Meet the Feebles
How about that Peter Jackson, huh? I think it's fair to say he was nobody (in America, anyway) until Lord of the Rings made him a superstar, but of course, he had been making films in his native New Zealand for years.
I remember watching his American breakthrough, The Frighteners, on video during my video store years. I liked it, but it didn't do well commercially. It came as a surprise to me that he was chosen to take on Rings, especially as a trilogy.
To anyone who knew his pre-Hollywood work, it must have been a bigger surprise. His NZ films were a lot weirder and gorier. For someone born on Halloween, perhaps that's appropriate.
Even a dramatic film like Heavenly Creatures — the film that made many of us aware of a young, curvaceous beauty named Kate Winslet for the first time — had its bizarro moments. I've written about Dead Alive, a film I still think is the ultimate zombie movie, going places of which George Romero never dreamed.
None of that, however, prepared me for Meet the Feebles.
Imagine The Muppet Show directed by John Waters and that'll give you some idea of what it's like. It's puppetry, small, large and in-between, and it's adult. Profanity, violence, satire, it's all there, and you better believe there's puppet nudity and sex too.
In the film, Meet the Feebles is the name of a Muppet Show type TV variety show. We get a look backstage at the illicit affairs, scandals and depravity that goes on when the cameras stop rolling. It's an ensemble, but much of the action centers around Heidi, a Miss Piggy type diva in the form of a life-sized hippo.
The puppetry is impressive, and it looks like it cost a pretty penny to create. The variety of the characters range from a smallish fly tabloid reporter to a humongous spider who appears late in the film in an elaborate outdoor sequence. Some of them are cute, like the romantic leads, a porcupine and a poodle, while others, like the show's sleazy producer and his henchmen, are anything but.
Jackson co-wrote Feebles with his long-time collaborator and future wife, Fran Walsh, along with Stephen Sinclair and Danny Mulheron, who operated the Heidi puppet.
The humor is pitch black, of course, but the ending is tragic, so Jackson manages to make you sympathetic to Heidi's fate. Mostly, though, Feebles is one WTF moment after another.
Adult puppet films turn up every so often here in America. The recent Melissa McCarthy film The Happyland Murders sank like a stone this past summer; Trey Parker & Matt Stone's Team America fared a little better, made at the height of their South Park fame.
Puppetry, though, like animation, is mostly regarded in America as kiddie fare. I don't see that changing anytime soon, if at all, but give Jackson props for daring to make something as over-the-top and insane as Feebles. It's not for everyone, but Jackson fans should check it out for sure.