Meet the Feebles
|Meet the Feebles|
|Directed by||Peter Jackson|
|Produced by||Jim Booth|
|Written by||Peter Jackson
|Music by||Peter Dasent|
|Edited by||Jamie Selkirk|
|Distributed by||South Gate Entertainment|
Meet the Feebles is a 1989 New Zealand musical black comedy film directed by Peter Jackson, and written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Stephen Sinclair, and Danny Mulheron. It features Jim Henson-esque puppets in a perverse comic satire.
Like Henson's Muppets, the Feebles are animal-figured puppets (plus some people in suits) who are members of a stage troupe. However, whereas Henson's Muppets characterize positivity, naïve folly, and innocence, the Feebles present negativity, vice, and other misanthropic characteristics, apart, it could be argued, from Robert the hedgehog, who is portrayed as positive, innocent and naive. It is the first Jackson film that was co-written by his future wife Fran Walsh, who has gone on to act as co-writer for all his subsequent films.
A commercial failure on release, the film went on to win a cult following, and won over new viewers following Jackson's success with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. During his acceptance speech at the 2004 Academy Awards, Jackson mentioned Meet the Feebles (along with Bad Taste), joking that it had been "wisely overlooked by the Academy."
The eponymous theatre troupe is rehearsing the title song with hopes of finding success through being picked up for a syndicated television show. Heidi (a hippopotamus), the star of the show, is insulted by pornographic director Trevor (a rat) and complains to her boss and lover, Bletch (a walrus), who is actually in an adulterous relationship with Samantha (a cat). Meanwhile, Robert (a hedgehog), the newest member of the team, arrives at the theatre and immediately falls in love with another newcomer, Lucille (a poodle). Samantha confronts Heidi, insults her, and reveals her relationship with Bletch. Robert confesses his love to Lucille, and the two become engaged. Sid (an elephant) receives a visit from his ex-wife Sandy (a chicken) with his alleged son Seymour (an improbable-looking elephant/chicken hybrid). Sandy informs him she will be preparing a paternity case against him.
At the toilet, the second most important star of the show, Harry (a hare), is suffering from a mystery disease. Meanwhile, drug-addicted knife thrower Wynyard (a frog) tells Robert his story of Vietnam, and convinces Robert to give him $50 to buy drugs from Trevor. After seeing Trevor's latest porno film, Bletch decides they need a new porn star, and Trevor chooses Lucille; he drugs her and tries to rape her as an audition but is caught by Robert. When he walks in on the scene Robert thinks that Lucille was drinking and throwing herself at Trevor, and tells her he never wants to see her again.
After a good beginning – the Feebles sign with a TV chain to appear in a prime-time television show – Bletch confesses to Heidi that he actually hates her and wants to give the main role to Samantha. After trying unsuccessfully to attempt suicide, Heidi goes on a shooting spree and kills many of the cast.
A distraught Heidi runs to Bletch after being insulted by Trevor. Bletch is having sex with Samantha, but hides the tryst. Although Bletch is physically disgusted by Heidi, he insincerely comforts her since he needs her talent on the show.
Later Samantha insults Heidi, claiming Bletch really wants Samantha. Distraught, Heidi drowns her sorrows in an entire chocolate cake, as she reminisces about her past romance with Bletch in a black-and-white flashback to her days as a lounge singer. Belching caused by the cake causes Heidi to lay waste to the set during the rehearsal of a feature number; Sebastian (a fox) then lambasts her. Heidi rushes to Bletch for emotional affirmation, but he is unable to spare her the sight of Samantha performing oral sex on him. Heidi locks herself in her room and refuses to perform, but relents after Bletch has make-up sex with her.
Heidi's performance helps secure the Feebles a syndicated series. Shortly afterwards, Heidi attempts to seduce Bletch in his office, but Bletch completely disowns her since Samantha is now to be the star of the show. Unfortunately, Bletch is unaware of Heidi's extremely fragile mental state.
Robert and Lucille
Robert shows up for his first day as a cast member, and is accosted by F.W. (a fly), who tries to corrupt Robert into informing on the cast.
Arthur (a worm) rescues Robert and shows him around, where Robert sees Lucille for the first time. Although he is romantically terrified of her at first, he later summons up enough courage to ask her out and they fall in love. Later Trevor drugs Lucille to manipulate her into performing in his pornographic films. Robert walks in on the drugging, but misinterprets it as Lucille's decision, and disowns her for being a drunk. They make up later after Robert saves her from Heidi's crazed gun rampage, and they eventually get married.
