Most people think about Jim Henson and instantly picture Kermit the Frog, Sesame Street, or any number of the multitude of Muppet characters. Henson was more than a puppeteer, he was a director and innovator. He did not merely push the boundaries of technology, but he propelled technology. If an effect could not yet be achieved, he pushed and funded to make it possible. He knew that the funding for these projects often came from money made by selling Muppets toys and products. With a very successful background in advertising, he marketed the Muppets very well. He also felt a deep responsibility to fans and children. He wanted to offer products that were high in quality instead of exploiting the desire for fans and children to have Muppet toys and products. When I was little, I happily brushed my teeth with a Kermit the Frog toothbrush using Big Bird toothpaste after I took a bath in Miss Piggy bubble bath. When it was time to go to bed, I was happily tucked in with a Red Fraggle plus doll and slept snuggly under a Muppet Babies quilt. Just like today, if it had Muppets on it, I wanted it. When I was older and logged onto the Interwebs, I found out that there were tons of Muppet fans like myself. It was interesting to find out how much they loved the Muppets, but I also liked reading about the products and videos they had growing up. One of the coolest (for its time) toys that I missed out on was the View-Master Interactive Vision. The View-Master Interactive Vision can be best described as a VHS video game console. It hooked up to your VHS player and provided an interactive video experience when specially labeled VHS tapes were inserted into a VCR. It had one controller wired to the console and was meant to be only for one player. The controller had a joystick and five colorful buttons. According to the Interwebs, it could stay hooked up to the VCR even when regular tapes were being played. The special View-Master Interactive video tapes had one video track, but two soundtracks. At different points in the game, the player would be prompted to make selections. The console would play the corresponding soundtrack based on the player’s selections. The video featured animated or puppet characters which made it easier for the mouth movements to sync with the two different soundtracks. Only seven of these special VHS tapes were made. They were Disney’s Cartoon Arcade, Muppet Madness, Muppets Studios Presents: You’re the Director, and four Sesame Street games: Let’s Learn to Play Together, Magic on Sesame Street, Let’s Play School, and Oscar’s Letter Party. The Sesame Street videos were aimed at 3 to 6 year olds while the Muppet tapes were targeted toward 5 to year olds. Today, cell phones have much more complex video games than this one, but for 1988, this was pretty high tech. I had never heard of this one until I was in my 20s, but I would have loved to have had this at my house when I was a kid. In 1988, I was still taking turns being a circle chasing around ghosts for crying out loud! Whenever I visit Goodwill or a thrift store, I scope out books, vinyl, and VHS tapes in case there is are any great deals I cannot live without. In one of my most recent trips, I happened upon not just one View-Master Interactive Vision tape, but TWO! At fifty-cents each, I had to grab them! Sadly, I do not have the View-Master Interactive Vision console, but the tapes do play on a regular VCR without the console. Without the console, however, I could not see some of the animated video game play that would have been superimposed on the screen and I could not make any of the prompted choices. This meant that the default soundtrack was used and the other soundtrack could not be accessed. Most of the time, a vertical yellow bar was visible down the left and right side of my screen, too. The videos work well as stand-alone Muppet videos even without the consoles. Although the covers warn that the tapes are “for use only with the View-Master Interactive Vision television system” in scary red font, I am a rebel and popped them in my VCR anyway. Muppet Madness plays like an episode of The Muppet Show featuring an extended cut Muppet Labs sketch. I have always been a Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker fan! Kermit takes us inside Muppet Labs where Dr. Honeydew has one of the View-Master controllers. Honestly, the controller looks like something from a Muppet Labs sketch or an episode of Lost in Space. Of course, no Muppet Labs sketch would be complete without something terrible happening to Beaker. In this segment, Dr. Honeydew launches him into space! The rest of the skits are classic Muppet Show fare. Fozzie is delighted to test his standup act on a computer program that rates its hilarity. He thinks he gets a top rating only to find out that the program is busted! Gonzo is typical Gonzo and works on a daredevil act. Miss Piggy is noticeably missing from this video with no real reason why she should not have been included. Frank Oz performed Fozzie Bear and Animal in this video, so it was not a question of his availability which would impact the presence of Miss Piggy and his other characters in future productions. Perhaps the absence of Miss Piggy was due to some type of licensing terms in the contract, money, or some other business mumbo jumbo. In one sketch, Fozzie and Kermit go on an Indiana Jones-like adventure in which they must save Princess Janice from Lew Zealand. I am a Janice fan (like, fer sure!), but the sketch would have been much more entertaining and true to the Muppets style if Kermit and Fozzie had to save Miss Piggy from Gonzo, but Lew Zealand as a bad guy is interesting to see. Typically, he is reserved for one-liner puns that lead into the throwing of his boomerang fish. It was neat to see his character utilized more and