In 1988, Lorimar Home Video put out a collection called Jim Henson’s Play-Along Video. The point of these videos (though I didn’t understand it when I was a kid) was to encourage kids to do the fun activities being taught in the videos. And today, I’m going to write about the videos and my memories of seeing them.
There were six videos in the collection – Wow, You’re a Cartoonist!, Hey, You’re as Funny as Fozzie Bear!, Sing-Along Dance-Along Do-Along, Neat Stuff to Know and to Do, Peek-A-Boo: A Big Surprise for Little People, and Mother Goose Stories. Wow, a lot of those titles are a little long and maybe even complete sentences. The first of those three are the only ones with established Muppet characters, and are the ones I rented the most often as a kid (all of the others I only rented once, and none of my local video stores had Neat Stuff – I first saw that one on YouTube). In addition to having Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Rowlf, Luncheon Coutner Monster, and others, these videos introduce two new Muppets, colorful children PJ and Kai-Lee, who are a good contribution to the videos.
My favorite of the videos is Wow, You’re a Cartoonist! Of course it helps that I really liked drawing at the time. Kermit’s on the cover but he doesn’t really host – he gets a scene at the beginning and appears in a segment where he teaches how to draw cartoon animals (where we see close-ups of his hand drawing the animals), singing the catchy “To Be a Cartoonist is Fun!” More notably, we get to learn to draw faces from Picklepuss and Pop, cat characters created by Caroll Spinney before he had met Jim Henson, and this is probably the only Henson production Spinney performed in where he did not perform Big Bird or Oscar.
Hey, You’re as Funny as Fozzie Bear! (which sounds like an insult to me, since Fozzie’s usually seen as a bad comedian) has Fozzie, joined by Kai-Lee and PJ, teaching jokes. Many of the jokes are simple jokes that I’m sure everyone knows (when I was a kid after watching this I came up with variations on some of the jokes that probably don’t really make sense), we get the catchy title song, and we get appearances by Kermit (who introduces the show in front of the familiar red curtain), Miss Piggy, Animal (providing the rim shots), Luncheon Counter Monster (who shows up in all three of the videos featuring established characters), and more. Sing-Along Dance-Along Do-Along was always my least favorite of the three with the main Muppets, but it’s still enjoyable (maybe in a “so okay it’s average” sort of way). It’s hosted by Rowlf, who leads PJ, Kai-Lee, and several live kids in a variety of musical activities. PJ and Kai-Lee also appear in Neat Stuff to Know and to Do, which is comprised of several short segments showing how you can do a variety of things. While none of the more recognizable Muppets appear in this, a number of Henson employees do show up on screen. Fred Newman, who starred in Henson’s Puppetman pilot and wrote for Muppet Magazine and The Muppet Show on Tour (and would go on to voice Skeeter on the Nickelodeon series Doug) teaches how to make sounds with your mouth, Camile Bonora (who performed Kai-Lee) shows how to perform a puppet sitting on a stool, and Jim Henson himself shows how to skip a stone (so Henson had time to make an on-camera appearance but couldn’t perform Kermit in this….?).
The other two – Peek-A-Boo and Mother Goose Stories – stand out like a sore thumb. Peek-A-Boo features footage of little kids playing, with the only Muppets being a bunny and a bear (plus an appearance by the penguins), with not much dialogue beyond “peek-a-boo” (or, more commonly, just “peek”), but the footage is nice to watch and the music is nice to listen to, in fact it opens and closes with songs that are also a wonder to hear (this one used to be available for download, not sure whether it still is). Mother Goose Stories is the odd one of the bunch by really being a home video release of Mother Goose Stories with some linking footage of Mother Goose and her goslings playing games based on the nursery rhymes. But to be fair, this video came out two years before Mother Goose Stories made it to the air – this was basically a video release of a series that was in development with a few episodes shot, I wonder if the video’s sales were what got the series picked up. Even the cover is a big contrast to the other videos, which have one Muppet and one human child – the cover just has Mother Goose and her goslings.
As I mentioned before, I rented some of these at the video store quite a bit. Of course only one video store in my area had these, while my local library had Mother Goose Stories (which I didn’t bother to check out until around 2004). I wonder how well these sold, because they’ve never been rereleased. The Muppet Sing-Alongs videos from the 1990s had clips from these in the opening (while It’s Not Easy Being Green had a clip from Sing/Dance/Do-Along), and the Jim Henson’s Pre-School Collection could have included reissues of these. Some of these have been on YouTube in the past, some only in clips, and I’m not sure whether the linking footage from Mother Goose Stories has been online. Disney has the rights to four of these, while they’re aimed at a really young audience it’d be great if Disney would release them on DVD (they wouldn’t have to worry about music rights).
Muppet Enthusiast, Film Lover, Book Adorer. No one original, but (hopefully) providing brand new perspectives for the world to process. Currently a Bachelor of Arts undergraduate at Deakin University.