Playful Puppetry, for Adults Only
The well-named Feebles are a raunchy troupe of show-biz puppets able to ooze, drool, sniff, retch and copulate in ways that would make the Muppets blush. Sprung from the febrile imagination of Peter Jackson, they run seriously amok in “Meet the Feebles,” a 1989 film padded out to feature length and destined to stand as an unfortunate footnote to Mr. Jackson’s career.
Mr. Jackson is best known as the director of “Heavenly Creatures,” which has bizarre, elaborate fantasy sequences animated by the same overwrought playfulness that is seen here. But in “Heavenly Creatures,” with its tale of a murder committed by two love-struck, delusional teen-agers, Mr. Jackson found the ballast to give his wildly fanciful outbursts a somber tinge. “Meet the Feebles,” which opens today at the Film Forum, has an overload of aimless giddiness without anything to keep it in check. Had Mr. Jackson not already used up the title “Bad Taste” on an earlier film, it would have fit “Meet the Feebles” well.
It’s possible to appreciate Mr. Jackson’s irrepressible fancifulness without remotely admiring the uses to which it has been put here. A flamboyantly vigorous film maker, he hitches his energies to a string of unremittingly sophomoric sight gags, limiting his audience to only the most ardent fans of knee-jerk decadence. The fun of caricaturing and humiliating silly animal characters, like the lewd-looking Miss Piggy type (Heidi the Hippo) who winds up blasting her fellow puppets with a machine gun, is about as much wit as “Meet the Feebles” has to offer.
Structured as a deliberately cliche-ridden backstage drama, “Meet the Feebles” turns a set of standard show-biz characters into assorted animal creatures. There’s a walrus producer, a worm stage manager, a fox director and a rabbit that has AIDS (played for laughs, and diagnosed by a duck doctor who snickers like Paul Lynde). There’s a fly journalist who turns muckraking into a literal concept while supplying the film with the grossest of its many toilet jokes. Drugs, porn movies and a parody of a Vietnam flashback heighten the mood of hothouse fantasy without contributing much fun.
The puppets themselves aren’t of a caliber to one-up the Muppets, but they are numerous and varied enough to underscore Mr. Jackson’s ingenuity. From a technical standpoint, “Meet the Feebles” does an impressive job of staging action sequences that stretch the boundaries of ordinary puppet drama.
This may also be one of those rare times when puppets are outfitted with blood bags for the slow, deliberate sequences — one of them interspersed with a song-and-dance number about sodomy — that show them being blown to bits.
Janet Maslin, NY Times, February 22, 1995
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