Five Great Performances (Given by Puppets)

It’s always impressive when an actor pulls off a complicated daring performance. But in some ways it’s even more impressive when a team of people act as a single character, and somehow manage to give a performance detailed enough and persuasive enough to hold the screen with talented actors.

Obviously, I’m speaking here of the art of movie puppetry. Here are five knockout performances by characters who only exist as rubber and plastic.

Gizmo — Gremlins

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Andy Serkis and the VFX team brought to life the character of Ceasar. One of the most challenging aspects of that performance was finding the balance in a character who learns and interacts intelligently with real humans, but ultimately registers as an animal. In Gremlins, the character Gizmo has to walk a similar line — but as a puppet. At different points, Gizmo emotes curiosity, fear, happiness, determination, and compassion, but he’s still believable as a creature who could be sold in a box.


And really, Gizmo is a huge danger both to the main characters of the movie and to the other citizens of the town they live in. Yet somehow, he’s supremely lovable and I’d still want him as a pet. That’s gotta count for something.

Kermit — The Muppet Movie

All of the Muppets are brilliantly designed and performed, but Kermit is the only one who regularly gives a complicated performance. He’s the one who usually has to deal with the craziness all the others bring to the situations they find themselves in. Just look at this dream sequence from The Muppet Movie, where Kermit gets introspective and talks about the consequences of following his dream to Hollywood.


What makes this even more astonishing is that Kermit is actually a pretty blandly designed puppet. He doesn’t have any eyebrows to add emotion, his face doesn’t suggest much in the way of personality, and he doesn’t possess particularly striking eyes. Yet somehow the people behind the scenes of the Muppets are able to imbue this green-felted form with a huge heart and personality to spare.

Teddy — A.I.

“I am NOT a toy.”

While admittedly not as complicated a character as the others on this list — he basically plays Jiminy Cricket to the Pinnochio analogue David — Teddy deserves mention because of how seamlessly he works with the world of the movie. While you can sorta imagine the offscreen puppeteers working on Gizmo and Kermit, Teddy walks around freely and engages with other characters in a way that makes you completely forget that there’s no such thing as a Supertoy.


In case you’re curious about what he looked like before they digitally removed all the puppeteers, here you go.


It’s only a small piece of the puzzle, but I’m personally stunned by the way they designed the rig for Teddy to walk. Not only does the team have to make him move and talk, but somebody has to shuffle along behind that contraption in perfect teddy bear-sized steps the whole time.

  • No Dark Crystal? These are great tho.. I loved Teddy in AI.

  • frikkenkids

    Yoda in the prequels was so frustrating. No matter how many millions of dollars were thrown at the CGI, the Yodas produces are pathetic compared to the one in Empire.

  • Deighvyd

    Same thing I first thought. How can you have a list likes this and not mention the Dark Crystal.

    And let’s also not forgot the likes of Chucky or the little balls of hair from Critters.

  • Skeet

    Nice article. Wanted to add this pretty cool video…not so much in the same vein as yours here, but just puppets and pretty talented dude:)

  • Alaric

    I think Yoda was still a puppet in Phantom Menace, but they got his eyes wrong with that one. Too bad they couldn’t figure out how to make puppet Yoda fight as well as the CGI one, but even if they could’ve, they wouldn’t have out of laziness.

  • Jason M

    In his rightful place, Yoda is.

  • Giacinta

    Totally agree with you on the puppets. There’s just a certain artistry and ambience that comes along with wood-and-felt puppets that CGI just can’t match. It’s obviously labor intensive but so worth it.

  • MetFanMac

    Let us not forget Jabba the Hutt, who was controlled by 5 puppeteers at once and still looked hella realistic.

    (Also, Kermit made some amazing expressions by contorting his face. I still laugh when I see them.)

  • thelaughingman

    Dominar Rygel XVI. If you’ve not seen Farscape you owe it to yourself to watch one of the better SciFi shows to come along in a while. All of the puppetry was provided by Jim Henson’s shop.

  • Montresor


  • Ben

    Shame on you for not including anyone from the Labyrinth.

  • mary tonks

    Although your article is about individual characters, I think any character coming from the mind of Jim Henson is a #1 pick. This would satisfy votes for Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, etc.! Well foxed!