Meet the Feebles (1989)

Sure, Meet the Feebles may not be director Peter Jackson (yes, Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings and King Kong) at his finest hour of directorial standing, but as a fan of a certain kind of really deranged and off-kilter cult movie, a lot of this made my night. It’s an ultra-perverse, ultra-absurd, and sometimes really ultra-stupid take on a variety show where puppets are preparing for the night’s performance, only everything that could go wrong- or more precisely anything that could be unexpected to go wrong- does every which way to Sunday. It’s actually the kind of movie when I was watching, for the most part early on, I almost couldn’t really laugh. I just had a look on my face like ‘what am I watching?’ And, ‘how can something like this actually exist?’ It’s not even so much a question of how well or how not well Jackson and his low-budget team pull it off, but how someone can take the time and energy to think this all up and put it all on paper.

Let me try to sort through some of the varied story lines- there is Robert, a newcomer to the Feebles gang (and gang I mean in literal and figurative terms), who wants to impress a certain poodle-dog type of girl who really has him going to lengths to impress her. But meanwhile, a really nasty rodent- also a porno director as well as the boss’s assistant- decides to use her in his next porno flick by drugging her. This rodent also has to deal with some other low-lifes in the group, like a junkie lizard who has one big story to tell Robert at one point about his crazy, violent trip to Vietnam (including a ‘why not’ homage to Deer Hunter). There’s also a rabbit who may or may not be dying from an STD of some sort (I think it was an STD anyway), and has a pestering fly (always in the most uncomfortably close of close-ups) trying to get the scoop on his condition. There’s even the overly-annoying stage manager who can’t wait to put on his God-awful dance number of his own. But the main center of attention and star of the Feebles shows is Heidi, a hippo who loves to binge on junk food, and is also suspecting a femme-feline of stealing away her previous man- the boss. When she finds out what’s really up, it leads to the unbelievable climax.

And so on. I still keep thinking about my reactions to certain scenes, and the kind of sensibility about this whole project. Maybe in part its really lampooning something maybe more common in New Zealand, like with whatever kinds of variety shows or kid shows they have there. But it’s also without a doubt that Jackson’s also seen his share of Muppets, as the basic concept follows off from the Muppet Show. What’s amazing about the film, and at times a little frustrating, is how a real mind-set of gonzo film-making is apparent. It doesn’t seem original in parts, like it’s taking things from other movies- or maybe other movies and shows that have come after this seem quite similar- but it really is in the bizarre, crude nature of everything. The climax probably holds the biggest laughs and surprises, even in its tight context of everything going to hell in a hand-basket. As its a world entire devoid of humans, all of its logic is based around how outrageous these puppets can be in their own whacked-out environment. With the exception of the naive, method-trained Robert, and maybe his love interest, every character in the picture is severely flawed in one way or another, or just really put to abstract lengths so mind-boggling they work only in conjunction with Jackson’s unnerving, low-budget style. It has the same jarring, diabolically juvenile and in-your-face comedy of some of the South Park guys stuff (Team America and Cannibal sort of come to mind), but without necessarily the sharp edge of satire.

And at the end of it all, with all the laughs I had and shocked ‘huh’ moments at what Jackson had done with all these weird characters (some of which are outright perverts, drug addicts, criminals, egoists, adulterers, and even father half elephant-half chicken offspring), I wasn’t sure totally what the point of it all was. Maybe though there really isn’t any; I have to think this is the kind of movie that a director makes with himself as the audience, and not really in a selfish manner either. It’s not great art by any means, and doesn’t pretend to be, which is part of the dark fun of it all: Meet the Feebles, with its singing and dancing miscreants (quite a catchy theme song by the way), and numerous scenes of more-than-suggestive sexual moments and gory bouts of extreme violence, is a case of kamikaze independent film-making, where homage spreads out into the concept and becomes something very strange but, in its own world, sort of wonderful too. It might be far from my favorite of the director’s, but it’s got things in it that are really fantastic and uproarious. It’s one of those fine guilty pleasures of the late 80s.