“Meet the Feebles” is unashamedly a gross-out movie, but, like Jackson’s own “Dead Alive,” it wants to be the “Citizen Kane” of gross-out movies. The freshest (or maybe stalest?) element of his approach is that there are no human actors at all in “Meet the Feebles,” only animal puppets. They may not be Jim Henson quality, but they are good enough, and many of them are even cute and cuddly until someone vomits on them or squishes their heads open. Among the stomach-churning predicaments we must witness: a doomed romance between a hippo and a walrus, oral sex from a feline prostitute, a rabbit fearing he has AIDS, a car driving down the throat of a sea monster, a knife-throwing frog addicted to heroin, a panty-sniffing anteater, a gay fox singing about the joys of sodomy, a cow with six pierced teats, and a hedgehog with a lisp.
What’s surprising about “Meet the Feebles” is its actual quality as a film. Ghastly episodes are not simply paraded across the screen and then forgotten by Jackson, but connected in an interlocking story with a large cast of memorable characters. Robert Altman would be proud. The film begins twelve hours before the first performance of “Meet the Feebles,” a television song-and-dance variety show vying for syndication. Not surprisingly, this is a hard twelve hours, involving infidelity in the long-time relationship between Hippo Heidi the star and Walrus Bletch the producer. There are tangents—such as Trevor the Rat enlisting the panty-sniffing anteater to help him make a porno movie, a drug deal gone bad between Bletch and Mr. Big, and the frog’s flashbacks to Vietnam—but there are no dead-ends. Each episode either has a comic pay-off, character development, or both, and most tie back to the main storyline.
Many tasteful filmmakers lack Jackson’s ability to develop such a large cast so quickly. By the end of the movie, which only ran ninety minutes, I had come to know the faces, if not the names and motivations, of more than a dozen of his creatures. I think I might have even cared about some of them. Dare I say I was touched when the big blue elephant risked his life during the closing massacre to save his illegitimate infant daughter, whom he had denied throughout the course of the film? Anyone willing to risk the wrath of a hippo with a machine gun to rescue his child can drink from my canteen.
The overall experience is wild, raunchy fun. Most of this probably wouldn’t be as funny if there people instead of puppets. Certainly the Vietnam flashback which reenacts scenes from “Full Metal Jacket” and “The Deer Hunter” are only funny because we’ve never seen frogs playing Russian roulette. “Meet the Feebles” is, not surprisingly, done on a low-budget. Big-budget gore—like “Aliens” or “Saving Private Ryan”—must be in service of some higher goal to be appropriate, but low-budget gore can be for its own sake, because it’s so silly. The score for “The Feebles” works the same—the single MIDI setup running everything for under a thousand dollars is much more appropriate than an orchestral score or a rock band. What is top-notch is Jackson’s direction, which is quick and energetic in the way all great low-budget directors direct, and his willingness to not just give us splat after splat, but likable characters in-between to root for and, yes, laugh at when a hippo with an M60 blows their heads off.
Copyright © 2003 Friday & Saturday Night
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