In honor of The Muppets and our ongoing Muppet coverage this week’s Foreign Objects is sticking with the puppet theme in our own special way. But the Muppets are an American sensation, so while they’ve traveled the world they’ve always done so in American movies. Non-Muppet puppet movies are few and far between, and most of them are still US productions (Team America: World Police, Puppet Master, Let My Puppets Come) with only a handful of foreign titles like Legend of the Sacred Stone and Kooky.
But I couldn’t find either of those.
So we’ll be taking a look at Peter Jackson’s 1989 release from New Zealand, Meet the Feebles. It’s like The Muppets, but with more sex, drugs, murder and sticky white fluids…
Today’s Peter Jackson is a far cry from the Peter Jackson of twenty years ago. Now he makes movies with immense budgets, casts and canvases, but a couple decades ago he was chainsawing his way through an alien’s head and out its ass and chopping up zombies with a lawn mower. He also had a slight weight fluctuation.
And in between Bad Taste and Dead Alive (both incredibly fun and gory films) he took time out to make a puppet movie.
The Feebles are a troupe of performers who stage a musical/variety show with singing, dancing and more, and as Meet the Feebles opens they’re finishing up their title number with energy and style. Heidi the Hippo is the show’s star alongside Harry the Rabbit, Sid the Elephant, Wynyard the Frog, Daisy the Cow and others. The non-performers include Bletch the Walrus (who also manages the show and is Heidi’s lover), Trevor the Rat, Samantha the Cat, Arfur the Worm and a fly reporter who’s constantly on the lookout for salacious scoops about the stars.
What could possibly be so salacious about a group of puppets? For starters, Sid has been accused of fathering an illegitimate child with a chicken, Harry’s promiscuous ways have led to a possible life-threatening STD, Wynard is addicted to smack and prone to Vietnam flashbacks, and Trevor is shooting S&M movies in the basement. Oh, and Bletch is stuffing a pussy that doesn’t belong to Heidi. (He’s screwing Samantha.)
Into this menagerie of sin comes Robert the Hedgehog, a shy young singer hoping to join the Feebles. While trying to find his way to stardom he catches a glimpse of Lucille the Poodle and falls instantly in love.But can such innocence survive in a world filled with drug addiction, pornography, disease, jealousy, madness and inter-species fornication?
Much like the aardvark character pictured above Meet the Feebles really only works in spurts. The initial shock of it all wears out pretty quick as Jackson and friends hit viewers with a non-stop succession of unexpected puppet behaviors with some bits being more successful than others. Almost all of them feel like they run on too long though. The film as a whole would have worked better as a short as the multiple side stories never really amount to much more than a few laughs and a couple “holy hell” exclamations.
The main story-lines though, the Robert/Lucille and Heidi/Bletch relationships, work well and come to a pretty spectacular conclusion when Heidi not only discovers Bletch’s infidelity but acts on it. It’s definitely the kind of thing Miss Piggy would do if pushed to the edge. Or not.
Meet the Feebles is worth a watch for fans of off the wall and over the top antics, especially when those antics involve felt, fluids and machine guns. It can be a slow slog at times, mostly around the middle, but by the time Sebastian the Fox starts singing “Sodomy” you’ll be smiling and enjoying the kinds of mayhem and carnage that the Muppets can only dream about. Although they’d probably do so in the form of nightmares…