For a franchise mostly devoted to comedy and singing and making people happy, the Muppets can be surprisingly scary when they want to. Here at ToughPigs, we’ve written about scary Muppet moments before. There are plenty of them. On the surface, this episode should be one of them. It’s about a wind tunnel that sucks Fraggles up like a hurricane, seemingly to their deaths. By all accounts, that’s a terrifying idea, and it isn’t played for laughs.
This is especially true of the episode’s standout song, “The Ballad of Sir Blunderbrain.” Before Wembley finds himself in 4T – the titular terrible tunnel – they all go see the Storyteller, who tells them the story of Sir Blunderbrain, a heroic knight who saved several other Fraggles from the tunnel, only to find himself gromped up in its terrible jaws. He doesn’t come back at the end. As far as we know, Sir Blunderbrain is actually dead.
The sequence is also lit ominously, and it contains the images of ghost Fraggles floating around. It’s pretty intense stuff! I’m sure this frightened many children, and one of them was Tough Pigs’ own Ryan Roe. And here he is to talk about it:
I always got an uneasy feeling when I realized that “The Terrible Tunnel” was the next episode on my childhood tape of Fraggle episodes. It’s pretty clear from the Storyteller’s song that Sir Blunderbrain DIED in that tunnel, and he wasn’t killed by anything as corporeal and comprehensible as a monster. He was killed by the tunnel itself — just an ordinary-looking cave, but a cave with malicious intent and a hunger for Fraggles. And once he entered the tunnel, he really had no chance of avoiding his fate.
I was a little kid learning to make sense of the world, and there were already enough obvious physical threats from people and things (strangers, mean older kids, large dogs, Chernabog from Fantasia) without also being forced to consider that there might be such a thing as sinister places. Thanks a LOT, Storyteller Fraggle.
Then Wembley stumbles upon the tunnel after getting separated from his friends. What could be more terrifying for a small child than the thought of getting separated from your loved ones, only to find yourself surrounded by an entity with evil intentions? Every time I watched Wembley enter that cave, I tensed up, considering the possibility that Sir Blunderbrain’s body was still in there somewhere. It still sends a chill down my spine!
So there you go: A chill down his spine! So why does my 4-year-old son Miles think this song is a blast?
He dramatically sings along with it in the car, he wants it for a lullaby often, and most of all, he thinks it’s hilarious. How can this be? Is my son a sociopath who laughs at the misfortune of others?
He’s not! But there are two important reasons why he thinks the song is funny. The first is that he’s heard the song dozens of times (in the car, on a Fraggle Rock mixed CD I burned 20 years ago). He’s seen the episode once, maybe twice. So he isn’t picturing the spooky lighting and disappearing Fraggles from the actual scene. He’s imagining his own version of the action, and I’m sure it’s a lot brighter and more cartoony than the one onscreen.
That leads me to the second, more important reason: multiple times, the Storyteller describes the tunnel behaving like a person.
- “The tunnel drew a sword as well and swung right back at him.”
- “All the while, the tunnel cried ‘You’ll not go home again’!”
- “At last Sir Blunderbrain, he brought the tunnel to its KNEES!”
- “And so the tunnel coughed them up, they all went home again.”
No matter how many times he hears the song, Miles gleefully cackles when the Storyteller says those things. He’ll laugh excitedly and yell “Tunnels don’t have knees!” and “Tunnels can’t cough!” and “Tunnels can’t hold swords!” He knows what a tunnel is (it’s a dark thing you drive a car through, of course), and he knows that tunnels don’t have mouths or arms or knees. The idea that they would is a joke to him, and it’s one of his favorites.
A lot of other things happen in this episode. It’s mostly about Wembley overcoming his fear of the tunnel, and also about his friends making fun of him because making fun of each other is all the Fraggles do in season one. But all of that seems irrelevant next to this song, a song so powerful it can have two completely opposite emotional impacts on two different kids.
That’s the magic of Fraggle Rock!
Strongest Moment: When Wembley first wanders into the Terrible Tunnel, a geyser blows Wembley’s hair straight up. This is such a cool visual.
Weakest Moment: It feels weird that they just knock on the Storyteller’s door and ask for a story. I would have expected her to get a big introduction in the Great Hall like so many other recurring grownups.
MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): Sir Blunderbrain deserves it for his valiant sacrifice.
First Appearance Of…: The Storyteller, played by Richard Hunt for the only time. Terry Angus and Donna Kimball both did amazing things with the character later, but there’s something special about her being played by a legend like Richard.
Most Classic Moment: The specific way the Storyteller says “All the while the tunnel cried, “you’ll neigh goo hooooome again!”
Musical Highlight: Since I highlighted the ballad earlier, I’ll give this one to “Bad News,” which is just as good.
Coolest Puppetry Effect: It’s a simple one, but the Storyteller lifts her glasses to show that she’s surprised, and it’s tremendously effective.
Darkest Moment: Sir Blunderbrain never comes back from the tunnel! As far as we know, that guy is straight-up dead.
Fraggle Lore: Fraggles play “Heidi Ho!” instead of “Marco Polo.”
Obscure Character Watch: Before Wembley brings up the Terrible Tunnel, the Storyteller was just about to tell us about the great Fedora Fraggle. She’s so obscure that we’ll never find out who she is!
One More Thing…: After Sprocket digs up a horseshoe in the garden, Doc looks at the horseshoe and immediately knows its specifications. This is the most like Bert that Doc has ever been.
Okay, One More Thing…: Boober believes that if you see rockweed, you have to grab your nose and say “Ricka-Rocka!” and if you see a cracked rock, you have to run around and say “Ooh!” The sequence of Boober and Wembley hopping around saying “Ooh!” is delightful.
Click here to bring the tunnel to its knees on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Anthony Strand