Dec. 14 – The Bells of Fraggle Rock

fraggle-gobo

FRAGGLE ROCK: THE BELLS OF FRAGGLE ROCK
Original Air Date: December 24, 1984

SYNOPSIS:
Gobo is having trouble believing in the Fraggles’ Holiday traditions. Is he willing to risk their lives for his curiosity?

fraggle-boober

BACKSTORY:
Fraggle Rock premiered on January 10, 1983, as a joint venture among many channels and many nations. Following the worldwide success of Jim Henson’s Sesame Street, but also the difficulty translating the show to all the nationalities who wanted a piece, Fraggle Rock was designed to be a show easily understandable to all audiences.

fraggle-gang

The Fraggles dealt with universal themes like fear, jealously, sharing, and other issues easily relatable to viewers regardless of language or cultural background. So while US audiences tuning in on HBO saw sequences starring Doc, Sprocket and Uncle Traveling Matt, these brief scenes were re-shot to be made specific to the country it was airing in.

fraggle-henson

Fraggle Rock aired for only five seasons, yet has shown remarkable longevity on cable and abroad. Though the Henson Company has sold the rights to both The Muppets and Sesame Street, it retains ownership of The Fraggles, and is even readying a movie for them in 2010.

BREAKDOWN:
Oh, how I love Fraggle Rock! Each of the five characters is instantly lovable, and relatable to any human with a brain capable of watching. I was too poor to have watched these episodes when they originally aired in the states on HBO, yet I wasn’t ready to fully appreciate it during the subsequent airing on TNT I was eventually exposed to.

fraggle-wembleyWembley is very committed to that tropical shirt

My preteen brain was unable to grasp how well written the show and its above-and-beyond music were, and only as an adult can I truly exalt the wonderful way in which the marvelous universe of Fraggles, Dozers, and Gorgs presented some incredibly deep and heartfelt lessons.

fraggle-doc2Doc explains to Sprocket the various cultural traditions people celebrate during the Winter Solstice

I dare say I could’ve used a viewing of The Bells of Fraggle Rock as a teenager, when I was so fucking busy screaming about the stupidity of religion and the inherent benefits of atheism. Seriously, this is a Christmas episode with a message so powerfully unique that I’m embarrassed about the way I conducted myself into near-adulthood.

fraggle-gobo3FYI, The Fraggles never even mention Christmas

In this episode, Gobo, the adventurous young explorer, is beginning to question the cultural traditions of his fellow Fraggles. Every year, the Fraggles celebrate The Festival of the Rock. They dress up, sing songs and ring bells in order to trigger the chiming of the Great Bell and keep The Rock (their home, not the wrestler) from stopping at the apex of its orbit and making life uninhabitably cold.

fraggle-gobo2Not feeling the group costume

Problem is, Gobo is finding it increasingly difficult to slap on a smile and perform the rituals his people have been merrily but blindly conducting for years in the name of fun and survival.

fraggle-groupIf a sad sack like Boober can get behind the Holiday, surely Gobo can?!

What is it all for, and how is anything they do making a bit of difference in the scheme of things? All of Wembley’s, Mokey’s, Boober’s, and Red’s promises of fun and costumes are doing little to persuade him to leave it be and just enjoy himself.

fraggle-group2Bah Humbug

Even the phenomenal song “There’s a Promise” (which I’m convinced should be allowed into our pantheon of Holiday music, if only for being absolutely beautiful and nondenominational!), lead by spiritual guru Cantus (who just so happens to be voiced by Jim Henson himself), does little to dissuade him.

fraggle-singNote the one guy not singing

It seems Gobo will only be satisfied with a literal interpretation of the Fraggles’ holiday.

fraggle-mapGobo finds a map in a box marked “Really Old Stuff”

He must see the mythical Great Bell in the center of the rock for himself, or bring back word to the others that it was all a sham.

fraggle-cantusCantus maintains he does not sound like Rowlf the Dog

Cantus counsels Gobo that he need not go on such a dangerous journey, since the answer he’s really looking for is much closer. But Gobo makes a huge scene and embarks on the mission anyway.

fraggle-mattOh, and meanwhile Matt expounds on the strangeness of “Silly Creature” culture

Cantus quietly accompanies Gobo at a distance, and allows him to see whatever it is he needs to see.

fraggle-gobo5I don’t want to ruin it

Through a series of literal, as well as spiritual, interpretations, Gobo eventually does find the answer, even though it wasn’t necessarily the one he was looking for.

fraggle-cold2Meanwhile, the gang freezes their asses off waiting for Gobo to return

But once he narrowly makes it back to Fraggle Rock, he finds that all of his friends have frozen. Whether this was due to the absence of Cantus or the lack of the ceremony is unimportant. The Festival of the Bells has not taken place, and Gobo has interfered with the natural order of things set in place by people far older and wiser than himself.

fraggle-frozenThe horror!

Personally, I don’t see it as a message of conformity, but rather one of cultural acceptance. The Fraggles’ traditions are equal parts biological and religious; a fun way of acknowledging a balance within their universe.

fraggle-lessonLesson hopefully learned

After unfreezing his friends, Gobo realizes that cultural traditions can have more importance than their face value. At no time is he asked not to question these beliefs, but he definitely learns that satisfying his own curiosity shouldn’t have to come at the expense of the beliefs and behavior enjoyed by others.

fraggle-endGobo joins in the reprise of this fantastic song

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I’m not a religious guy by any means, but it’s hard to interpret this any other way. Though neither Jesus nor Christianity are ever mentioned specifically, there’s a profound message of cultural acceptance here and I believe faith is a big part of that.

santa-fraggle

The only Santa to be seen is the small toy that Sprocket plays with.

spirit-fraggle

I genuinely feel that there’s an unbelievably beautiful moral to The Bells of Fraggle Rock, one that encompasses all cultural holidays and truly embodies the spirit of the Christmas season better than just about any special I’ve ever seen. Doc does a good job of explaining to Sprocket why people celebrate winter holidays, and Traveling Matt’s outsider perspective on the Human’s Christmas really helps drive the point home. No Shit: If there’s one Christmas special on this entire stupid blog I believe every parent should show their kids, it’s this one.

PRODUCT INFORMATION (Support the Site!)

The Bells of Fraggle Rock appears on the one-disc Merry Fraggle Holiday, as well as on the boxed set, Fraggle Rock: The Complete Third Season. Of course, it’s also contained in Fraggle Rock: The Complete Series Collection, but that should go without saying. I wholeheartedly recommend picking up any of these wonderful sets.

13ZimYesterday’s Christmas Special:
INVADER ZIM: THE MOST HORRIBLE X-MAS EVER


4 thoughts on “Dec. 14 – The Bells of Fraggle Rock

  1. So glad you dropped by, if only to be the first commenter on this underrated gem.

    This was truly one of the most surprising Xmas specials I’ve ever encountered, as well as a ridiculously wonderful example of Henson Studios on their A-game.

  2. Just went to bevmo and picked up a six pack of Anchor Brewing Christmas ale and its the very embodyment of what christmas would taste like if I could eat it. Like a fireplace on christmas day in my mouth. Love the site, it finnaly got me into the christmas spirit!

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