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.