Lost Muppets: Little Muppet Monsters

The main cast of Little Muppet Monsters

Memory is a funny thing, mine especially. I can recall episodes of television shows I saw once over twenty years ago with remarkable clarity. Yet information like the current location of my cellphone remains elusive. One such memory taking up space that would otherwise contain the whereabouts of a pen I was holding five seconds ago was of a show called Little Muppet Monsters. I could recall a scene of an animated Fozzie and some puppet sequences. I knew that it had aired after Muppet Babies. But that was it. If it weren’t for an instrumental version of the theme song that played over the end credits of Muppet Babies reruns, I might have come to believe that I just dreamed the whole thing. It was decades later when I decided to see if Google could help with my murky memories. The internet was up to the task and I learned the story of a Jim Henson project that didn’t turn out as planned.

Little Muppet Monsters was created to run after the already successful Muppet Babies, creating an hour-long programming block. The stars of the show are three young monsters: Tug, Molly, and Boo. In the pilot episode, a bolt of lightning strikes a machine the monsters have built in their basement, allowing the monsters to create a TV show that the adult Muppets can watch on the television upstairs. The show consists of skits performed by the monsters, cartoons featuring the adult Muppet characters, live action stock footage, and guest appearances by the adult Muppets.

So Little Muppet Monsters did exist. But why did I only have vague recollections of the show? Why had it never been shown alongside the countless reruns of Muppet Babies? As it turns out, Little Muppet Monsters had a very short lifespan. Neither Henson Associates nor the show’s home network CBS felt like the series was working. Most of the blame was laid on the rush to get the show to production in time to air alongside the second season of Muppet Babies and the rather weak premise. At Jim Henson‘s own suggestion, the show was pulled from the CBS lineup. This could not have been an easy call for Henson to make. Even accounting for the short development time, Little Muppet Monsters must have represented months of work for the Henson team. On top of that, only three episodes had aired when the decision was made to drop the show, leaving most of a season’s worth of episodes in various stages of completion unaired. Still, Henson decided to abandon the series rather than argue for trying to fix it or airing the finished or close to finished episodes, suggesting that he did not think the show was salvageable.

That might have been the end of the story, but this is the Internet Age, where even a three episode, never rerun TV show is available on YouTube. Since a DVD release is unlikely, this is a great opportunity for Muppet fans to see a rare artifact of Muppets television history. All three episodes are available; I’m showing the first part of episode two only because the copy of episode one on YouTube has some quality issues.

There are certainly highlights to the surviving episodes of Little Muppet Monsters. Any footage of the original Muppet Show characters performed by their original puppeteers is something to get excited about, particularly when it’s footage most people haven’t seen before. Tug, the oldest of the three titular monsters, is played by the late, great Richard Hunt and youngest monster Boo gives us a glimpse of David Rudman‘s puppeteering prowess long before he became Baby Bear on Sesame Street or took over the role of Cookie Monster. The animated sequences are generally well drawn and retain much of the wit and charm of the series’ sister show Muppet Babies. Unfortunately, the Muppeteers don’t provide the voices for the animated versions of their characters and the quality of the substitute voices varies. But there are more good fits than bad ones and hearing Jim Henson’s Kermit side by side with Frank Welker‘s is fascinating.

At the same time, everything that led to the series’ early cancellation is also on display. The three monster kids just never develop enough personality to carry the show. Granted, three episodes is not a long time in which to judge whether a character will work or not. But none of the show’s leads demonstrates anything beyond the most basic sibling relations. The fact that these characters share the spotlight with the stars of The Muppet Show only highlights how underdeveloped they feel in comparison. This leads into another aspect of the show that hinders both its main characters and the series itself: the format. Because the show includes so many different segments – lectures on comedy with Fozzie, animated detective stories written by Kermit, comedic news reels narrated by Gonzo, animated Pigs in Space adventures, and sports features with an animated Animal – there’s hardly any time to spend on the monsters. Where The Muppet Show masterfully balanced the onstage entertainment and backstage storylines and Muppet Babies made the fantasy sequences crucial to the story while grounding each episode in the reality of the nursery, Little Muppet Monsters is never convincing as a cohesive whole. A viewer flipping channels and stumbling onto Little Muppet Monsters mid-episode would be hard pressed to guess what the show was about.

So that’s Little Muppet Monsters: a Henson show without enough of the Henson magic to avoid an early cancellation. With more time and a revised premise, it might have earned its place as a worthy companion to Muppet Babies and other classic Henson shows. As is, it’s a great story about Jim Henson’s willingness to pull the plug when something wasn’t working and an interesting curiosity for Muppet fans to track down and rediscover.

Images provided by Muppet Wiki – an excellent source of information on all things Muppet.

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10 comments

  1. Smalerie

    Before reading your article, the only thing I remembered about the show was the theme song. In fact, I’m guessing that I was remembering the commercials or something rather than the show itself since that youtube video seems so new.

    I agree with you, there are things I like about the show (classic characters outside of the muppet theater, interacting with new characters, animated sequences) but it certainly feels disjointed. I’d like to think that this gave way for better projects. What those were, well.. I just might have to look into what came next.

    • Cartoon Sara

      The Tale of the Bunny Picnic, The Christmas Toy, and Labyrinth all came out the following year. I’m sure most or all of them were in production for much longer, but it probably didn’t hurt to have a few more free hands to work on those and other projects in development at the time.

  2. tinydoom

    I’m with you Smalerie…I also only remember the theme song, and perhaps it was from the ad, since this doesn’t seem very familiar (admittedly my memory can be a little dodgy). As for what comes after, I’ll put in a post request for more info on Muppets Tonight! With video clips!

    • Cartoon Sara

      There should definitely be a Muppets Tonight article, though which of us should write it may require some discussion.

  3. The Goog

    I am not sure I recall this at all. I did watch Muppet Babies pretty faithfully and you’d think that I would be into more muppet monsters, but since I was the kind of kid that planned out each show to watch at the beginning of the new cartoon seasons, in an illustrated binder no less, I may have chosen something else over this. Probably the Alf cartoon. I didn’t say I had a lot of taste in what I chose to watch…

    • Cartoon Sara

      My understanding is that the three episodes of the show literally ran once each and never again, so it’s a wonder anyone remembers it.

      I’m hoping against hope that the binder still exists.

  4. Babbletrish

    I know the reason why I vaguely remember the title of this series and it’s theme song. There was a television special retrospective of Jim Henson’s career that showed highlights of all his work up until then. From what I’ve heard, it just happened to be filmed right when “Little Muppet Monsters” was set to premier, so of course they dedicated a segment to the show set to it’s theme song.

    Unfortunately, the three aired episodes of “Little Muppet Monsters” came and went long before this special aired. Curiously, the sequence about “Little Muppet Monsters” wasn’t changed at all, so you get to see Big Bird happily introduce this strange already-cancelled show anyway. I remember that confused the heck out of me as a little kid, and I’m glad to have this mystery finally resolved.

    • Cartoon Sara

      According to MuppetWiki, the time between the cancelation of “Little Muppet Monsters” and the siring of the Henson special (called “The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years” should you want to try to track it down) was just four months. While that sounds like it would be enough time to make a last minute cut and remove the sequence referring to the cancelled show, perhaps it wasn’t.

      I’m glad I was able to clear up that mystery for you. Thanks for commenting!

  5. ILDC

    The animated adult Muppets having separate VAs sort of made the show feel like the celebrity cartoon shows of the time, where the actual celebrity generally only showed up in brief live-action “host” segments.

  6. Pingback: Movie/Event Review: I Am Big Bird | The Ladies of Comicazi

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