Meet the Feebles
Screenplay : Danny Mulheron, Frances Walsh, Stephen Sinclair, and Peter Jackson
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1989
Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is so grotesque, so perverse, and so daring that it defies criticism. These are the films that laugh in the face of the status quo while they purposely mock all previously cinematic conventions, happily thrusting themselves beyond the boundaries of good taste and accepted morality. More times than not, these movies are simply stupid because they have no purpose beyond pointing at themselves and screaming, "Look at me! Look at me!" However, sometimes these movies have a deeper meaning lurking beneath the surface muck, and more times than not, these are the ones that last.
Peter Jackson's 1989 puppet satire, "Meet the Feebles," is such a film. Jackson, a native of New Zealand, is a filmmaker who has made his mark by pushing boundaries. Whether that be boundaries of taste (evidenced in this film and his hilarious zombie spoof "Dead-Alive") or of accepted conventions used to tell a narrative (evidenced by his elaborate dream sequences in the critically-acclaimed "Heavenly Creatures"), Jackson has a unique way of always making a film his own.
"Meet the Feebles" is like a cross between "The Muppet Show" and "Valley of the Dolls." The entire film is made with puppets of varying size, which range from buzzing flies to a giant sea monster that can swallow a car. The story revolves around "The Fabulous Feeble Variety Hour," a television show that is a pointed satire of the Muppets. Like Jim Henson's much-loved creation, "Meet the Feebles" shows what happens on stage as well as what goes on behind the scenes. However, unlike the Muppets, the behind-the-scenes act is not as clean as what goes on in front of the audience. As a matter of fact, the Feebles are so steeped in debauchery that they are destined to self-destruction..
First of all, we have Heidi the hippo, an obvious variation on the starlite-obssessed Miss Piggy. Heidi was discovered by Bletch the walrus, the show's producer, who also dabbles in drugs and an underground porno movie business. Bletch is carrying on an affair with a slutty Siamese cat, and when Heidi finds out, she buries her depression in bouts of overeating. Constantly prowling the shadows is Trevor the rat, a grungy, smokaholic stagehand who spends most of his time doing Bletch's dirty work (including operating the camera when shooting the XXX movies).
The rest of the cast includes Wynard the frog, a Vietnam vet who's strung out on morphine; Sebastian the fox, the show's director who tries to save the doomed performance with a production number entitled "Sodomy"; and Harry the rabbit, one of the main stars whose penchant for menage-a-trois may have infected him with some unnamed, ghastly venereal disease. And, in a stroke of genius, the film also includes a sleazy tabloid journalist who is, of all things, a literal fly on the wall.
I assume you can see where this is heading.
"Meet the Feebles" would be a mere exercise in disgust if it weren't also a cleverly staged satire on media stars and the closed-door depravity of celebrity life. Like so many other movie stars and rock singers who thought they could live forever, the Feebles have weaknesses they indulge without thought because they think nothing bad can ever happen to them. In the end, it all comes crashing down on them, quite literally. Promiscuous sex, drug addiction, lying, cheating, scheming, conniving, backstabbing, and stealing all take their toll in the end, which climaxes in a grand finale that evokes films like "The Wild Bunch" and "Rambo."
It's hard to be critical of a film like this, because one's reaction to it will be determined by his or her tastes and limits. "Meet the Feebles" treads along a depraved road previously mapped by cinematic mavericks like Herschell Gordon Lewis, Ken Russell, and John Waters. The movie wallows in gore, sex, and scatology, but it's all in the spirit of satire. Of course, you can accept that reading, or see "satire" as a cop-out excuse for being gross.
I personally thought the film was quite hilarious in a weird, twisted sort of way. It could have been improved with a few hits to the editing button, and I thought some of the jokes were hit and miss. I loved the "Deer Hunter" parody, several of the production numbers, and the quirky names of some of Bletch's porno films. Of course, without the technical creativity of Cameron Chittock's puppet design and Murray Milne's cinematography, none of it could have been pulled off.
Taken as a whole, "Meet the Feebles" is a wild, bawdy, rambunctious excursion that can only be appreciated if you have a willingness to leave all matters of taste behind, and bring along an iron stomach. Otherwise, leave this one alone.
©1997 James Kendrick