Puppetry is a remarkable form of filmmaking that merges the oldest homespun visual art with state-of-the-art camera trickery. From raunchy comedy to family fun to sci-fi space adventure, puppets transcend genre. Whether you’re looking for an enchanting film about Yoda or a bloodthirsty plant protagonist, here are the top 10 movies that celebrate puppetry.
1. The Muppets
Everyone has their favorite Muppet movie (we like the first one with Kermit, Fozzie and the gang). But this cult classic is a great trailblazer that pushes the limits of what can be done with puppetry. In particular, the cannibalistic plant protagonist Audrey II took 60 puppeteers to create and pushed the envelope of what can be accomplished in a feature film.
Whether it’s Hoggle, Sir Didymus or William the Worm, Henson’s world is full of characters that carry a lot of emotion thanks to his meticulous design work. Henson’s ambitious work in the ’80s also gave rise to a whole new generation of practical effects films. While computer-generated filmmaking has largely eclipsed the artform, there’s still something magical about moving an audience to laughter, screams or tears with the use of felt and latex. And there’s no better example of that than Labyrinth.
One of the great movies to have emerged from the fusion of creative talents is Jim Henson’s workshop. Featuring incredible creature work, a screenplay by Monty Python’s Terry Jones and music from David Bowie, this movie is the ultimate in storytelling and visual creativity.
From the jousting fox terrier Sir Didymus to the spooky fireys, this film available on flixtor app is full of great puppets and brilliantly crafted characters. It’s a fairy tale with a sense of wonder and imagination, and it’s definitely aimed at a more grown-up audience than its Muppets contemporaries.
Labyrinth was a classic in the ’80s and it showed audiences that puppetry could be scary as well as fun. This was an important message at the time, before CGI had fully established itself as a credible alternative. Hopefully the new prequels can rekindle that magic.
3. Meet the Feebles
This racy and twisted movie from director Peter Jackson follows the backstage shenanigans of a debauched puppet variety show. As the Feebles get ready for a live broadcast, they engage in all sorts of gross behavior, including sex, drugs and violence. The cast includes a heroin-addicted frog, an over-sexed rabbit, a cow and insect porn film-making duo, and a sleazy fly tabloid reporter.
It’s like if A Chorus Line and The Muppet Show had a dark side. It’s an entertaining if sick movie that looks at puppets in a different light. Just be sure to keep this movie away from kids. It has everything from a drug-addled hippo to a walrus cheating on his girlfriend with a Siamese cat. And don’t miss Harry’s AIDS subplot! It’s one of the most disturbing scenes in any puppet solarmovie.
4. The Great Muppet Caper
Although this sequel is a bit silly, it’s also an early example of Jim Henson’s commitment to his DIY filmmaking and showcases the Muppets in some of their funniest moments. Plus, it features a mewling, monster baby that’s a dead ringer for the doll possessed by serial killer Chucky in Child’s Play.
Though not as technically advanced as other puppet movies on this list, Anders Ronnow Klarlund’s apocalyptic fairy tale is memorable for its grotesque creatures and heavy-handed allegory of marionette strings. The vicious wolf-like Gmork might be the scariest puppet ever seen on screen.
It takes a lot of skill to manipulate a lifelike-looking alien, but Frank Oz’s dedication and talent made Audrey II a movie star. This cult classic also showcases the awe-inspiring range of creature effects that can be accomplished with puppetry.
5. The Secret of NIMH
Whether it’s a gruesome critter wreaking havoc or a kind-hearted bear saving the day, movie puppet magic has something for everyone. Though perhaps at its peak in the ’80s, this form of cinematic innovation continues to charm audiences with its blend of creative imagination and technical ingenuity.
The first film on our list combines a great story with a masterful display of practical puppetry. Don Bluth’s first project after leaving Disney, the movie is a testament to the power of traditional tools, even in the face of the ever-increasing pressure of computer-generated animation. It’s also notable for being the first movie to feature a character whose mouth was properly lip-synced, thanks to an animatronic puppet built around the face of performer Frank Oz. A true classic.