Trend alert: puppets will be big in Hollywood this summer

Guy Adams
  • By
  • Arts
  • Last updated: Thursday, 29 December 2011 at 5:05 pm

1643592 213x300 Trend alert: puppets will be big in Hollywood this summerWhat with Avatar and the ensuing 16 month wave of “tentpole” movies selling their flimsy plot premises on the back of hi-tech 3D jiggery-pokery, it’s comforting to report the imminent arrival of a fresh wave of Hollywood films designed to appeal to the committed luddites among us.

The puppet will be returning to cinemas in a big way this summer, with Disney releasing a promising-sounding Muppets movie – starring Amy Adams and created by the always-brilliant Jason Segel– and Mel Gibson attempting a comeback in The Beaver, in which he plays a psychologically-wonky man who begins wearing a fluffy animal on his arm in order to avert a mid-life crisis.

It takes three to make a trend, though. And last week saw the puppet trinity completed with the premiere of Dumbstruck, a cute little documentary about ventriloquism.

The film is directed by Mark Goffman, a protégée of Aaron Sorkin, and follows a selection of the all-American eccentrics who still devote their lives to a practice which, in the era of Ed Sullivan, Rod Hull, and (to a lesser extent) Keith Harris and Orville was considered to be firmly on the front line of entertainment.

At the top of the pile of today’s professional ventriloquists is one Terry Fator, an overweight Texan who won America’s Got Talent a couple of years ago, and now grins from posters across Las Vegas, where he recently signed a contract to headline a show for the next five years. His pay over that period, according to the film, will be no less than $100m.

Of course, not every colleage enjoys Fator’s success. Some work cruise ships. Others struggle to hold down children’s birthday parties. And (as you’ll see from the trailer above) most of Dumbstruck’s subjects come from the impoverished end of the profession.

But therin lies the point. The lion’s share of the professional puppeters the film portrays are emotionally damaged. Most use their dummies as both emotional crutch and an alternative to therapy. Often, they seem to have stronger relationships with the toys the stick hands inside than with friends and family.

Ironically, this real-life phenomenon is almost identical to the one explored in The Beaver, a work of fiction that enjoyed admiring reviews at the recent SXSW festival and now stands a sporting chance of rehabiliting Gibson, an actor whose reputation has been widely regarded as unsalvageable. Life, as they say, meets art.

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  • Matthew Smith

    Except, you know, The Muppets is coming out at the end of November, which, last I checked, is not this summer.

  • Marcus Grey

    It is in Australia mate!!

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