The Big One
Dennis (an aardvark) is shown peeping on Harry in a threesome with two female rabbits. Harry feels physically ill after this episode and is accosted by F.W., who assumes he has a sexually transmittable disease (STD) and wants to publish the scandal. Dr. Quack (a duck) diagnoses Harry with "The Big One". F.W. publishes the scandal in a local tabloid – to the dismay of Bletch, who presumably wants to avoid negative press on the cast. Trevor lures F.W. into the bathroom, where Bletch tears his wings off and flushes F.W. down the toilet. After vomiting all over the stage in the live performance, Harry finally learns that he only has 'bunny pox'. Unfortunately, while rejoicing in the news that "The Big One" will not cause his death, Harry's head is blown apart by a gunshot during Heidi's rampage.
Trevor is shooting a porn film in the basement with the Masked Masochist (a weta) and Madam Bovine (a cow). They are interrupted by Robert, who mistakes the scene for torture and tries to save Bovine, who in turn accidentally crushes the Masked Masochist, suffocating him. Trevor later replaces him with Dennis (who has a snout resembling male genitalia) to perform 'nasal sex' on Bovine.
Trevor is approached by a sniveling Wynyard looking for his fix, but the drugs have not yet been delivered. Bletch is later shown on a golf course consummating a deal with Cedric (a warthog). However, after testing on Dennis, the drugs provided by Cedric turn out to be household borax, infuriating Bletch. Cedric's agent Louie (a dog) is literally liquefied after being force-fed some of the borax by Bletch's henchmen.
Bletch and his cronies venture to the docklands to fight Cedric and his crab-crewmen. Bletch's side prevails after killing Cedric and the crabs, maneuvering past a huge spider, and driving through the insides of Cedric's boss Mr. Big (a whale). However, the spider eats the head of Barry (a bulldog).
When the drugs finally arrive at the theatre, Wynyard is finally able to get his fix, which puts him into a stupor.
While the cast performs an opera number, Sebastian lambasts Robert for not acting his part as an extra on the stage. As punishment, he assigns Robert the task of replacing Wynyard's assistant, who has just been killed by Wynyard's knife throwing while going through drug withdrawal. Wynyard guilt-trips Robert into giving him money for drugs, after telling him a horror story about his time in Vietnam (shown as a flashback parodying The Deer Hunter). He eventually gets his fix from Trevor and injects himself into a deep slumber.
The acts gradually disintegrate – Heidi nearly destroys the set by botching a swing, Abi the Indian mystic (a humanoid) incapacitates himself by contorting his head into his rectum, and Sid's tribble-like pets are crushed by a barrel. Seeing his show in shambles, Sebastian tries to convince Bletch to feature his personal performance, the sexually explicit number 'Sodomy'. This is summarily rejected by Bletch, who physically throws Sebastian out of his office. Sebastian decides to use the number anyway and performs it in front of the live audience, to Bletch's horror.
The Elephant and the Chicken
Sandy accuses Sid of being the father of their chicken-elephant child, to his dismay and denial. During the live show, Sandy again accosts Sid on stage with the paternity suit. During a later tragic crossfire scene, Sid braves the crazed Heidi's automatic fire to save his son. His heroism costs the elephant two bloody knee wounds, and he accidentally crushes Sandy's shot-off head after it squawks out one final invective.
While the live show is proceeding elsewhere, Heidi attempts suicide by hanging, but her weight breaks the chandelier from the ceiling and she falls through the floor. She makes her way to Bletch's machine gun and tries to kill herself, but at the last moment, Samantha shows up and taunts her. Heidi, fed up with her taunting, responds by killing Samantha. Meanwhile, Wynyard, in a drugged stupor, tries to kill Robert before accidentally killing himself. Sebastian does his "Sodomy" number, while Heidi rampages over the entire set on a killing spree. She finally finds Bletch and pumps many rounds into him as well. Bletch lies to Heidi about loving her and orders Trevor to kill her. However, Robert swings in just in the nick of time to kick Trevor, giving Heidi the chance to vaporise the rat. Heidi then literally blows Bletch's brain out. Realizing that she killed her love, she gives up her gun and sadly sings "Garden of Love", leading into the epilogue and the credits.
