Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Star Wars, there is a Starcrash. For every Batman, there is a Condorman. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and television shows that might just become your own secret treasures. Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is Peter Jackson’s puppet horror comedy Meet the Feebles. (Last week: Highway to Hell)
I thought I’d seen it all. After Peter Jackson’s Braindead (a.k.a. Dead Alive), after I’d seen a zombie baby tear a woman’s face in half from the inside, after I’d seen the huge yawning belly of his monstrous mother eat a man, I really thought I’d seen the depths of Peter Jackson’s depravity.
I had only scratched the surface.
Before he directed the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, a young Peter Jackson made two wonderfully nasty, cartoonish little horror movies called Braindead and Bad Taste. But between those two films he made something even more disturbing and tasteless with Meet the Feebles.
Written by Jackson, his wife Fran Walsh, Steven Sinclair (who wrote with him on Braindead and The Two Towers), and Danny Mulheron, the film is an obvious spoof of the Muppets. The Feebles are a theater troupe of puppet animals who perform a variety hour, complete with a Muppet Show-style opening number. Like the Muppets, no attention is called to the fact that they are puppets, but here, that’s probably because there’s not a single human seen in the film.
We’re brought into the world of the Feebles with that opening number, which begins innocuously enough. But it quickly becomes apparent that we’re in for something much, much weirder. When the song is over, a chain-smoking rat named Trevor harasses the show’s female star, a hippo named Heidi. He remarks about Heidi’s weight, saying… well, my editors would prefer that I don’t repeat what he said. In fact, I can hardly repeat any of the dialogue in this movie without pissing someone off.
I can also tell you that a Walrus has an amorous affair with a cat in the movie. I can tell you that the knife-throwing frog character is a junkie desperately in need of a fix, so that he can get his shakes under control. But he can’t scrape together the cash for a hit, so he winds up accidentally killing a cast member during rehearsal. When that happens, the show’s director (a short-tempered fox) doesn’t miss a beat and cries “Oh, god . . . Next!” I can also tell you that this knife-throwing incident triggers a protracted Vietnam flashback for the frog, complete with a Deer Hunter spoof and shockingly racist Vietnamese puppets who spout lines like “we must not let petty bourgeois aspirations taint socialist pedagogy.”
There’s a lot of crazy stuff that happens in Meet the Feebles that I could just list here, but the outright surrealism of it is so staggering that I totally understand if you thought I’d just made it all up. I mean, what reason would you have to believe that the guy who directed The Lord of the Rings made a movie where a walrus is dating a hippo and secretly having sex with a cat? Oh, and the walrus eats a fish who’s auditioning for the show, only to puke the partially digested still-living fish onto his friend’s feet at a golf course. They say seeing is believing, but I saw it last night and had to brew a strong pot of tea and stare unblinking into a roaring bonfire for two hours to believe it.
Meet the Feebles, as bizarre and offensive as it may be, is a must-own for fans of Peter Jackson’s early work. His Raimi-inspired camera work and trademark clarity of action is all there, but that doesn’t make it any more watchable. The shock and novelty of seeing and hearing these puppets do and say such awful things grows more and more assaultive and one-note as the film goes on. It’s also nearly plotless, causing the film to feel overlong and stretched thin. It might’ve worked quite well as a series of shorts (e.g. Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared), but as a feature film it’s an extreme oddity — the weirdest Weird Watch I may ever do.