One of my earliest memories of television is watching The Muppet Show whilst eating Quality Street chocolates from the tin. If I remember rightly I was managing to get the little foil wrappers everywhere… I must have been about 5 and at the time I seemed to think that The Muppets were British and the cast of Sesame Street were American. Why this was so, I have no idea – I don’t think I’d got my head around accents and the origin of puppets back then.
I do like puppet shows, from Punch and Judy to Avenue Q, even though they can be a little creepy and macabre at times. I think it’s because when they’re animated, its hard to shake the feeling that in a way we’ve given unnatural life to something that shouldn’t be able to move on its own. There’s a conflict at the back of our heads that tells us we shouldn’t see wood and fabric acting and talking like that.
Ventriloquists dolls are often cited as being particularly unsettling, again they talk without moving their lips (the dummy and the operator actually…) because they are rigid and they don’t express emotions like a normal person would. They might have a flapping bottom jaw, but that’s not how people use their mouths when they talk. The dummies are just flipped and thrashed about in an exaggerated manner to convey themselves, by the guy behind them with an arm inside them. No wonder kids can’t relate to these any more and adults find them terrifying.