was a clever way to set her apart.
9 – Because we’re Friends – Sesame Street
In my mind there are “old” Sesame Street Muppets and “new” Sesame Street Muppets and the distinction is pretty fuzzy and can really be interpreted as anyone who appeared after I lost interest as a kid. By that score even Elmo (in his most popular incarnation) counts as “new” despite having been around since 1985. (I know, I know…) What this means is that the three singers of this song are all “new” Muppets to me. Rosita and Zoe both came to the show in the early 90s, but I think the introduction of Abby formed a female Muppet trinity that’s hard to beat. The characters all show a different side of what it means to be a girl, ensuring viewers of both sexes can find a character to identify with. This song explores their friendship and how they play and interact together. They have a fantastic bond and it’s shown to full effect here. I can’t help feeling a little put out for Prairie Dawn though…
8 – Hurray-Hurrah for Broccoli – Sesame Street
There was so much to say about the previous two songs that somehow I’ve gotten as far as number eight on this list and not yet mentioned Abby’s performer, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph. Leslie is one of my favorite Muppet performers for all sorts of reasons. Firstly, as you can hear on this video, she is an amazing singer and that goes a long way in my book. Secondly, she’s a dab hand with a puppet, putting in genuinely endearing performances whether it’s with a Muppet like Abby or one of her own creations, such as Lolly Lardpop. She’s such a charismatic presence; I find whatever Leslie does incredibly watchable. Furthermore, and this is the biggie, I happen to know that she read the top 10 chart I wrote about her. Hearing that just about made my day. If Leslie has read my words then I can die happy (a long, long time from now).
7 – The Bird Family – Little Children, Big Challenges: Divorce
Everything I’ve written notwithstanding, one of the main reasons this song made the chart over so many other awesome pieces is the inclusion of John Tartaglia as Birdie. He’s a guy that really hasn’t been featured enough on my charts. Boy, can he sing. There are a group of Muppet performers who are, in my opinion, the cream of the crop when it comes to musical performances and both John and Leslie are amongst that number. There’s a purity to their voices that rings out loud and clear, even when singing as small birds or 3 year old fairies. By the time Abby was introduced to Sesame Street divorce had almost stopped being the big talking point it once was, but the show had struggled to deal with it in a way that played well to kids in the past. Previous attempts to depict divorce had upset children in test screenings as they saw the parents of a character they knew loved argue and break up. Abby circumvented that by being brought in as part of a single parent family from the start making the topic a little easier to discuss.
6 – Two Friends of Two – Sesame Street
Ever since Abby Cadabby first had a sunny day on Sesame Street she has been firm friends with Elmo. The characters are written to be very similar in age so it makes sense that they would latch onto each other the way they have. Both have enjoyed massive success individually with their own segments of the show, but together they really are the current Sesame Street power couple (although we know no one will ever really take the crown from Bert and Ernie). Having just touched on “Abby’s Flying Fairy School”, it’s an interesting point (at least I think so) that for many years Sesame Street wasn’t shown here in the UK, but Abby’s spin off was. This means she is one of the few non-old school characters to be known properly over here. Leslie and Kevin (as Abby and Elmo) sound awesome together. By rights two high-pitched voices like these shouldn’t work, but they do brilliantly.
5 – I Love Words – Sesame Street
Abby Cadabby loves words and so do I – which is pretty much where our similarities end. I guess I’m kinda pinkish… I love a song with fast lyrics. I’ve always been good at tongue twisters so I enjoy wrapping my lips around super-speedy sayings. To that end, if I had one wish for this song it would be that it sped up rather than slowed down at the end. As it is, the high-kicking finale is probably my favorite part. I’m not sure if Abby is shimmying at the end or not, but this portion of the song certainly calls for them. To hardened Muppet fans a full-bodied Abby flying her way through this song could seem a little pedestrian. After all we’ve seen this effect done countless times before, but when you think about it this is pretty impressive. With her flapping wings, waving arms and kicking feet (not to mention her mouth) there’s a lot going on. The fact that all of these elements can come together in perfect synchronicity is testament to the performers’ skill.
