I don’t know if you knew this or not, but I don’t actually review every film I watch. I don’t abide by a certain rubric or set of guidelines, per se, but I try to make certain whatever I say is inspired or, at least, justified. Truth is, I almost didn’t want to write about Meet the Feebles on Readers Digested. I couldn’t find a clear answer on where it landed. In the end, however, I found it too difficult to resist. How often do you have a chance to review an eighties New Zealand musical about abrasive, foul-mouthed puppets?
Meet the Feebles, otherwise known as Frogs of War, is a black comedy film directed by Peter Jackson, and written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Stephen Sinclair, and Danny Mulheron. I’ll say that again – this film was directed by Peter Jackson. That Peter Jackson. This won’t be new information for many of you, but Jackson used to be a lot more interesting of a filmmaker back before his journey through Middle-Earth. Still, I can’t escape how surreal it is that Meet the Feebles exists as a feature-length flick. I was aware of Bad Taste and I had even seen his quirky splat-stick film Braindead, but this film’s peculiarities are on a different level. This late-eighties musical brings puppets straight out of one of Jim Henson’s worst acid trip for a raunchy, off-beat comedy. Five years later, Peter Jackson was nominated for his first Academy Award and, after that, went onto direct one of the most coveted Trilogies of all-time with The Lord of the Rings. Along with that, many of the writers came along with him on that journey and established their own legacies.
Meet the Feebles went onto receive a generally positive response from critics and moviegoers, albeit, it is important to acknowledge that it’s a very niche and targeted aggregate. Most of the online critics you’ll find went out of there way to review the film. It isn’t exactly an overall consensus to go by. The film was a commercial failure on release, but has went onto establish a cult-following since Jackson’s surge in popularity.
The film follows animal-figured puppets and suited-performers acting as members of a stage troupe, aptly named The Feebles. The characters act almost as an antithesis to the popular Muppets characters and their positivity, offering up bucket-loads of negativity and mean-spirited behavior.
In-order to offer a more in-depth summary of what the film is about, I actually had to consult Wikipedia as a way to do so with any real confidence. This is because, in all honesty, Meet the Feebles is an absolute mess and doesn’t come together or add up to a coherent narrative. Basically, the theater troupe wants success through a syndicated television show. The star of the show, a hippopotamus named Heidi, is routinely disrespected, especially by pornographic director Trevor, and is in a relationship with a walrus named Bletch. Bletch, however, is actually having an affair with a cat named Samantha. Meanwhile, a newcomer named Robert finds love at first sight when he sees a fellow newcomer, a poodle named Lucille. Read aloud, the description is soap-operatic in execution, and feels very melodramatic and nonlinear in nature. Although it does have an eventual payoff, the film itself feels very sporadic and off-the-cuff, almost seeming improvisation and allover the map. They are at Vietnam at some point.
I understand how a lot of the finished project is to do with a very limited budget and the way it was filmed. Meet the Feebles was originally perceived as a television series, only to be expanded last-minute into a feature-length film. The voice acting was shot before filming began, and the production went over-budget and schedule, with certain scenes funded by the crew itself.
As off-beat and unique as Meet the Feebles is in theory, I am disappointed I don’t have anything very positive to say about it. It is largely what I would call an experimental film, and as important as experimentation is for evolving genres, when an experimental film fails, it often fails drastically. Meet the Feebles’ humor is juvenile and outrageous, like the worst qualities of an early South Park episode amplified and mixed in with a particularly schlocky Troma film. It is a concept that fails to mature beyond its own novelty, which makes it feel like a surrealist YouTube video that would have made a curious short film and stretches it to a plodding 97 minutes.
It is an audacity I would have otherwise overlooked. The characters all look budgeted and the acting itself is no doubt grating on occasion, but it is the sound-editing and production-value that make it difficult to follow along with everything as it unfolds. It is a film that is beyond rough-around-the-edges, and while I appreciate that more time under the hood isn’t always an option, it’s a consideration that isn’t afforded by The List.
Meet the Feebles is a bad film and, despite the amusement I have at its audacity, I can’t recommend it as an actual film. The humor never landed with me and the lack of structure means that when the humor from the spectacle runs out, so does all interest I had in the film. And that interest ran out very fast.