|Meet the Feebles
1989 - unrated - 94 Mins.
|Director: Peter Jackson
|Producer: Peter Jackson and Jim Booth
|Written By: Peter Jackson, Danny Mulheron, Stephen Sinclair and Frances Walsh
|Starring: Donna Akersten, Stuart Devenie, Mark Hadlow, Brian Sergent and Peter Vere-Jones
|Review by: Bill King
Riding on the cult success of "Bad Taste," Peter Jackson turns loose another equally bizarre concept that's sure to give muppet fans nightmares for weeks. "Meet the Feebles" (1989, with a U.S. release date of 1995) is basically an adult version of "The Muppet Show." This is a live-action movie with puppets that engage in all sorts of depraved behavior, from drinking to promiscuous sex. It's no surprise that this film is from the fruitful mind of Jackson, after his "Bad Taste" contained lots of gory special effects with comic undertones.
There is a large cast of strange characters present. Bletch the Walrus produces a show called "The Fabulous Feeble Variety Hour." The opening song suggests a movie with light-hearted potential, but wait until the song ends. We meet Heidi the Hippo, the star of the show with a penchant for overeating when she gets depressed. She and Bletch are lovers, but he's cheating on her with a Siamese cat. Meanwhile, Bletch's henchman, Trevor the Rat, films porno movies starring a cow with a huge udder. Trevor wants a new star, and drags in a panty-sniffing aardvark to take the lead.
Robert, who looks like a porcupine, shows up at the studio because he's always wanted to be part of the show. He doesn't realize what kinds of back-stage melodrama goes on here. We also meet Wynyard the Frog, a Vietnam vet who's addicted to drugs. Sid the Elephant is distracted by his ex-wife, a chicken who is demanding a test to prove that her elephant/chicken baby is his. Then there is Harry the Rabbit, a sex fiend who has caught some kind of sexually transmitted disease, but wants to perform in the show nonetheless.
There are several subplots to be found, but the most dominant belongs to Bletch's attempts to buy drugs from Mr. Big, a whale that lives on the waterfront. However, plot is hardly the point in this movie. This is really a parody of "The Muppet Show" and movies that deal backstage shenanigans, and even then what little story we have here gets lost to the excesses of the characters. Peter Jackson's goal, first and foremost, was to make a puppet movie with adult content to get a laugh from the audience. We see Wynyard inject himself with a needle, Samantha the Cat performing oral sex on Bletch, Harry puking all over the place and a car that takes a short detour through parts previously uncharted.
This is all pretty funny stuff, but what keeps the film going is it inventiveness and quirky characters. We're shocked to see puppets behave in this manner, and Jackson constantly finds new ways for the characters to sink even further, and we laugh because it's puppets and not people.
The puppet work here is pretty good. In addition to hand puppets, there are people dressed up in the larger costumes, like Bletch and Heidi. The cheap look of the film is an added bonus. The colors are drab and the puppets look stitched together hastily. This reinforces the hideous nature of these puppets. They are depraved, and their appearance only make them seem sicker. The effect is similar to the original "King Kong," whose stop-motion movements made him look creepier than in the slicker 1976 remake.
"Meet the Feebles" works largely because of its perverse sense of humor which doesn't wear off. Ralph Bakshi's "Fritz the Cat" (1972) was the first X-rated animated movie, and featured cartoon characters engaged in orgies and profane language. Bakshi allowed that movie's edge to become dull because it relied on its uniqueness, rather than inventiveness, to carry it. Peter Jackson doesn't make the same mistake. His adult puppet film is constantly fresh, humorous and not afraid to sink deeper. For that, we should be grateful.