Welcome to Animation for Adults, proving that cartoons ain’t just kids’ stuff. Today we’ll be taking a look at a movie with puppets…. What, it’s kind of like animation. Hey, I reviewed Team America, so I might as well review this. This is Strings.
Strings was created in 2004 by Bald Film Studios, written and directed by Anders Ronnow Klarlund, and features the voice talent of James McAvoy, Catherine McCormack, Julian Glover, Derek Jacobi and Ian Hart.
The people of the city of Hebalon and tribesmen of Zerith have been warring with each other for ages. When Kahro, the king of Hebalon, commits suicide from the guilt of having a hand in starting it, his wicked brother Nezo disguises it as murder in an attempt to escalate the feud and take the throne in his place. However, in his suicide note the king entrusts the throne to his son, Hal Tara, who sets of to Zerith to avenge his father’s murder. Meanwhile, Nezo’s plot for dominance slowly becomes unraveled, while Hal learns from the Zerith that not all is quite what it seems, and that all are connected.
Puppeteering is a rare art form which has had less and less of a presence in film with the rise of CG and robotics, with a few exceptions such as Team America, Where the Wild Things Are, and most recently, the new Muppets movie. Now I’ve seen quite a few shows and movies that do much with puppets, a majority of which have come from Jim Henson and co., but not that many with marionettes. Even then, I’ve never really seen any movies that use puppets in the way that Strings does.
For one thing, the puppets themselves, from both a mechanical and artistic viewpoint, are absolutely gorgeous. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at the puppets from Team America. They’re very well made, but at the same time modernized, and loaded with advanced technology. The puppets in Strings are more traditional. They’re made entirely of wood, there’s little technology in them, and their strings are thick pieces of rope and yarn as opposed to the invisible nylons used in most marionettes today. The craftsmanship, from the way they’re built, to the way they’re painted, to the way they’re carved, is very reminiscent of something you’d run into at an antique shop, or maybe even a Renaissance fair. Just beautiful.
Combine this with some very epic set pieces and impressive cinematography and you have yourself one hell of a puppet show. There’s a grand scope to this film that you usually see in a large epic like The Ten Commandments or Lord of the Rings, not a Swedish art flick. Strings takes place in an incredibly versatile world, taking us through bustling cities, scorching deserts, frozen tundra and wild jungles. The bold colors, the meticulously detailed buildings, the untamed wilderness, all of them just bring this world to life. The only thing about it is that they seem to be made specifically for marionettes. Well there’s actually a reason for that.
If you look at the poster or watch the trailer, the first thing you immediately notice is you can see everyone’s strings. The reason for that is because the strings actually play a very important role to the story, specifically to the way this world works. The whole world is built around the fact that its inhabitants are marionettes. Widespread shots often reveal millions of strings raining from the sky, each one representing an individual, although how far they reach and who’s controlling them is left a mystery. When a string gets cut, they lose the ability to use whatever limb it was attached to. (They can be replaced, but the price is rather… costly.) When a baby is born, new strings appear that must be attached to its body. When someone dies, their strings fall from the heavens. The puppeteers really get to play around with this concept, using them in very creative ways, and even using them as devices for some very terrifying, even horrifying scenes. Just imagine what it would look like if there was a fire…
But a film this beautiful can’t be without its flaws, right? Well it’s certainly the case with this one. Strings has the same problem that a lot of visually stunning movies have, in that it doesn’t have the story to back it up. At first I thought the story was going to be completely original and for a while it looked like it was going in that direction, but somewhere around the middle (when the Zeriths are introduced to be precise), it starts to become cliché. There have been countless movies that followed this plot line before, and I was reminded of all of them as the movie progressed. Let’s just say a certain highest grossing film of all time starring a bunch of Native American cat smurfs came to mind several times. Another problem this movie suffers from is that the characters just aren’t that interesting. The main protagonist is rather bland, the villain is your stereotypical “evil vizier”, and everyone else is pretty forgettable. But then again, these seem to be the only characters you can work with when dealing with a story like this. It all bogs the movie down and would’ve made it completely skippable if not for the visuals.
So what it all comes down to is that Strings is high on style but low on substance. While the concept is brilliant and unlike any movie I’ve ever seen, it would’ve been so much better if it had a stronger plot. If you can tolerate some of the tired clichés that it throws in at the last act, then you shouldn’t have too much trouble enjoying it.
I give Strings 7/10