4 – Valentine’s Day Song – Sesame Street Online Video
Of course since they’re only three years old there’s never been any hint of a romantic relationship between Abby and Elmo, but in an alternate reality where it was more appropriate I think I’d be down with the two of them being more than just friends. I’m not shipping them or anything weird like that, but they do make a cute couple! One of my favorite things about this viral video is the animation. The crayon-style drawings of Elmo and Abby are super sweet. Have they ever used them for merchandise or picture books? Despite my huge collection of kids’ character merchandise I’m not a huge fan of stuff that’s obviously geared towards young’uns. These are so kawaii though I’d probably make an exception. The other aspect of this piece that I like is the musical style. Rock n Roll/Doo-Wap is the perfect genre for a love song and this sounds like a mix of “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “Summertime Blues” and all those late 50’s/early 60’s classics.
3 – My Own Fairy Tale – Abby in Wonderland
When I wrote my original chart for Leslie Carrara-Rudolph a little over two years ago (where did the time go?) this song was number one. It’s funny how over time things can shift around like that. I still stand by that rating though, this is a spirited performance and the character of Abby shines through like the star on her wand. Abby in Wonderland was released just two years after Abby’s debut and it shows just how much people had taken her to their hearts that she was chosen to lead a special so quickly. This song serves as Abby’s “I Want” song (you know, the kind of thing Disney does with “Part of Your World” or “Out There”). It explains the motivation for what’s about to happen and helps us understand the character better so we root for her later on when things start to go wrong…
2 – Wondering Through Wonderland – Abby in Wonderland
If the previous song was setting up the story of Abby in Wonderland, this is the moment our heroine realizes you have to be careful what you wish for because sometimes you’d rather be at home. It’s a well-used trope, but it fits the story nicely so we’ll let them off! Although this special is based on Alice in Wonderland, it seems to borrow heavily from The Wizard of Oz as well – so much so that Cookie Monster (as the Cheshire Cookie Cat) even references the yellow brick road. We’ve seen Abby being mostly upbeat through pretty much every song on this chart so far, so to now have her appear in a clip where’s she’s (dare I say it) sad is quite, well, sad. Of course we know that everything will work out in the end, but that doesn’t mean my heartstrings aren’t tugged any less. Part of this is due to the song writing skills of Mark Radice and Christine Ferraro, and the other part is the moving performances from Kevin and Leslie.
1 – Just Like Magic – Sesame Street
Can I share a secret? Until I researched this chart I’d never really heard the name Sara Bareilles before. She’s only really had one hit in the UK (Love Song), and although I know it well I have to admit I’d never realized she was the singer. Anyway, now I’ve embarrassed myself with that revelation I’ll talk about how much I enjoy her performance in this song in the hope it makes up for my transgression. Having mentioned the music of the 50s and 60s earlier I find myself being drawn in that direction with this track as well. It sounds just like one of the girl groups of the era. Abby’s performances can sometimes be a bit cutesy (which is just as they should be), but here Leslie imbues Abby’s vocals with a little bit of R’n’B sass. There’s a bluesy tone to her voice that gives it an edge and although it’s only really noticeable if you’re analysing her performance because you’re writing about it, that extra vocal element sets this apart from the competition and makes it top of the pops.
I hope by now I’ve made it abundantly clear I think Leslie Carrara-Rudolph is a superb singer, actress and puppeteer. Because of this Abby is quite simply one of my favorite Sesame Street characters. As a 38 year old guy that really shouldn’t be the case, but I find her so charismatic that I can’t help myself. Maybe one day she’ll magic herself to my corner of the globe and supply me with pumpkins, but in the meantime I’ll just have to continue to watch her on Sesame Street! I have to conclude with a huge thank you to Abby and Leslie and everyone else who appeared on today’s list for helping me believe in magic a little bit harder than I did before. Thank You. Technically this miss is a myth, but that fact hasn’t prevented Abby from becoming one of the shiniest stars in the Sesame universe…