Puppetry’s Moment! An Oscar, Broadway Debut, Museum Blockbuster, String of Festivals

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”  won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature this month, not the first movie with puppets to win an Oscar – “The Sound of Music” and “The Godfather” both featured puppets, although they got little screen time; “The Muppets” movie won  an Oscar in 2012  for Best Original Song, “Man or Muppet” – but arguably the first to win for its puppetry. The movie’s puppetry is even being heralded in a blockbuster exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, “Guillermo del Toro Crafting Pinocchio”  through April 15; in it we learn that the craftsmen working on the movie sculpted 3,000 wooden Pinocchio heads, with a wide range of expressions, for the stop motion animation. This helps explain why it took more than a decade to make.

The attention on “Pinocchio”  is as good an argument as any for this being puppetry’s moment. There is other evidence, much of it on New York stages – the tomorrow on Broadway of “Life of Pi,” (my review), which uses puppets to bring a zoo full of  animals to life; this month’s Puppetopia Festival at HERE Arts Center, and the Object Movement Puppetry Festival at the Center at West Park, last month’s Puppet Slam at La MaMa ETC.

Top: scenes from “Life of Pi” and “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”: MOMA exhibition entrance
2nd row: from MOMA exhibition
3rd and 4th: from Puppet Slam,including curator Jane Catherine Shaw
5th: from Puppetopia

Last week, La MaMa also chose as its inaugural production at its newly renovated space The Club a puppet show:  “The Hip Hopera of 5P1N0K10,” whose title is an alphanumeric homage to Pinocchio, created by Tarish Pipkins. Pipkins was a barber and a poet before he was inspired by a conversation with Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, after which he took the nom de marionette of Jeghetto. The name is an homage to Pinocchio’s woodcarver Geppetto, fused with the word ghetto.  

Jeghetto’s 45-minute puppet show featured a robot that longs to be a real B-boy in an Afrofuturist apocalyptic vision that was also peopled by a wooden cellist, a tiny plastic painter, and a creepy spider with a doll face – all created from recycled materials and presented by Jeghetto and his two sons, Divine Pipkins, 19, and Tarin Pipkins, 14, who has been a puppeteer since the age of four.

Of course, one can also argue that puppetry is always having a moment.  After all, there have been puppets on film since the early 1900s, when British filmmaker Arthur Melbourne-Cooper created several films in which a boy’s toys come to life. And most of New York’s puppet festivals are annual. And Broadway has been a regular showcase for lovable creatures real or imagined, such as in Into the Woods and Frozen, as well as inventive, large-scale puppetry in such works as “War Horse,” King Kong,” and, for the last quarter century, “The Lion King,”


And Bread & Puppet Theater is celebrating its 60th year. Its latest tour around the US — visiting Judson Memorial Church in New York on April 12th, — is for a new show, Inflammatory Earthling Rants (with help from Kropotkin)

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

Leave a Reply