Jim Henson and the Muppets found themselves on television once again in the short lived NBC series The Jim Henson Hour. Each episode showcased various characters and innovations developed by the Jim Henson Company. Portions of the show would include the Muppets as they ran a cable television station. Other portions of the show would include parodies of popular television shows and movies or would feature a stand-alone special with new characters and themes. The show was canceled after only nine of the twelve episodes aired on NBC. Two other episodes aired on Nickelodeon in the early 90s while the final episode never aired in the U.S.
As a kid and a Henson fiend, I barely remember this show being on the air. I have spotty images of the MuppeTelevision cast and sets floating in my noggin, but I vividly remember watching the episode “Secrets of the Muppets” when it aired on Nickelodeon. Sadly, the series has not been released on DVD and due to legal mumbo-jumbo, copyrights and such, it may never be commercially released. Luckily for me and other fans, the DVD gods looked down and smiled upon us when The Song of the Cloud Forest and Dog City: The Movie were both released on DVD. The introduction by Henson was removed as were any other references to the television show.
Henson won the Emmy award for Outstanding Directing in a Variety Music Program for the episode that featured Dog City: The Movie.
Dog City is Henson’s tribute to and parody of the 1930’s cop movies which takes place in a canine populated world based on the Dogs Playing Poker series of paintings by C.M. Coolidge. Henson’s film noir escapade tells the story of Ace Yu who has come to Dog City when he inherited the local bar The Dog House from his dead uncle. The town is run by gangster Bugsy Them and his henchmen who demand a cut of Yu’s profit. Meanwhile, nonviolent Yu wants to donate all of his profits to charity.
The movie is full of dog puns that left me howling all the way through! Of course, Rowlf the Dog is there to play piano and, in Muppet tradition, breaks the fourth wall to make puns and add commentary to the scene. There are dramatic twists and turns around every corner of Dog City. Ace falls for a dame named Colleen and he discovers that his dead uncle was really his father! “Dun dun dun…!” One of the best moments is when a note is read and the musical cue “dun dun dun” was included in the note!
That is one of the most fun parts of the show. Henson set out to include as many puns and gags in it that he could. Writer Tim Burns has a pun in almost every line of dialogue. This is a show that you must watch a couple times in order to catch everything.
My favorite character is Mad Dog who spent 2…er 14 years in Obedience School and is Bugsy’s enforcer. While Ace and Colleen talk, saying words like “fetch” and “roll over” in a casual conversation, Mad Dog can be seen in the background following their commands and he eventually ends up in the river. One of the funniest lines is at the end when he, Bugsy, and the rest of their gang end up stuck in a billboard. To be honest, the entire special is worth that one gag! Of course, not to be outdone, Muppet veteran Rowlf passes by and asks, “Why do all the losers end up in advertising?” Of course, this is classic Henson humor as Jim Henson was very successful early in his career with advertising campaigns for La Choy, Wilkins Coffee, and not to mention that he created Rowlf for commercials for Purina Dog Chow.
The sets for Dog City are wonderful! They are chocked full of details and jokes as well! In fact, it is worth watching a second time if just to keep an eye on the background. Ads and stores filled with canine lingo and puns are included in every scene. It would be hard to notice everything that made its way in the show.
Henson’s style of puppetry was unique and innovative starting from his work with Sam and Friends. It was with that first show that he abandoned the typical puppet show format of puppets in a little boxed in stage with curtains. Instead, he used the camera to create the frame of the stage and his actual stage was raised with the puppets being held up over the performer’s head. His puppetry style was similar for Dog City, but the show also contained scenes in which dogs smoked, shot guns, and had car chases. Henson was able to adapt and cut back and forth between close shots of rod puppets and far shots of miniatures and remote controlled cars to give the sense of the dogs driving cards. The technical precision and the puppetry it really remarkable in this special and is almost as entertaining as the storyline itself.
Muppet fans should keep an ear out for Kevin Clash who voiced Ace Yu and was also performing a new character named Clifford around this time. This special predates his falsetto Elmo fame. Other familiar voices are easier to pick out among a cast that includes Jerry Nelson, Steve Whitmire, Jim Henson, Gordon Robertson, Camille Bonora, and Fran Brill. Keep an eye out for Sprocket from Fraggle Rock who gets kicked out of the Dog House early on!
This is a wonderful special and a gem that offers something for the whole family. Kids will enjoy the fun characters while adults will appreciate the word play and satire. Of course in our PC world, it is funny to think that Henson was allowed to have puppets that not only smoked on prime time, but who were proficient at blowing smoke rings. Any violence that the show contains is as mild as that of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.
Dog City: The Movie was not only a critical success for Henson, it also launched a television show of the same name. I give this one a solid 4.5 out 5 rubber chickens!