The Song of the Cloud Forest originally aired as the second half of episode 107 of The Jim Henson Hour. In 1990, it was nominated for two Emmy Awards, in the categories for Outstanding Children’s Program and Outstanding Directing in a Variety or Music Program. Although it was met with critical acclaim, the viewers did not tune in and The Jim Henson Hour was incredibly short-lived. In 2004, the rights to the Muppets were bought by The Walt Disney Company. Because this was the only series where the distribution rights were split between The Walt Disney Company and The Jim Henson Company, this portion of the episode was edited into its own half-hour stand-alone special. It was released on DVD in 2010 in tribute of Earth Day as The Song of the Cloud Forest and Other Earth Stories, which included two episodes of Animal Show with Stinky & Jake (no, not Animal from The Electric Mayhem Band) and a classic episode of Fraggle Rock. As a kid, I have no memory of this episode. I believe I only saw a few sporadic episodes of The Jim Henson Hour when it originally aired. I do remember behind the scenes footage of this episode being featured in episode 110 of The Jim Henson Hour titled “Secrets of the Muppets.” I must say, I was disappointed that this footage was not included as bonus material on this DVD release. I am not sure which company would own the rights to that episode because it included characters that are now owned by The Walt Disney Company. That may be a gem that will never see a DVD release. It is a shame too, because it serves as a nice piece of Henson history and is one of my favorite Henson documentaries. In The Song of the Cloud Forest, Milton (Dave Goelz), a golden toad, is tired of being lonely and the only one of his kind. He sings a mating song in hopes that a female golden toad will hear his song and be attracted to him. His friends Wilf (Steve Whitmire), Quetzal (Carmen Cuestas), Nick (Kevin Clash), Blanche (Camille Bonora), and Aart (Rickey Boyd) become worried about Milton. They worry that he is lonely, but also are concerned that he will become extinct. They realize that if one animal becomes extinct, it will have an effect on all of the other animals as well. Meanwhile, two “uprights” enter the cloud forest. They are scientists, Jack (Jerry Nelson) and Louise (Fran Brill). I personally like the term “uprights.” It sounds tribal and is reminiscent of the term “silly creature” from Fraggle Rock. They have brought with them Ruth (Camille Bonora), a female golden toad, and hope to use her to lure and capture a male golden toad. They want to breed the two in captivity in hopes of replenishing the species. Milton becomes torn between trying to save Ruth from the uprights or singing his mating song for her, and exposing himself to the uprights. Eventually, Milton sings for Ruth, but Louise decides that they should let both golden toads go and allow “nature to run its course.” The storyline of this special gets a little bit preachy for Henson. Throughout the show, Louise voices doubts of their plan while Jack seems a bit calloused, distracted, and insincere. It also seems that Louise changes her mind with no regard to money involved in the project or any commitments she has made. When she lets Ruth go, Jack responds with an “Aww, shucks” – like attitude reminiscent of a husband and wife in a 1950s sitcom. This poor writing is not typical for a Henson project. True, most adults would think that children wouldn’t pay attention to this gap in writing, but Henson’s eye for detail and respect for his audience would not allow for such an argument. Besides, most of Henson’s work was not targeted just at kids, but for adults and children alike. The most heavy-handed portion of the show is Ralph (Jerry Nelson), a rapping red robin who visits the cloud forest in the winter. He comes complete with a sideways hat and high top sneakers. During a scene in which the animals discuss what the uprights do with all of the cloud forest that they tear down, Ralph raps that the humans eat the cloud forest animals and plants! The song “Munching Forest” is a bit dark and haunting, but it certainly leaves an impact. Gray humanoid puppets, void of anything but subtle shapes that hint at human characteristics, greedily eat leaves while the animals stare into the camera singing the chorus like they are just waiting to be eaten. Henson does make an interesting statement with this song and scene. People as consumers greedily devour and demand products that were made as a result of destroying our natural resources and depleting habitats leading up to the extinction of animals. Aside from “Munching Forest,” The Song of the Cloud Forest has a striking visual impact. It is almost like Lisa Frank and Jim Henson had a baby. The colors are so bright and vibrant that they almost make Henson’s other characters and worlds look dull by comparison. It is really a treat for Muppet fans to see Fran Brill and Jerry Nelson have cameos in this special. It is rare that the Muppet performers appear on screen unless they are performing a puppet. Their clothing is dull and they purposefully appear shadowed. Not only does this shadowy darkness communicate that they are the antagonists of the show, but it serves to contrast the dark, bland word of the uprights against the brilliantly colorful world of nature. Although frogs can be seen throughout Henson’s work, Milton is a unique puppet. Not only does his body and coloring differ from Kermit or frog puppets used in The Frog Prince, Muppets Take Manhattan, or Kermit’s Swamp Years, but he also has a unique mechanism that allows his throat to inflate like a bull frog. By today’s standards, the computer effects are dated and can, at times, be so crude and imperfect that it is distracting and pretty laughable. The technology behind this show, though, was remarkable when it was originally released. This is the first time that the Henson Company shot an entire half hour show without a background. The set and all performers were hidden in black velvet. The velvet backdrop was then replaced, using computer technology, with a bright, colorful rain forest. Henson had used this technique before in skits for The Muppet Show and in his previous movies, most notably in Labyrinth during the song “Chilly Down” with the Fireys. This special, however, allowed Henson to further explore this puppetry technique and push the limits of the available technology. The Song of the Cloud Forest is visually stunning, entertaining, and has a great message. It reinforces the theme of a worldwide community and the individual’s impact and responsibility to this community that Henson instilled in several pieces of his work. I wish it could be released unedited and in a DVD set of The Jim Henson Hour. Until then, this special is easily a great addition to a family DVD collection or a must see for Henson and puppetry enthusiasts. It marks a turning point for Henson, who was teeter-tottering on the cusp of potential breakthroughs for merging technology with puppetry. This earns 4.5 out of 5 rubber chickens! AWS.InvalidParameterValue: B0035Q638Y is not a valid value for ItemId. Please change this value and retry your request. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... 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