out of Five
Running time: 92
An undeniably impressive achievement, Strings is visually stunning and brimming with invention, although the plot is probably too confusing for its target audience.
What with Team America, Seed of Chucky and now Strings, 2005 is rapidly turning into The Year Of The Puppet Movie. Hell, even The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy managed to turn its characters into puppets for a couple of seconds.
However, Strings is an altogether more serious affair. Directed by Scandinavian director Anders Rønnow-Klarlund, it reputedly took four years, 115 puppets and a crew of 150 to bring Strings to the screen. The result is undeniably impressive and stunning to look at, although the plot is hard to follow at times.
The film is set in a mythical land of wooden puppets, where the strings themselves are constantly visible and an integral part of the film’s universe – we understand from the very first scene that if you cut a puppet’s head-string it “dies”. Specifically then (and none too cheerily), the film opens with the suicide of Kahro, the Emperor of Hebalon (Julian Glover), who leaves a note for his son, in which he repents his evil ways.
However, the note is destroyed by Kahro’s evil brother Nezo (Derek Jacobi), who then blames Kahro’s death on the Hebalonian’s arch-enemies the Zeriths and sends Kahro’s son and heir, Hal (voiced by James McAvoy from TV’s Shameless) on a mission to avenge his father.
However, when Hal is confronted with the Zeriths he falls in love with the secretive Zita (Catherine McCormack) and makes a startling discovery about his true heritage. Meanwhile, back in Hebalon, Hal’s sister Jhinna (Claire Skinner) discovers Nezo’s evil plan and is terrorised by Nezo’s henchman Ghrak (Ian Hart).
The fairy-tale universe of the story is fully realised and the film is packed with imaginative details, such as the idea of getting replacement “limbs” from slaves.
The fight scenes are genuinely engaging (a head string suddenly seems very vulnerable), although both the birth scene and the sex scene are likely to raise an unintentional giggle or two. (Perhaps the director could have taken ‘puppet sex’ tips from the Team America guys…or perhaps not). That said, the scenes involving Jhinna towards the end of the film are disturbingly erotic.
The puppeteering is extremely impressive and the voice cast do a terrific job throughout the film, particularly Ian Hart, who has the most “fun” role as Nexo’s henchman. The puppets themselves are surprisingly expressive, especially considering that their mouths don’t move when they talk.
The main problem with the film is that the story drags terribly for the first half and the plot itself is perhaps too confusing for children to really enjoy. That said, it does build to an impressive climax that is surprisingly moving.
In short, Strings is unlike anything you’ve seen in cinemas before and deserves to be seen on the big screen. It’s an extremely impressive achievement and it’s entirely possible that it will develop its very own cult of ‘Stringers’. Or something. Worth seeing, anyway, despite its flaws.