Sixty for 60: Wembley Fraggle

Welcome back to 60 for 60, my year-long celebration of Steve Whitmire’s work and characters in anticipation of his 60th birthday next year. This month we focus on Wembley, decisively the most lovable Fraggle in the Rock.

“Steve with that manic, fragile Wembley. So human, so utterly…you know, you just wanted to hug the guy and say, ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry; it will be all right.'”–Eric Till, director on Fraggle Rock

When it comes to Fraggle Rock characters, I aspire to be Cantus, I identify most with Mokey, and I’m probably more of a Boober than I care to admit…but Wembley is the one I love most of all. As I put it to Steve in a comment on his first blog entry approximately a century ago (at least, that’s what it feels like), Wembley is “the funniest, sweetest, most excitable, naive, lovable little furry creature in all of Fraggle Rock, if not the entire Universe.”

I like Wembley because he makes me laugh, but I love Wembley because he makes me cry. Therefore, the five Wembley clips included below skew slightly to the more poignant side of the spectrum.

Though Wembley’s distinguishing personality trait is supposed to be indecision, he doesn’t sing songs about that very often, if at all. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is all to the good because I find it to be the least interesting of his personality traits. To me, Wembley’s most salient personality traits are his empathy, his bravery, his unwavering loyalty to his friends (even when they don’t deserve it), and his childlike sense of wonder that allows him to perceive things that the other Fraggles can’t and to believe in the unbelievable.

“Here to There” (Fraggle Rock, “Wembley and the Gorgs”)

“Wembley and the Gorgs” was the second Fraggle Rock episode to air and the first to feature Wembley.  This being the first Fraggle scene of the first Wembley episode, it tells us a lot of what we need to know about him. The way he sits up in his top bunk singing songs to himself, he reminds me a lot of myself as a five-year-old. The song he sings is simultaneously both very innocent and childlike on the one hand and deeply philosophical and profound on the other (Wembley calls it an “old Fraggle ballad,” but of course in reality the credit goes to Balsam and Lee), and Wembley’s voice has a warm, friendly, comforting quality that makes us want to spend more time with him in his cave and get to know him better.

“Brave Alone” (Fraggle Rock, “The Beast of Bluerock”)

If you were to ask Gobo and Wembley themselves, they would probably both agree that Gobo is the braver of the two of them…but I beg to differ. Yes, Gobo does brave things, but oftentimes his exploits, including his expedition to Bluerock, are just unnecessary risks taken in a bid to gain attention. That’s audacity, not courage, and in my opinion it’s considerably less admirable than bearing up in the face of a scary or painful situation. That’s what Wembley does here, and it just may be the bravest thing he’s ever done. Later in the episode it is Wembley, not Gobo, who takes the lead when it comes to breaking into Bluerock, and he does it not to earn glory or accolades for himself but because he doesn’t want Gobo to lose face. What sets Wembley’s actions apart from the bold and daring deeds of Gobo or Red is that, while Red and Gobo like to show off in the interest of hogging all the glory for themselves, Wembley’s motives are almost always unselfish, which makes him perhaps the bravest and most noble Fraggle of them all.

“Pukka, Pukka, Pukka Squeetily Boink” (Fraggle Rock, “Wembley’s Wonderful Whoopie Water”)

There are so many good Wembley songs, and so few of them get the attention they deserve, that I was tempted to pass this very popular number over in favor of a more obscure one. Ultimately, I decided to include this one anyway because it really speaks to me about who and what Wembley is: joyful, energetic, faithful, open-minded. Unusual things happen to Wembley often, and when they do, the other Fraggles seem to have trouble believing it. Maybe special things happen to Wembley more often because he’s more receptive to them than doubtful Gobo, haughty Red, or fearful Boober.

“Duet for One” (Fraggle Rock, “A Tune for Two”)

This song is from the same episode as the better-known “Children of Tomorrow,” and if I were trying to make an objective list of the best of Wembley, I would probably choose that one. Personally, however, I prefer this one. I like its musical style better and find it more relatable. As beautiful as “Children of Tomorrow” is, I find it to be just the teensiest bit manipulative, just a little too self-conscious. Therefore, I find “Duet for One” to be a tiny bit more authentic and considerably more under-appreciated. 

“Today Has Been a Perfect Day” (Fraggle Rock, “The Trash Heap Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”)

Even though I like the more poignant Wembley songs, I wanted to end on a positive note, and this is the most positive Wembley song I can think of. I love it so much that I almost don’t want to point out that Wembley’s song lyrics are not accurate; he says “all my friends just came my way,” yet Gobo, Mokey, and Red are nowhere to be seen. I wouldn’t mention it at all, I wouldn’t have even noticed, except that Wembley himself made such a big deal about writing accurate song lyrics.

There’s a lot of great Wembley material out there. If I hadn’t limited myself to five examples per themed month, Wembley songs could easily comprise half of this entire 60 for 60 project. 

Look for my next installment of 60 for 60 on December 24th. In keeping with the season, the theme will be Christmas productions.

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