After years spent in development purgatory (everyone from Ahmet Zappa to “Hoodwinked” writer/director Cory Edwards have worked on the project, from as far back as 2006), it finally looks like the “Fraggle Rock” movie, based on the beloved Jim Henson series, will make it to the big screen. Last year New Regency got the project going again, and just yesterday the Hollywood Reporter revealed that a pair of screenwriters have been secured – Jim Byrkit and Alex Manugian, who both worked on last year’s Oscar-winning animated western “Rango.”
Byrkit received a story credit on “Rango,” alongside director Gore Verbinski and credited writer John Logan (he also worked as a storyboard artist for the film). In fact, Byrkit has done design work for Verbinski on all three of the filmmaker’s ‘Pirates of the Carribean‘ movies (and provided illustrations for Verbinski’s big screen debut, “Mousehunt“). This year, he also wrote and directed an independent sci-fi film called “Fractalus” and, along with Manugian, recently sold a spec script to Disney called “Fleeced,” which the Hollywood Reporter alluringly describes as “a sort of ‘Ocean’s 11‘ meets ‘Jason and the Argonauts.'” (Yes please!) Manugian used to be an executive for Cartoon Network, and has done occasional voice work, most notably the Disney direct-to-video “Lion King 1 & ½” (a kind of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” where the events of the first “Lion King” are told through the perspective of oddball sidekicks Timon and Pumbaa) and, of course, “Rango.”
As you might remember, Scissor Sisters members Jake Shears and Babydaddy were hired to work on the project last summer, but it’s not clear if they’re still in the mix at this point. But considering a new script is being commissioned, our guess is that the project is starting over from scratch, though we will say it was an inspired choice.
The original “Fraggle Rock” series aired from 1983 to 1987 on CBC Television in Canada (it was aired in the United States on HBO, back before the sexy vampires and neurotic gangsters took over the network). While extremely colorful and lively, the show was deeply personal to creator Henson, with the series hinging on a number of philosophical and existential concerns that were important to him – notably, the symbiosis of nature, importance of environmentalism, and spirituality of nonviolence and peaceful coexistence. Heady stuff for a show with a talking junk heap, but that was always Henson’s MO – serious social issues wrapped up in a cuddly, easily accessible package.
While certainly not as well known as the flagship Muppets, “Fraggle Rock” has certainly attained a level of beloved importance, especially to those who initially watched the show. Looking back on it now, the storytelling is incredibly nuanced and sophisticated (with its “Inception“-like worlds on top of worlds), the character design work striking, and its general aura, with its hippie-dippy overtones, pleasurably puzzling.
It will be hard to strike that delicate tonal balance on a big-screen movie, but we’re hoping that the addition of Byrkit and Manugian, who did such a bang-up job with the genuinely weird “Rango,” is a step in the right direction. Down in Fraggle Rock. Plop.