Television company

How Jim Henson Company reimagines classics like ‘Fraggle Rock’ and ‘Harriet the Spy’ for modern kids

The company behind the Muppets has been busy recreating familiar projects from our childhoods – from ‘Fraggle Rock’ to ‘Harriet the Spy’ – for a new generation of children who take into account the changing times in the world. over the years.

“How do you continue to develop the legacy brand?” Halle Stanford, president of the Jim Henson Company, told TheWrap in a recent interview. “You keep coming back to what it’s about. Jim Henson said, “If you’re going to put a kid in front of a television, you gotta have something to say.” But children transform, children change and families need change.

For Stanford and his team, that meant reviving the 40-year-old cult hit “Fraggle Rock” in a new Apple TV+ series that targets today’s stressed kids and helps them negotiate the social and environmental issues that complicate their world. in 2022. “From 40 to now, we all need to feel connected, right? We’re all part of this planet,” Stanford said. Fraggle Rock’ – empathy and understanding, connectedness.”

Thus, “Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock” – which debuted on January 21 with characters from the original 1983-87 series like Gobo, Red, Goober and Uncle Traveling Matt – tackles issues ranging from misinformation in line to pollution in the oceans to the refugee crisis. “The pandemic has revealed, and even before the pandemic, massive anxiety among children and their parents,” Stanford said. “And so there are several episodes that deal with anxiety, that deal with self-care. It’s my favourite.

In addition to “Fraggle Rock,” the Jim Henson Company has produced other series, including a Netflix show called “Math Party” and an animated version of the children’s book classic “Harriet the Spy,” which debuted in last November on Apple TV+ and features the voice of Beanie Feldstein as a middle school detective.

Stanford, who joined Henson in 1993, has a long history in children’s television, winning an Emmy as executive producer of Netflix’s 10-episode fantasy series “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.” And she launched the PBSKids series “Sid the Science Kid” (2008-2013) based on her own science-loving son, then a preschooler and now 24.

She spoke to TheWrap about the various challenges involved in rebooting “Fraggle Rock” and “Harriet the Spy.”

“The Fraggles” / Jim Henson Company

How is the Jim Henson Company taking its programming in a new direction?
How do you continue to develop the legacy brand? So what “Fraggle Rock” was 40 years ago, the essence is there. But then we looked at modern messages about what children and families need to help them make the world a better place.

What are some of the specific issues the show is addressing in 2022?
Well, climate change is important, isn’t it? And the oceans. So you’re going to see topics like this in “Fraggle Rock,” like cleaning up microplastics in the oceans. They are like big global ideas. But we also address the individual challenges that have arisen. So yes, the pandemic has revealed, and even before the pandemic, massive anxiety among children and their parents. And so there are several episodes that deal with anxiety, that deal with self-care. It’s my favourite.

What about social media?
We were very aware of the digital age. So there are a few threads that talk about the echo chamber, that talk about digging into the truth behind products sold online. Just take a look at what the real product is versus messaging…we also have the Craggles, who eventually become refugees, and the Fraggles need to welcome them in and learn to be good allies.

Tell us about the “Fraggle Gaggle” who advised the screenwriters.
“Fraggle Rock” invited poets who work with children every day, we invited teachers, we invited the (UCLA) Center for Scholars & Storytellers, which had real data and research on the concerns of families and children. How do they act? What are they doing?

The animation “Harriet the Spy” (based on Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 novel) avoids some of these issues by taking viewers back to the 1960s – with period-appropriate 2D animation. Why?
I found out after picking up the book that Harriet was one of the first little girls written in literature who didn’t dress like a typical little girl. She wore low tops, baggy jeans – she’s like a time traveler. That’s how we knew she would connect with the kids today too. And that’s kind of the reason why we wanted to set it in the 60s. Not all the networks were into that idea, but yay for Apple! You could suddenly delve into topics (and) demonstrate that they still exist today. But also kind of give it that veneer, that kind of whimsical veneer of this new, different kind of New York, when the kids were “on the loose.”

I truly believe Harriet was a Jim Henson book (waiting) to be translated to TV. When you think of the name Jim Henson, we think of our lineup, it sounds classic. It sounds like something that has like the gold standard of children’s entertainment behind it. But really, for me, I loved it because Harriet is an artist and Jim Henson was an artist. Yeah. And she, uh, she looks at the world through an artist’s lens as a writer. You’ll see on the show when she writes. You will see what she imagines.