I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Savage Puppets: Meet The Feebles

by Chris Sutton
Oct. 12, 2017

"It's got a quality of humour that alienates a lot of people. It's very black, very satirical, and very savage."-Peter Jackson

During the 1990's I was lucky enough to be employed at an independent music/record store that happened to have a highly progressive video rental section that catered to foreign, cult, and out-of-print movies. It recieved much love and was thoroughly curated with sections dedicated to genres and genius directors of note. Every day when I would restock the returns on to our shelves there was always this one cover in the "J" section that would always stop me for at least a couple seconds and force me to ponder what was inside. The colorful box promised you that "Gross" and "Dirty" acts would be performed by puppets with the tagline "Splatstick Horror". Of course I had to find out what that phrase meant so I checked it out, went home, and got very stoned. What I saw was not just a taboo grossfest perpetuated by grotesquely deformed and maladjusted puppets, but a fully realized ensemble comedy complete with complex emotions, absent ethical boundaries, and gallons upon gallons of various bodily fluids. That movie was called Meet The Feebles, Peter Jacksons facetiously genius homage to The Muppets franchise, and it's simply a work of art.

The similarities to Jim Henson's gang can easily be ascertained by the face value of this movies familiar theme: A highly dysfunctional family of miscreant puppets performers parodying the machinations of running and managing a variety television show. However, apart from one of the principle characters being a egotistical, feminist, pink, porcine hippo named Heidi who is afflicted with anger management issues (an obvious tribute to Miss Piggy), these seemingly obvious comparisons come to a grinding halt. While Muppet Movies concentrated on the friendship, naivete, and collective goodness of it's principal figures, Feebles goes the opposite direction. This world only concerns itself with the dark edges of the human psyche like addiction, sexuality, paranoia, and violence with the possible exception of Robert the Hedgehog, who seems to be the only character with any sort of grounded moral compass or humility. The rest of the cast features a giant meglomaniacal Walrus named Bletch who lords a destructive pall over every corner of the Feebles organization with the assistance of an evil rat named Trevor, who's dirty paws are also dipped into a quagmire of his own nefarious activities like pornography, drug trafficking, and murder.

The main artery of the storytelling focuses on the tragically inept relationship between Heidi and Bletch coupled with the narrative of newcomer Robert's adorable attempts at winning the heart of the lovely Lucille a new member to the troupe herself. These situations form the base that rests beneath the many hilarious arcs that swarm around and collide like electrons around the nucleus of an atom. A sex-addicted rabbit named Harry succumbs to what is thought to be a fatal venerial disease. An elephant and a chicken are involved in a hilarious domestic dispute over the birth of their unplanned child. A nosy entertainment journalist, who metaphorically happens to be a shit eating fly, acts as a general scourge to the entire cast in a bevy of disgusting ways. Despite all of this gonzo depravity, the puppeteering is expertly manipulated to maximum emotional complexity and the writing and editing are incredibly succinct and funny, albeit a bit dizzying at times.

Propelled by the success and outsider reputation of Jackson's first film "Bad Taste", "Meet The Feebles" was surprisingly intended to be a TV series, but initial screenings led the Japanese investment group backing the project to suggest that it might make a much better feature, and the rest is cult cinematic history (The bloody climax of the movie completely eliminates any possiblity of a sequel or continuation). It should also be noted that this film marks the beginning of Peter Jacksons working relationship with some of his most important collaborators, most importantly writer and life partner Fran Walsh but also the artistic team of Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger, who not only designed all of the Feebles but are also responsible for all of the special effects for each of Jackson's subsequent films.

Meet The Feebles was a rare injection of anarchy in the world of puppetry in it's time and it's influence on outsider entertainment in general should not be overstated. Only the English puppeteer troupe Spitting Image from the mid 80's could possibly rival "Feebles" nightmarishly raw take on the human condition. When taking into account the anthology of Peter Jackson' illustrious career and where he stands today as a titan of the industry, Meet The Feebles might seem like a sophomoric misstep but it's artistic merits are timelessly on display.

Sources: www.wikipedia.com

Chris Sutton is a musician, writer, and artist who currently lives in Portland OR, and grew up in Olympia, WA. He plays or has played with numerous musical acts including Gossip, The Dirtbombs, Dub Narcotic Sound System, Spider & The Webs, Chain & The Gang, & Hornet Leg. Chris has been so obsessed with records over his life that he writes a vinyl collecting memoir/blog called Record Lections on Instagram and he is often seen Djing his new discoveries in local bars or posting mixes on SoundCloud or Mixcloud. He is also a big fan of visual art with a special passion for African American folk art, Impressionism, European New Wave cinema, and most eras of television. Most of the books he reads, whether fact or fiction, usually have drawings in them. Chris's best friends are his faithful rat terriers Juju and Queenie.