Nufonia Must Fall…

Serious Silent Live Puppetry Performance… After the Break…

Nufonia Must Fall…

Puppetry is often regarded as the “steampunk” equivalent of CGI; Before Hollywood blockbusters turned into nothing more than non-interactive video games, someone had to physically build the spaceships, build the space alien creatures, build real ray guns and have real steam shoot out of real movie sets. I’m not a nostalgist; Good CGI makes a good movie great and great CGI makes a good movie fantastic. CGI, though, for CGI’s sake is just as worthless as their physical counterparts. Just as I have seen bad CGI in my time, I have also seen bad stop-motion animation and puppetry.

It’s become increasingly harder to follow serious puppetry ever since CGI took over as a practical alternative in media. Even Yoda, perhaps the world’s most famous “serious” puppet, was retired in 1999 for a CGI stand-in during it’s final scene in the movie “Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” where you get a glimpse of a CGI Yoda walking before it reverts back to a puppet. In the next two movies, Yoda has become a CGI animation.

Puppetry has never much gained a foothold as a serious art form, relegated to cutesy kid shows such as “Sesame Street” or raunchy adult fare such as “Avenue Q.” Puppetry’s largest advocate, Jim Henson, passed away in the 1990s and puppetry has sputtered ever since to emerge from his titanic shadow. It may well be, quite honestly, that society has moved on and like the digital compact cassette (“DCC,” once touted as the next-generation equivalent to the tape cassette), it never quite caught on with a public that was more interested in having their drama delivered by more conventional means.

“Nufonia Must Fall” (specifically, “Nufonia Must Fall Live”) might be accused of being too “avant garde” for most people and such advocates could present a seemingly strong case for their accusations. The show is presented live and without dialog, accompanied only by music and sound effects. The puppetry is not life-sized but miniaturized for the performers and projected on a large screen for the attending audience. The puppets and scenery are all cast in shades of white and gray, lending a noir-ish sense of black and white.

The story centers around a squat robot who yearns to write music to impress a human female all while contending with another, insect-like robot who is technologically-superior to the squat robot. While I can’t extol the virtues of the rather pedestrian set-up (Just imagine the “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” scene that would occur), the visuals are quite remarkable and the effort put into the presentation is impressive. I understand that the story was first presented as graphic novel so I have no idea how faithful the live event would be to source material.

While the story might be a bit non-sensical (Robot meets girl; Robot loses girl; Robot wins back girl?), the fact that someone is going through a lot of effort to showcase serious puppetry isn’t. Any medium, be it animation, puppetry or live-action, can portray comedy, drama, tragedy, and all of the other shades of stories in-between.

While I may never see the production, I’m glad that there are efforts out there such as “Nufonia Must Fall Live” that showcase puppetry in a mature and serious manner. Puppetry deserves to be as respected as any other form of expression and any effort to elevate the medium beyond cutesy birds and raunchy tenants is a welcome addition.

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