The following review contains spoilers for Episode 1 of the new Muppet Babies on Disney Junior. Of course, that probably shouldn’t bother most adults, but still, we thought we’d better warn you in case you’re 5 and somehow got a hold of your mothers iPad.
Jarrod Fairclough – Before I review the new series of Muppet Babies, there’s something you should know about me. I’m a Disney Junior genius. I know all the words to the theme songs of Doc McStuffins, Sofia the First and Mickey and the Roadster Racers. I know Elena of Avalor‘s sisters name. I can name any member of the family in Miles From Tomorrowland in a second. That’s part of the deal when you look after your young nieces a couple of times a week. The TV is on Disney Junior. Even if we’re playing Lego, or playing Hangman, or talking about our day, the TV is still in the background, sometimes on mute, and there’s the super annoying dogs from the super annoying Puppy Dog Pals. I say this so you know my qualifications. I know what makes a good Disney Junior show. I also know what makes a decent Muppet show. And now we have a mixture of the two, with Muppet Babies premiering on Disney Junior this morning, and that makes me the perfect guy to review it!
I say this fully aware that this show was not made for me, as so perfectly put by Joe Hennes over on ToughPigs a while back (seriously, read that article), but Muppet Babies is kind of great. There were two things I was looking for in a new Muppet Babies series, and they were; 1) If the characters acted like their puppet counterparts (or at least a recognizable version of them) and 2) If the show was good enough that I wouldn’t want to mute it when it came on when babysitting. And the good news is that this show, or at least the first episode, appeased me enough on both counts that I’m pleased it exists.
First things first – Muppet Babies is funny, and almost every laugh out loud line comes from Gonzo, on fine form here. When the show was first announced I wondered whether they would tone Gonzo down, but his weirdness is exactly the same here, as he casually mentions bowling balls made from pizza and gloats about the population of chickens. A lot of adults say Gonzo was the first person who made them realize it was okay to be a bit different, so the fact that a whole new generation of kids are going to be introduced to him, albiet in a different way, is a-okay with me. But it’s not just Gonzo nailing the humor – each character gets a little moment to shine, Piggy’s snoring sounding like ‘moi’ being a highlight.
The voice acting is fantastic. Matt Danner’s Kermit sounds exactly like a young version of Matt Vogel’s Kermit, which is a great bit of casting if you ask me. Eric Bauza’s Fozzie has that kind of throaty quality which is necessary to making the voice work, at one point nailing his laugh so well, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d recorded Eric Jacobson doing it. At first I thought Dee Bradley Baker’s Animal needed to be deeper, but then I remember he’s meant to be a kid. Melanie Harrison’s Piggy can switch between sweet and sour just like Eric Jacobson’s. I’ve loved Jenny Slate since her first ‘f-bomb’ dropping day at Saturday Night Live, so as far as I’m concerned she could have done anything and I’d have been on board. Jessica DiCiccio plays newcomer Summer Penguin, and without having an adult counterpart, it’s really not possible to critique the voice. It’s child like, and it works. But I have no idea what she’d sound like as an adult. Hopefully one day we’ll find out.
But back to the two things I mentioned earlier. Let’s start with the latter, and that’s this: Is this show good enough that I wouldn’t mute it? Well, yes. It is. For a kid’s show, that is. It’s funnier than all those shows I mentioned way up in the first paragraph, and the storylines held my attention. But more importantly they held the attention of my 3 year old niece who I made watch it with me. She knows who Kermit the Frog is, it helps that her Uncle Jazz has a giant photo of himself with the frog on his bedroom wall (why, yes, I am single). So at first I think she only agreed to watch it with me out of a kind of pity. But she laughed at all the right spots, and asked if I had met Miss Piggy afterwards, which is a step in the right direction to brainwashing her into my fandom.
Now, the former. Do the characters act like their puppet counterparts, or at least a recognizable version of them? The answer, again, is pretty much yes. Gonzo is as irrerevent and kooky as he needs to be. Miss Piggy still wants attention, but in much less of a diva way which is refreshing. Fozzie is still as hopeless and helpless as ever, Wocka Wocka-ing hs way through numerous puns. Kermit is a tough one. In the first episode he’s scared of the dark but doesn’t want his friends to know. He attempts to throw his friends under the bus once or twice. But isn’t Kermit always honest? I mean, I get it, and besides that one part of the first episode, he’s pretty much exactly how he should be, but that rubbed me up the wrong way a little.
Then there’s Animal. Originally after just the first part of this episode, I had written a huge paragraph on him, and why he deserved better. I wrote that he was too tame, and wasn’t close enough to himself while still being appropriate for this setting. Then I watched the second half of the episode, which completely contradicted what I’d said initially. The episode revolved around just how crazy he COULD be, shredding and spreading craft paper and glitter and paint all around the playroom, getting distracted by pretzels, and needing to be chained up. Animal is a hard character to make work in this type of show. They can’t necessarily have him live by those 5 words his puppet counterpart does – Sex, Sleep, Food, Drums, Pain – so finding a way to make that insanity still show but make it child friendly is a tightrope I thought they had failed, but turns out they nailed.
I say all this, once again knowing that this show is not for me. It was made for children between the ages of 4 and 7, of which I am not. For me, this show will likely become like Sesame Street. I’ll champion my friends who watch it with their kids. I’ll look at quick 2 minutes clips put online. I’ll review any prime time special they might happen to create. But other than that, Muppet Babies isn’t going to be a regular fixture of my life. It’s fun, and it’s funny, and it makes the perfect introduction to these characters for kids, so that they might in a few years want to watch Muppet movies with you. And that’s all we can really ask for.
- The theme song is very sweet, modernizing the classic without losing what made it so memorable.
- Rachel Bloom of Crazy Ex Girlfriend fame plays Dot the Dragon. Let’s hear it for the casting team, they’ve done a stellar job.
- Part 2 of the episode has no old movie clips, but in Part 1 we get a solid few live action scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which looks brilliant.
- The visuals are great, and the texturing is impeccible. There’s also hidden Muppet Babies throughout the show in photos, like Baby Janice and Baby Zoot.
- I can’t stress how much I love Gonzo in this show. He’s gonna be the breakout character, I can see it now. The way he smugly jumps to conclusions like ‘There’s no dragon in the art closet! Dragon’s don’t like art’ are all over this thing, and each one made me chuckle.
- There’s a baby chick named Camilla. So, there you go.
- Nanny’s favorite place is Paris. I mean, it’s fine. But Amsterdam is better.
- The Muppet Show theme plays when Fozzie watches himself do stand up on the plane. It’s also right at the part of the song where he’d do his comedy act. Very nice touch.
- Dizzy Kermit is just as funny as the real Muppets are those few times they’ve been drunk.
- Gonzo – ‘What are you looking for, Miss Nanny? If it’s a bowling ball made out of pizza crust, I’ve been looking for mine for weeks!’
- Gonzo – ‘I’m a veterinarian! Did you know our planet has 19 million chickens!’
Kermit – ‘…Okay…’
- Summer – ‘How are we gonna get over this wall?’
Gonzo – ‘Don’t look at me, I’m just a veterinarian… Does anyone need a flea collar!?’
- Piggy – ‘I know how to speak French. Le French Friiiies!’ (proudly curtseys)
Everyone else – ‘Ooooooooo!’