Are you ready to Wiggle?
Prime Video’s new documentary on Australia’s supergoup children’s entertainers will have you Wiggling in your chair and reliving your childhood with giddy, awkward enthusiasm.
If you know the songs “Hot Potato” (and who doesn’t?), “Fruit Salad,” “The Monkey Dance,” and “Toot Toot Chugga Chug Big Red Car,” then Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggleswill put a smile on your dial.
Anthony Field, Murray Cook, Jeff Fatt and Greg Page are entertainment, business and export sensations, having first formed their troupe through the defunct 80s band The Cockroaches and their friendship forged during an
early childhood teaching course at Macquarie University.
Their understanding of child concepts, noting that kids loved to focus on one thing, rooted their early performances into simple but effective communication with infectious dance moves, and as a result an empire was unknowingly spawned.
Director Sally Aitken highlights key turning points across the life of the band / brand with the OG Wiggles sitting down for separate interviews. That generates some slightly different reminiscences which makes for interesting narrative.
It charts the formulation of the group in the early 1990s, how that name was derived (via a Cockroaches song), busking and early performances, their first album, and why the coloured skivvies were such a thing -it helped kids identify them even if they didn’t remember their name.
Amongst the early memories, an ABC producer who told them their videos made them “cringe” and wanted changes, the introduction of Dorothy the Dinosaur (which girls loved) and pirate Captain Feathersword for boys -but with a feather as his weapon of choice.
You’ll learn about the logic of some classic songs such as “Wake Up Jeff” in which kids love having power over an adult.
“I’m very uncomfortable being in front of an audience unless I have a role to play,” says Fatt.
As their popularity grew, so too did the business, with bigger venues, a TV series, staff, merchandise, a feature film, videos and DVDs.
“In our naivety, we didn’t know there was such as thing as a brand,” reveals Greg Page.
There was also an ambition to conquer the USA plotted just before 9 / 11, which threatened to derail their plans. But America would need the Wiggles more than ever. There’s a particularly poignant interview with a young widow whose firefighter husband perished in the tragedy, recalling how the Wiggles helped her and her young child through the toughest of times. Watching the four men connect with their audience at times like this is one of the doco’s better insights.
Indeed, the act was becoming so big the troupe would expand, initially out of need as Greg Page was struggling with health. Enter Sam Moran, to be followed by Emma Watkins, Lachlan Gillespie, Simon Pryce and subsequently Tsehay Hawkins, Evie Ferris, John Pearce, Caterina Mete and Lucia Field.
Just when it feels like the film is little more than a love letter it delves into deeper, often darker, themes including Anthony Field’s mental health challenges, the struggles of being an absent parent, casting replacements, press scrutiny on their business dealings.
“It’s not like we’re selling drugs,” says a perturbed Murray Cook.
A key chapter reflects on the collapse of Greg Field during a reunion show staged for victims of bushfires. There is rare video of the incident, which is still emotional for the band to recall.
It touches upon the relationship between Emma and Lachlan, the exit of Sam Moran who concedes to “sadness around how it ended and introducing more diversity to better reflect their wide audience.
*If I knew the Wiggles was going to go for as long as it has, I would have made us gender balance, diverse, and I got a chance to do that,” says Field.
Throughout it all is arena footage of an adults Wiggles concert where grown-ups are reliving all their favourite songs. It’s like Hillsong Wiggles, an evangalistic religious experience where grown adults have no shame in doing the the Propellor. It is completely baffling to anyone who has never drunk from a Wiggles cordial -yet entirely understandable in the context of childhood and reliving your youth.
That’s where this doco lands… encapsulating all the wiggly wonder of generations jumping up and down, turning around and making mashed potatos.
It’s seriously impossible not like.
Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles airs Tuesday on Prime Video.