Good Puppet Movies

Tuesday, June 1, 2010 at 11:07 am

June 1st is the birthday of Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch, so I figured what better way to celebrate than by taking a look at some of the good puppet movies available on DVD or Blu-ray. It should be noted, by the way, that the cranky green trashcan dweller first appeared on television on November 10th, 1969, but June 1st was the date he was created. And let’s send a quick shout-out to Carroll Spinney, the man who’s portrayed both Oscar and Big Bird since the show’s debut.

Not all the good puppet movies listed below are for kids. In fact, one or two are just downright demented. But whether you’re looking for heartwarming or horrifying, you can bet that Amazon will carry all the items on the list. We do get a commission if you buy something there, but it goes right back into our site. And if you’re looking for a more temporary arrangement, don’t forget about Netflix and their excellent business model.

Meet the Feebles (1989) – Before he directed the groundbreaking Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson helmed this bizarre film about a troupe of puppet performers preparing for their big break on television. But this isn’t the Muppets, as the puppets engage in orgies, snuff films, drug deals, and murders. I especially liked the comments by film critic James Berardinelli when he wrote, “The film is so off the beaten track that it makes Monty Python seem mainstream.”

The Dark Crystal (1982) – Jim Henson and Frank Oz team up for this dark fantasy tale about Jen, the supposed last member of the Gelfling race. He undertakes a quest to heal the mystical Dark Crystal, but he’s opposed and hunted by the cruel minions of the Skeksis emperor. The first live-action film to not feature any human beings on screen, The Dark Crystal even managed to outperform E.T. (also released in 1982) in Japan and France. As I write this, a sequel (titled Power of the Dark Crystal) is in the works.

Team America: World Police (2004) – From the minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone–better known as the creators of South Park–comes this outrageous spoof of both action films and the global agenda of the United States. Comprised almost entirely of marionettes, the film tells of an elite police force dedicated to combating terrorism around the planet. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is the primary villain, although our heroes must also contend with the Film Actors Guild (also known as F.A.G.). In real life, Sean Penn was less than pleased with his portrayal, sending Parker and Stone an angry letter that ended with “fuck you.”

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie (1996) – Taking place between the sixth and seventh seasons of the television series, MST finds Mike Nelson (replacing Joel Robinson), Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo, and Gypsy held captive in space by a mad scientist and forced to watch bad movies. This time around, their torment comes in the form of This Island Earth, a sci-fi classic from 1955. When not riffing on the film, the gang tries to find a way to escape and return back to Earth.

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Being John Malkovich (1999) – John Cusack stars as a puppeteer who’s forced to take a job as a file clerk. While learning the ropes, he stumbles across a hidden door and finds himself inside the mind of actor John Malkovich. Soon, he’s charging people $200 to experience life as Malkovich, something which causes the real-life actor to question his sanity. Directed by Spike Jonze, the film was written by the always offbeat Charlie Kaufman and co-stars Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Orson Bean, Charlie Sheen, and, of course, John Malkovich.

Puppet Master (1989) – Twenty years after its debut, this horror franchise from Full Moon Productions is still going strong (nine sequels and counting). It all starts here, as a group of psychics gather at an inn and bodies start piling up. The real highlight of the film comes in the form of killer puppets, with names such as Blade, Pinhead, Leech Woman, and Tunneler.

Gremlins (1984) – When a young man named Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) receives a bizarre creature known as a mogwai, he’s told to stick to three rules. First, never expose the creature to direct sunlight. Second, keep it from getting wet. Third, never feed it after midnight. This final rule is stressed as being most important, but that goes right out the window soon enough. The end result is a batch of chaotic gremlins, who promptly go on a spree of destruction and murder in the fictional hamlet of Kingston Falls. Set during the Christmas holidays, the film manages a delicate balance between horror and black comedy, and the presence of 1980’s hottie Phoebe Cates is always welcome.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – The second film in George Lucas’ first Star Wars trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back is the best (and darkest) of the franchise. From the thrilling Hoth battle between the Rebels and the Imperial AT-AT Walkers to the Cloud City showdown between Luke and Darth Vader, it delivers the goods as both an action film and tense drama. While plenty of human actors abound, one of the most beloved characters remains Yoda, the wizened Jedi operated and voiced by Frank Oz.

Labyrinth (1986) – Jim Henson directed this fantastical tale of teenager Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly) and her efforts to rescue her little brother from the clutches of Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie). Basically a coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of a fantasy world, Labyrinth still manages to capture the imagination of young and old alike.

The Muppet Movie (1979) – The first live-action film from the enduring creations of Jim Henson, The Muppet Movie finds Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear heading to Hollywood to become stars. Along the way, they get involved in a number of misadventures, and all your Muppet favorites put in an appearance (as well as human actors such as Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Bob Hope, Orson Welles, and Richard Pryor). At one point, they even encounter Big Bird (Carroll Spinney), who’s on his way to New York to break into public television. Oscar the Grouch would make a cameo in 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper.

If you’ve enjoyed this list of good puppet movies, be sure to take a look at these other posts from Only Good Movies:

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 1st, 2010 at 11:07 am and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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