The Grumpy King (2012 short films) review…

The Grumpy King (2012 short films) review after the break…

The Grumpy King (2012 short films) review…

Modern-day puppetry often falls into two broad categories – Decisively for children or very decisively not for children. It seems to be a fad in puppetry to produce raunchy fare because the juxtaposition of cute adorable puppets that would normally otherwise entertain children performing acts that children should never be exposed to until they are far more mature seems to amuse the puppet-viewing masses (if they could be considered large enough to be called “masses”).

“The Grumpy King” is a series of three short films, each less than two minutes each, that attempts to bridge this “entertain kids or entertain raunchy adults” gap in the present puppet world. The puppetry on display is not traditional puppetry but puppetry with modern post-production wizardry that removes the rods, strings and performers from the performance (a pop culture example would be the technology used to make the robot C3P0 move in “Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”). The result is very convincing and will likely provoke doubters who will exclaim that it is either stop-motion animation, CGI, or some mixture of the two.

“The Grumpy King” is set in a castle with a hapless jester attempting to entertain or otherwise placate a… Wait for it… Grumpy king. One involves a dancing bear, another involves a feast and a third includes a belly dancer.

Dancing Bear is fairly entertaining although there are no laugh-out-loud moments. The sketch is fairly predictable – The large, imposing bear is resistant to move until violently provoked, causing the jester to fly through the air where he is pummeled by stationary weaponry that inadvertently amuses the king.

Feast is entertaining although not as amusing, as the jester produces a feast out of thin air with the aid of a magical wand until the wand malfunctions, causing the king to be humiliated and the jester vanishing using the magic wand.

Belly Dancer is painfully predictable, as the male jester pretends to be a female belly dancer until the disguise is, literally, unraveled with the jester sheepishly retreating upon being (again, literally) uncovered.

The production values for all three shorts is fantastic; As most people are only familiar with “arm up puppet body” puppetry, they will undoubtedly express disbelief that what they are witnessing is actually puppetry. The premise is a good set-up if a bit limited with only two characters supported by three temporary characters. One possible point of friction might the non-verbal performances – Everything is expressed in facial expressions, body movements and non-verbal but aural cues such as gasps, grunts, sighs and the like. Yes, this type of performance probably helps with the global marketing but limits the impact of each skit.

Of the three short films, Dancing Bear and Feast are perhaps the best with Belly Dancer being a distant second. I enjoyed the story progression of Dancing Bear until the bear hits the jester and liked the overall skit of Feast the best even if it never produced so much as a single smirk. For me, Belly Dancer never gains any traction because the outcome is never really in doubt.

I have no idea if more skits are going to be made but, if they are, my advice would be this – Invest in new characters that would add range to the entire series – Add a knight, a wizard, even a queen in order to broaden the possibilities of what could be done with the premise. Have the segments be a bit longer to give the skits more time to build to a worthwhile result.

Great production values, an uncommon puppetry technique and a flexible premise saves three otherwise lackluster skits from being completely unremarkable. Adding characters and broadening the premise would perform wonders for this property that certainly holds the promise of becoming far more than it already is. Let us hope that we see more skits from this property. It may not be perfect, but “The Grumpy King” has the capacity of entertaining children and adults alike without alienating both. It can entertain through it’s visuals, now it just needs to entertain with it’s writing.

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