The epilogue reveals the fates of only six survivors: Sid gets extensive repair on his kneecaps after being shot by Heidi and works in an orchard as a struggling horticulturist with Seymour. Arthur received an OBE for his lifelong service at the theatre and retires to the country. Sebastian recovers from his injuries and achieved worldwide fame for his best seller The Feeble Variety Massacre: One Man's Act of Heroism! and is negotiating film rights. Robert, now an award-winning fashion photographer for a women's magazine, and Lucille are married with two children. Finally, Heidi, whose spree resulted in her imprisonment in a women's penitentiary for ten years (implying that, although released in 1989, the film's events occurred in the 1970s), has been rehabilitated under the community and now works under a new identity on the check-out counter of a large supermarket.
- Mark Hadlow – Robert the Hedgehog / Heidi the Hippo (voice) / Barry the Bulldog
- Peter Vere-Jones – Bletch the Walrus / Arthur the Worm / The Baker / Newspaper Mouse / The Announcer
- Donna Akersten – Lucille the Poodle / Samantha the Cat / Dorothy the Sheep / Female Rabbit / Chours-girls / Fitness Tape Voice
- Stuart Devenie – Sebastian the Fox / Dr. Quack the Duck (doing a Paul Lynde impression) / Daisy the Cow (Madame Bovine) / Sandy the Chicken / Cedric the Warthog / Seymour / Mr. Big the Whale / Female Rabbit / Chours-girls
- Brian Sergent – Wynyard the Frog / Trevor the Rat (doing a Peter Lorre impression) / F. W. Fly / Jim the Frog / Chuck the Frog / The Spider / Vietnamese Gophers
- Ross Jolly – Harry the Hare / Dennis the Aardvark / Abi / Pekingese / Vietnamese Gophers
- Mark Wright – Sid the Elephant / The Masked Masochist / Louie the Dog / The Fish / Poodle / Bartender / Crab / Chorus-girls
- Fane Flaws – Musician Frog
- Danny Mulheron – Heidi the Hippo (body)
The film was originally conceived as part of a television series, and only belatedly became a feature after Japanese investors proposed expanding it; as such, the script was hastily re-written. The dialogue was recorded before shooting began. Made on an extremely low budget considering the time-consuming process of working with puppets, the film went over budget and schedule. Some scenes, including the Vietnam flashback, were funded by members of the film crew, and filmed secretly under the title The Frogs of War. The Vietnam flashback includes a game of Russian roulette as a parody of The Deer Hunter.
An initial application for Film Commission money was rejected, ironically by executive director Jim Booth, who a short time later became Jackson's producer. The Commission did eventually grant the production two-thirds of its $750,000 budget, though relationships between the funders and the production soured and the Film Commission removed its credit from the film.
It is often mistakenly stated that there are no human characters in the film; the character Abi is a human. However, there are no real-life human characters in the film. Director Jackson has a cameo as an audience member dressed as an alien from Bad Taste.
By presumed coincidence, one of the characters, Harry the Hare, shares a name with the title character of James B. Hemesath's short story "Harry the Hare" (himself a Bugs Bunny pastiche), written for Harlan Ellison's anthology Again, Dangerous Visions in 1972.
The film was marketed in some countries with the tagline: "From the creators of Bad Taste, comes a film with no taste at all!"
Meet the Feebles was given its public premiere at a fantasy film festival in Hamburg, in April 1990.
From then on, the film was released theatrically in Japan (7 December 1990); Portugal (February 1991); Australia (March 1991); Sweden (April 1991); Germany (May 1991); France (July 1991); United Kingdom (April 1992); and the United States (February 1995 in New York and September 1995 nationwide).
The film was met with generally positive reviews, and holds a 70% "Fresh" rating on aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 23 reviews. The site's consensus reads "Dark and vulgar, Meet the Feebles is a backstage comedy featuring puppets that offers proof of Peter Jackson's taste for sheer outrageousness, even if it often lapses into pure juvenilia."
During a limited theatrical release in North America in 2002, critic James Berardinelli touched on aspects of the film which likely helped ensure it limited release in cinemas. "The stories of these ... characters are told in a disgustingly graphic, obscenely offbeat, and caustically funny manner. Meet the Feebles is for those with a strong stomach and a seriously warped sense of humor. The film is so off the beaten track that it makes Monty Python seem mainstream."
- "MEET THE FEEBLES (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 7 October 1991. Retrieved 11 November 2012.
- "2003 (76th) Academy Awards". Academy Awards Acceptance Speech Database. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
- "Meet the Feebles – Background". NZ On Screen. 2008-08-31. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
- "Meet the Feebles". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 22 June 2014.
- "James Berardinelli review at Reelviews". Reelviews.net. Retrieved 2012-12-06.