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This month, I thought it would be nice to pay tribute to one of the most underappreciated group of actors in Hollywood. These colorful characters are repeatedly described as being too animated, not relatable enough, and too fuzzy for their own good. I should probably clarify that we’re going to be talking about puppets.
My first recomendation is Magic (1978, available by all and any means necessary), about a struggling magician who uses a dummy to deal with suppressed emotions. Finding newfound success as a ventriloquist with a loud and foul-mouthed character named Fats, Corky Withers (Anthony Hopkins) returns home to the Catskills and decides that he wants a relationship with his former high school crush Peggy (Ann-Margret). The only problem with this idea is that Peggy is married and multiple people are standing in their way, so Corky—through his outspoken dummy Fats—begins to kill them one by one until he achieves his goal. The hidden psychotic nature of Corky’s character comes alive with Fats’s help, and demonstrates the power of the mind and the puppet to showcase emotion otherwise obscured.
No list of puppet films is complete without Little Shop of Horrors (1986, available everywhere, trust me), a dark comedy based off the Broadway musical with the same name. Geeky florist Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis) buys an unusual Venus-fly-trap-like plant from a Chinese flower shop and realizes that it can only survive off the taste of human blood. Thriving in the new fame of his plant, Seymour sets off to pursue Audrey (Ellen Greene) while also struggling to satisfy the bloodthirsty demands of his growing plant, Audrey II (voiced by Levi Stubbs). Audrey II is puppeteered by 20 people and is a total hit.
Before you disregard puppet movies as something to be seen with youngsters, consider all the elements these movies bring to the table. Puppets, no matter how obscure or outrageous, create human connections, outlets for people to express their bottled up emotions and follow through with actions they would otherwise be too scared to do.