Jarrod Fairclough – Before I begin my review of Henson’s Turkey Hollow, let me make one thing very clear – Creatures are not Muppets. Creature’s are totally different to Muppets. They are not the same.
You’ll forgive me for having to make that distinction. If you’re here, there’s a chance that you’re a hardcore fan, so you know the difference between a Jim Henson Creature and a Muppet. But, if you don’t, let me quickly distinguish them; Muppets are cartoonish characters that are controlled by little more than a hand and a rod, and get in to zany adventures. Creatures are detailed, realistic creatures controlled by multiple performers and motorized servos.
The reason I’m compelled to state this is because so many people complained online that this film wasn’t Muppety enough for them. And look, I can understand their point, because when people think of Jim Henson, they immediately think of The Muppets. But a quick Google search would show these people that Henson and The Muppets have gone in two very separate directions. With all that being said, let’s begin.
My main gripe with Jim Henson’s ‘Turkey Hollow’ was that it just wasn’t Muppety enough!
I’m kidding. Can you imagine?
You’ll no doubt be aware of the backstory of Turkey Hollow, where Lisa Henson unearthed an unpublished treatment for a film written by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl in 1968. It was adapted in to a graphic novel last year by the talented Roger Landridge, and now The Jim Henson Company, along with the amazing Kirk Thatcher, have brought it to life with the help from, fittingly, Lifetime.
Opening in the seemingly backwater town of Turkey Hollow, newly single father Ron is taking his two children, the snarky and moody teenage Annie, and the wide eyed scalawag Timmy (because of course his name is Timmy), to spend Thanksgiving on the farm of his Aunt Cly. However, Turkey Hollow might not be all it seems, as everyone is terrified of the mythical Hoodoo. The town is divided, some seem to think it’s some sort of made up legend, while others claim to have seen it. Aunt Cly is some sort of hippy, who rescues the turkeys who are in danger of being caught and cooked by the villainous Eldridge Sump, who is the Donald Trump of the turkey business! When the young Timmy goes searching for the mysterious Hoodoo, he and Annie run in to the small 4 monsters who live in the forest – Squonk, Zorp, Thring and Burble. They’re friendly creatures, who help the two young kids take down Sump, who is scheming to take down Aunt Cly’s farm.
The audience is helped along the way by the apparently omnipotent narrator, played here by Ludacris. Was he entirely necessary? Not at all. Was he even a little necessary? Not at all. Was he entertaining as hell? Absolutely. In fact, next time I see Kirk, I’m going to pitch to him a Scooby Doo type series where Ludacris and the monsters solve crime in a van.
Speaking of which, this whole film kind of reeks of Scooby Doo. There are lovable furry creatures, a wide eyed nerd, a girl who doesn’t really get what’s going on, and a hippy who has a special bond with the furry creatures. In fact, the film seems to wink at this, as Sump is dragged away by the police and the kids sprout a spin on a famous saying, ‘You would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for us meddling kids’ – It’s a nice touch, and it shows that the film isn’t taking itself too seriously.
Jay Harrington plays Ron, and we’re given a probably-not-needed-but-it-didn’t-detract-anything story about his stressful situation. He’s newly single, and having a tough time admitting it. He’s also got his bosses breathing down his neck, and his main reason for coming to Turkey Hollow was to have Aunt Cly (played by the always stellar Mary Steenburgen) keep an eye on the kids while he focused. Of course, this is heard by the moody Annie, played by the surprisingly not teenage Genevieve Buechner (I only say surprisingly because she pulled that snark off well, when in fact she’s 24). She tries to complain to the younger Timmy (played with an innocent ‘oh shucks’ attitude by Graham Verchere), but he’s got other things on his mind, as he takes all the notes from Aunt Cly’s late husband Ned on the mysterious Hoodoo, and is determined to take a photo, which will earn him enough money to save the farm.
There were certain lines in the film where I actually said out loud to myself ‘That’s such a Jim and Jerry line’, so I was surprised to find in fact that literally not one line of dialogue came from them. Instead, Tim Burns and Christopher Baldi have done their job well, writing something that, at time, feels very similar to Jim’s old specials, like Tales of Tinkerdee or Hey, Cinderella. For the vast majority of the film you can really feel Jim Henson in the film, and I honestly believe it’s something that he and Jerry would be proud of.
That’s not to say that the whole thing was 100% perfect. Linden Banks’ Eldridge Sump, while villanous, was a little too hammy for my taste, and it was multiplied with his funny but a-little-too-similar henchmen.
There was also a strange love story going on between the Sheriff and Aunt Cly, which seemed a bit shoehorned in and at times felt a little creepy, although I’ll admit to laughing at a few of the slip of the tongues that the Sheriff sent her way.
The films ending is a little predictable, as it’s revealed that the 4 small monsters have been Muppet-Man-ing it to become the Hoodoo. That said, I was very impressed with the way the different characters took on different parts of the body, so I can forgive it on the grounds that I loved the execution.
Of course, I can’t talk about the film without mentioning the wonderful performers who bought the little creatures to life. Rob Mills, who has been with Henson on and off since Fraggle Rock, plays Burble. Gord Robinson, who also started on Fraggle Rock, plays Thring. Henson newcomer Jason Hopley plays Zorp, and long time puppeteer Alice Dinnean plays Squonk. Alice also served as Puppet Captain on the film, which marks the first time a woman has held the role, which is definitely worth pointing out and is well deserved. Congratulations, Alice!
All in all, this is a fun little film, and one that I’m glad finally saw the light of day. Kirk Thatcher has done a great job bringing it to life, and it’s heartwarming to see so many people on Twitter and Facebook are enjoying it, with some already calling it a new holiday tradition. Congratulations to everyone at Henson on making a wonderfully fun and silly film!
- Did you notice who played Aunt Cly’s late husband Ned in the various photos? It was director Kirk Thatcher, with that delightful cheeky grin and beard of his. Although he loses points for not wearing one of his many top hats.
- Every single time someone said Hoodoo I would repeat to myself ‘Who do’ ‘You do’ ‘Do what?’ ‘Remind me of the babe!’
- When Ron starting saying ‘What the fuuu-‘ I’m ashamed to say that I thought it was going to end with a bad word. Of course, Kirk and Henson are above that, and it ends with ‘-zzy creatures’, which is hilarious and my favorite line of the special.
- Our pals at ToughPigs have a great little video where Joe Hennes speaks with master puppet builder Pete Brooke about the design and building of the characters, including how they arrived at the designs based on the original puppets. Take a look here!
- Mitchell Stein was a part of a phone conference with Lisa Henson and Kirk Thatcher last week, where he, Joe and JD Hansel from Muppet Hub got to pick their brains. Read about it here!
- I love Mary Steenburgen. Between her role here, her hilarious role as Gail on The Last Man on Earth, and her appearance on Orange Is The New Black, she’s had a great year.