Puppet Cinema: Strings Attached
SHOTS
by Polina Galaganova
17.11.2020
The origins of marionettes are often associated with masks of Gods and Demons which would play a big part in ancient theatres all over the world - as idols were praised and treated as living creatures, so would the puppets.

Funnily enough a doll becomes a puppet as soon as there's an audience. Once a child plays for someone, not only for their own entertainment, their toy turns into an actor. When people discovered the pleasure of playing for others, certain supplies and devices were invented to make the dolls playable for a mass of people, a crowd of those who are interested. The tools vary from one country to another, yet the idea remains - puppets become a living creature separated from their creator. One of the most ancient forms of puppetry that is widely appreciated nowadays is bunraku. The doll is brought to life by three people - two of them control its limbs and body while being covered in black clothes head to toe, the last person takes over the puppet's mind. The most fascinating thing about bunraku is the way the "mind"-actor performs - there is no emotion on his face as he gives all of his energy to the doll.

The reason puppet shows became popular lies in their nature - people were fascinated by a doll reliving every possible human emotion and acting as a person. The performances were entertaining as well - one could tell a complicated story and teach the audience an important lesson with a help of a few figurines.
One of the most famous modern puppeteers, Jim Henson - the creator behind Kermit the Frog - saw such an opportunity as well. The puppeteer found a resemblance between a screen and medieval proscenium stage, where dolls would perform. Henson decided to bring dolls and marionettes on TV - this would become a breakthrough for later expansion of puppet art in the cinema. Some of the concepts he developed are now used in movie-making - most of the ugly creatures we see on the TV are doll-cascades with actors inside.

After advancing the looks of the puppets creators expanded the idea to TV series and movies,where the whole cast would consist of dolls. Filming such is not an easy task. All facial expressions, movements of limbs and even hair have to be changed in every frame. The process consumes an enormous amount of time. For example, in the making of "Boxtrolls'' by Laika, an animator of the crew had to spend 4 months to create a scene of 56 seconds.
Essentially all of the puppet movies are made almost entirely manually , so all of them are worth your time. Yet what are the best ones?
The Wallace and Gromit comedy franchise is a claymation - an animated movie with cast members made from clay. The series consists of several short films and a few full-length creations. Notoriously famous "The curse of the Were-Rabbit", reviewed by The Guardian, is said to be "a lot of fun and, in a likable way, very British" about a "homely sort" Wallace possessed by a rabbit and his dog, Dogwarts University graduate, Gromit.
Shooting the movie was laborious work. The Boxtrolls' filmmakers say: "The dance sequence - less than 2 minutes of the film - took Laika 18 months to animate." The film is a "creature-oriented tale" about an orphan boy raised by underground boxtrolls, forced to live in the sewers to avoid people who are scared of the little beasts, while in reality they need to be afraid of each other.
An amazing creation by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton. The animators made 227 dolls to represent all the characters from the movie; the main female character, Sally, alone had about ten sets of faces, each one with 11 expressions. The story itself is about a disastrous attempt to bring justice - dwellers of Halloween Town are willing to share Christmas with citizens of Christmas town, yet the mission for rights has turned into a disaster leaving the main character Jack to fix the mess he'd made.
Coraline (2008)
The ultimate Halloween movie - nothing freaks people out like this one. The film describes a period in the life of young Caroline who moves to a different city with her parents. While everyone is caught up in the routine, the girl discovers a picture-perfect world hidden beside a small door in her new house. Coraline's reality as well as another one are made by hand and took 450 people to shoot almost 150 scenes.
This recent addition to the collection of modern puppetry movies perfectly describes our consumer attitude to nature. The New York Times states the film - thanks to its dolls - has "a warm, organic feel", yet lacks storytelling. That is for the audience to decide, but the movie is definitely something to watch on a rainy autumn day.
Another classic by Tim Burton. The animated fantasy holds a special place in the hearts of many. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw says the movie's only legacy is to be enjoyed by "tweenie goths". However, the story is absolutely gorgeous and heart-breaking - being about a might-have-been bride and her desire to be loved, it will strangle your heart. A must watch in trying times of the lockdown.
The meme culture behind the movie probably makes the animation more enjoyable - the comedy is truly entertaining as there are a lot of scenes to laugh at. The film took five years to be produced, but it is much worth watching - the story describes a life of settled Mr. Fox and his family. The main hero, a columnist for a local newspaper, struggles to keep himself from old habits. He creates a mess with his friends, so later on has to save his family and a whole village.
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