Meet the Feebles (1989)

Before he directed a film that tied the record for most Academy Awards ever won, Peter Jackson was making low-budget splatter films. I’ve seen the two films that came before and after Meet the Feebles (Brain Dead and Bad Taste), and they were both unabashed gorefests. Meet the Feebles is Jackson’s second film, sprawling forth from his mind in 1989, and it takes a similar “anything goes” approach as those two horror films. This movie is relentlessly gory and crass: there is unfiltered sex, violence, vulgarity, drug use, sexually transmitted infections, and coprophilia. And the icing on this cake of depravity is that all of these acts are performed by muppets, like some twisted distant relatives of Jim Henson’s family-friendly troupe.

That’s right. Meet the Feebles is a movie about muppets who live in a muppet world. The particular muppets that it follows are The Feebles, a theater group gearing up for a live performance under the direction of Sebastian the Fox. Myriad characters fill the stage show and the film, from the shady walrus producer Blech to a paparazzi fly that provides some of the grossest scenes. Almost every character has a vice of some sort, from drug use to sex addiction, save for the naive newcomer “Wobbie” and the poodle he falls in love with, Lucille.

If you are easily offended, you must avoid this movie. I’ve seen a lot of films, and Meet the Feebles is easily the most degenerate of them all. These muppets swear, vomit, pee, have sex, ejaculate, and literally eat shit. That last one comes from the fly, and was the moment I decided the film had gone just a bit too far for me.

Even though its content is the lowest brow, I have to commend Meet the Feebles on a few points. It’s certainly ambitious to have a film with a cast entirely of muppet actors. There’s a mix of muppets, too – some are the classic hand-operated puppets, others are small and controlled by different mechanics, and a few of the principal characters are very obviously people in suits. Those performances provide some good laughs when you stop to think about Peter Jackson filming a grown man in a bulldog suit on a golf course.

The movie also has an ambitious script. There’s a TON going on throughout the movie, and it follows no less than ten distinct characters. Their plots are interweaved with the production of the live show, and they’re pretty interesting, if generally misanthropic, stories. It’s enough to keep you reluctantly engaged, even if the toilet humor and low-quality production ward you off at first. I’ll also give props to Jackson’s camera work, which is done well within the limitations of an all-felt cast.

Its production values are so low they’re underground, entirely understandable from a historical and pragmatic point of view – after all, who would want to fund a then-no name director making a movie about vulgar puppets? Because of this, you get a clash between talented creativity and unfunded quality. For instance, the voice acting is superb, especially Stuart Devenie as Sebastian the Fox; yet, the mouth movements don’t even begin to match the words – Sebastian’s controller flaps his mouth wildly, completely out of sync with his lines. The lighting is appropriately dim, with almost every indoor shot seemingly moonlit, but obviously this lighting choice was made to hide the various strings controlling the characters.

Meet the Feebles knows exactly what it is, and it’s unashamed. Using muppets as characters guarantees your movie will be a certain kind of camp, and the Feebles embraces this campiness to the full extent. Its plot and commentary on the weakness (or “feebleness”) of human beings (using non-human characters) is interesting to say the least, but it still has aspects that kept me from enjoying it outright. A few scenes go on too long, including a Deer Hunter spoof featuring racist Vietnamese puppets and a machine-gun massacre near the end. And despite my normally hard exterior to churlish stories, Meet the Feebles was able to gross me out and make me wince a handful of times (Jesus, the fly EATS FECAL MATTER WITH A SPOON, PEOPLE).

If you’re not easily offended, you should watch this for a number of reasons. It’s interesting to see that one of the most acclaimed directors of contemporary cinema began with such a vulgar display of bastard puppets. It’s also got plenty of moments that walk the line between funny and shocking. But even a Bob Fosse-style song-and-dance about sodomy that ends up scoring the aforementioned machine gun incident can’t bring the film back once it’s gone too far over the edge. If you want entertainment, you can find it from Meet the Feebles, but you’ll have to pay the price of innocence to get it.

Final rating: 6/10

–James A. Janisse


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