Meet the Feebles

Part of Peter Jackson Week (August 5-9, 2002), a Film Hobbit/Classic-Horror co-production, held in honor of the DVD release of Fellowship of the Ring.

In its own way, Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles (1989) is every bit as ambitious as any of his later films. Working on a tiny budget in the filmic backwaters of his New Zealand homeland, Jackson created the world's first R-rated musical puppet movie. Long available only as an important or a bootleg, Jackson's recent international succes has warranted a re-release.

Tensions run high backstage at the Feebles Variety Show. A second-rate puppet show, it is set for a big break with tonight's live telecast. As long as producer Blanch the walrus and director Sebastian the fox can hold the cast together, big things are in their future. And what a cast: a junkie knife-throwing frog, a VD-afflicted rabbit, a sappy elephant with paternity-suit problems, and an over-weight hippo star who's on the verge of an emotional break-down. Into this chaos wanders young porcupine Robert, the shows newset, and most innocent member. Under guidance from stage-managing worm Arthur, he will try to earn his place on the show, win the hand of beautiful the poodle chorus girl, and survive the carnage that will be the night's broadcast.

An adults-only back-stage look at the gritty realities of puppet-show theater, Meet the Feebles plays like The Muppet Show on crack. There is scarcely a vice, a debauchery, or a body-fluid that does not get its due. Drugs, porn, violence, even the horros of tabloid press are all paraded past the camera. To this, Jackson brings his most important trademark: no, not over-the-top gore and outrageouness , but real affection for his characters. Despite being puppets, and often vile, grotesque puppets, each of the Feebles is a distinct, soulful being. Jackson even allows the audience some sympathy and pathos, so by the end of the film, one cares how their fates unravel.

Then there is the music. While justifibly famous for the show-stopper that ends the Feeble's broadcast, Meet the Feebles features a number of terrific musical numbers. "One Leg Missing", "Garden of Love", even "Robert's Serenade" are all good songs in their own right. Similarly, the puppetry is first-rate, a reminder of how good traditional theater and cinematic techniques can be in the wake of today's CGI extravaganzas.

Audiences only familliar with Jackson's family-oriented adaption of Lord of the Rings are well advised to read the packaging carefully before viewing. They may be in for a shock. But his loyal fans will be amply rewarded. Only his second film, Meet the Feebles is the work of a confident film-maker. Already, his most important gifts are in full flower: a wicked sense of humor, and willingness to trangress boundries, artistic nerves of steel, and, deep-down, a heart of gold.