Tuesday 6 January 2015

Tasha and Friends (2013)

Director: Greg Kovacs
Stars: Stephanie Christiaens, John Williams, Nathan Hawkins and John Cross
This film was an official selection at the 10th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
Peter Jackson opened a dangerous door when he made Meet the Feebles in 1989. It wasn't the first adult puppet movie (Gerard Damiano's puppet porn, Let My Puppets Come, predated it by over a decade) but it was arguably the most prominent, especially after Brain Dead when his star rose considerably, until Trey Parker and Matt Stone made their marionette blockbuster Team America: World Police fifteen years later. This short film, which mixes a live cast with a set of puppets, is clearly influenced more by the Feebles than Team America, with at least three overt Jackson homages and probably many more, depending on how you count them. As it's a Canadian rather than a Kiwi production, I would expect that it also pays homage to the Canadian show Puppets Who Kill, given that it shifts quickly from sickly sweet children's show to full on slasher nightmare within fifteen minutes. Tasha may have friends at the outset, but those friendships don't last until the end credits.

In a neat bookend, we even begin with the end credits, at least of the TV show Tasha and Friends, which is decidedly kid friendly, even with a puppet named Spew. Tasha is the pink-wigged host and she works with a quartet of muppet knockoffs; the others are Boppy, Jingles and Groopa (who only speaks a single word, like Groot's three). It plays like Sesame Street on a sugar overdose, as they sing the alphabet and wave us goodbye with a long 'Keep on smiling!' mantra. And then we back out of the show to find that it really isn't unicorns and rainbows on the Tasha and Friends set. In fact, Tasha flat out demands that Ross the director fire the puppeteer whose hand works Boppy because he keeps stealing the last lines of the show. Ross won't take her seriously, even when she quits, but we watch her putting the puppets up for sale on eBay. What she doesn't realise is that they don't want to leave the show; they believe that she should leave instead and they're rather serious about how they'll achieve that goal.
For a film that doesn't attempt to provide any on screen validation for what happens, this is a good deal of fun. It's a little slower than it ought to be and it takes a little longer to get going, but it punctuates the downtime with funny lines in funny little moments. After Tasha puts the puppets in the drier and her feet up on the couch, we see clips from other Greg Kovacs comedy shorts like The Post-Lifers and Cookin' the Shit Outta Things with Mike. Stephanie Christiaens has a lot of fun as Tasha and she fights back with a lot of passion. I was less sold on the puppets though, partly because they're far from original (unlike most of the feebles in Meet the Feebles) and partly because the voices play for laughs rather than realism. Yeah, I know, who expects realism in animated muppets, right? Well, I'd have liked this more if it had played the whole film straight. As it stands, I enjoyed the effects work far more than the puppetry, as Mitchell Stacey of Inde Fx Studio wasn't messing around. My better half liked this more than I did; I found it too familiar.

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