Following the success of Hey Cinderella! and the popular new series Sesame Street, Henson returned to the land of fairy tales to present The Frog Prince.
With Kermit! But not starring Kermit.
Hoping to turn the fairy tales into recurring specials, this was branded as part of the Tales from Muppetland series, which would retroactively include Hey Cinderella! But, unlike the prior special which had to cut a lot of material to condense it to an hour, this special had to add a lot to meet the required length.
The original tale can be easily told in a sentence: a prince who was turned into a frog by a witch can only be changed back by the kiss of a princess. Well, actually the original original tale involved bashing the frog against a wall to cure him. Good ol' Brothers Grimm. But the point is that the story is quite short and needs a lot of padding.
First we meet the frogs of the pond, consisting of Kermit and his pals, each named after one of the Knights of the Round Table. That would have been an interesting angle to take with the story, having many men turned into frogs. But no, the names are just a coincidence.
That should be "Gareth," not "Garth." This isn't Wayne's World.
Little Robin hops up and begins explaining that he is actually Sir Robin the Brave, a prince. The frogs don't believe him, so he tells the tale of how an evil witch transformed him into a frog for no real reason. This tale is told in flashback, and we see the human form of Robin, who...is nothing like Robin the Frog. Frog Robin is just as we picture him, meek, timid, and young. Human Robin is bold, righteous, and mature. You'd think they would try to match the personalities a bit. Or the voices.
Maybe becoming a frog makes you more timid and gives you Jerry Nelson's voice.
The witch is none other than our good friend Taminella Grinderfall, and her puppet has become a lot larger, becoming a not-quite-so-full bodied puppet, similar to King Goshposh. And speaking of the king, he returns as well, with his servant Featherstone. However, now he is called King Rupert the Second, possibly so we don't get confused as to why he now has a daughter as opposed to a son like in the last special.
Also, he wears yellow now.
His princess daughter Melora has also been cursed by the witch, causing her to speak improperly by switching the letters at the beginnings of words, making it impossible for her father to understand her. See, Taminella has convinced the king that she is his long-lost sister and Melora knows she is a fraud. Robin, however, is able to understand her (because it's not that hard to figure out) and rescues her gold ball when it falls into the frog pond (as in the original story). Now, here would normally be the part where the situation is explained and the princess kisses the frog and everyone lives happily ever after.
But no, we have 40 minutes left. So we've got to stall.
Princess Melora brings Robin home and after they schmooze for a while, she prepares to kiss him, but Taminella ruins the mood and prevents the kiss from occurring. She invites them to dinner where Kermit gets drunk and Kermit gets drunk in a children's show and that's just so weird to think about that I cannot move on from this plot point.
Everyone else stuffs their faces with popovers.
Eventually, Taminella throws Robin in her dungeon to be eaten by her ogre Sweetums. As we know, Sweetums will later become Robin's best friend, but for now, he is pure antagonist. Robin lulls him to sleep with a condescending lullaby and an intoxicated Kermit tries to get him to unlock the cage by posing as Taminella. Unfortunately, Sweetums snaps to and flies into a chaotic rage, destroying the entire set. It's quite exciting.
Friendship will have to wait.
The frogs escape, summon the other frogs to help them attack the witch, and all right before the witch is about to be crowned queen. And then finally, after a good half-an-hour, Robin realizes that when Melora said to "bake the hall in the brain's candle," she meant to "break the ball in the cane's handle" to remove the witch's power. Why she couldn't do this herself, I'll never know.
When Taminella's magic cane breaks, all the spells but one are reversed and she transforms into a bird, flying away from the special, never to be seen again in any Muppet production ever. I'll miss her.
Finally, the princess kisses Robin and everything turns out hunky dory. Robin reverts back to his human form, along with his bland personality, which makes me wonder who she really loved...Robin the Frog or Robin the Human?
I would have stuck with the frog.
Apparently Robin made a decent human, though, because nine months later we are treated to the young Prince Kermit, named after a certain frog with a drinking problem.
Yay, a baby!
Compared to the prior special, this one falls a little flat. The avoidance of resolutions that would make the plot a lot simpler found during the ending of Hey Cinderella runs rampant all throughout this special. There is no reason everything should take as long as it did and it could have been fixed with some different character interactions. Involving the original frogs more could have helped, and making Taminella more like her Tinkerdee character would have made things a lot more entertaining. There, it was funny when she stood in the way of the heroes. Here, it's just grating.
Still, this was the special that gave us Robin who, in his frog form, is a very compelling character. The Sweetums dungeon scene is probably the best in the whole episode, and it's clear why the duo remained permanent members of the Muppet cast to this very day.
Henson will have one more shot at combining Muppets with fairy tales, so hopefully things will pick up as we look at the next Tale from Muppetland.