I always thought his crazy eyes and bushy hair made him seem like a goofy villain that kept trying to take over the world or kidnap a maiden, but always screwed things up. The running time is around 30 minutes even with the characters allowing for gameplay. By viewing the tapes without the console, though, the gameplay segments are boring a redundant. In all fairness, I believe they would be boring and redundant even with the graphics. Even though this system was advanced for the time, it was far from flawless. There were only two soundtracks. They made the experience seem unique and tailored to the player, but that still limited the videos to two outcomes. Having only one video track worked pretty smoothly, besides in two cases. At one point, it resulted in a split screen which would utilize one soundtrack. The other portion of the screen still had a skit and action playing, but it was muted. In the musical finale at the end of the tape, the player is prompted to select which song is performed. You can pick Gonzo’s version of the closing number, “Everything was Terrible,” or Kermit’s version, “Everything was Wonderful.” No matter which song you choose, at some point, there will be Muppets moving their mouths with nothing coming out. It is distracting, confusing, and makes no sense whatsoever. There is no hiding it either. In Gonzo’s version, Kermit is on the left moving his mouth with no voice coming out while Gonzo is singing a solo. Later in the song, Fozzie is front and center moving his mouth, but Beaker is the one singing the solo. In Muppets Studios Presents: You’re the Director is reminiscent of The Muppets Go to the Movies only not quite as good. Of course, everything is better with Dudley Moore or Lily Tomlin. In this game, Kermit is enlisted to help find a new director and he picks you! He takes you to Studio To-Be to get to work and start making movies. The first skit is one of the best of both tapes. Caesar (The Swedish Chef) has just invented pizza, but hasn’t come up with a topping. Mark Anchovy (Gonzo) lobbies for anchovies while Cleopatra (Janice) wants pepperoni as the new topping. The player helps Gonzo with his speech, Janice pick out her outfit, and plays a game to determine the topping, but the best part is the end, when the Swedish Chef ends up topping HIMSELF with the pizza! The next “movie” being filmed is a musical in outer space. The Pigs in Space gang is there: Link Hogthrob, Dr. Julius Strangepork, but no Miss Piggy! Not only would Cleopatra been better for her than Janice (although maybe Miss Piggy could have been against using pepperoni), but she is a crucial part of the Pigs in Space crew! Nevertheless, it is a fun skit complete with game and a musical number. For some reason, Dr. Strangepork was performed by David Rudman in this video, with Jerry Nelson dubbing the voice in later, except for a few lines here and there. During this musical number, in an even stranger move, Dr. Strangepork seems to lip-synch to a line sung by Scooter. Maybe this spaceship traveled through The Twilight Zone! Lastly, you are asked to direct a Western starring Statler, Gonzo, Lew Zealand, and Robin the Frog. Once again, Lew Zealand plays a villain or as much as a villain as a guy obsessed with boomerang fish can be! This skit seems to go on forever, mainly because it contains a game hosted by Statler. Without the console it seems to take forever and all the viewer has to look at is a piece of wood on the screen! Besides the strangeness of Dr. Strangepork, Muppets Studios Presents: You’re the Director is smoother than Muppet Madness. I am not sure which was filmed or written first, but the latter has a higher catalogue number and may have been written after some of the kinks were out. There is still a mysterious and awkward split screen scene, but it seems that there are no characters moving their mouths with no voices, unless that is what happened with Scooter and Dr. Strangepork mouth malfunction. EBay seems to have plenty of the consoles ranging from $70 to $120 with the tapes listed from $10 to $15. The tapes on Amazon are listed for $49.95. The original Toys R’ Us price tag on my tapes are $9.98. Diehard fans or collectors may want to shell out the cash for the consoles, but I am going to continue to scout out Goodwill. If you come across the tapes at a yard sale or thrift store with a cheap price like I did, I would highly advise you to pick them up. It seems that these tapes keep their value, but they are also fun to watch if you can overlook the dubbing issues and the games you will have to sit through if you do not have the console. Luckily for us, someone has posted the gameplay for these videos on YouTube, so we can see the tapes play out like they were intended to. The system itself was ahead of its time, but so far ahead that it could not reconcile its issues with the technology that existed. It was a noble effort, but, with by only releasing 7 games and being short lived, it was a big screw over for folks who bought the system. I am sure the Nintendo craze of the late 80s and early 90s annihilated any hope of growth for the system. If they could be retooled to work on DVD format, these would make for fun DVD based games like the “Shout About…” series. These would also work as fun games if they were included under the special features section of a remastered or collector’s edition of one of the Muppet movies or series. Nevertheless, it was great to watch some new-to-me old Muppets bits. With Jim Henson directing Muppet Madness and Ted May directing Muppets Studios Presents: You’re the Director, entertaining Muppet sketches are guaranteed! It was like opening up a technological time capsule from 1988! I give these two video tape/games 2.5 out 5 rubber chickens! Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.