A wickedly funny short, Puppet is the latest work from master animator Patrick Smith. He’s made a name for himself as a fine artist as well as an animator, and even did a work-for-hire stint as a director for MTV on the surprisingly refreshing Daria. His four previous short films (the surreal Drink, the music video Move Along, the tragic Delivery, and the painfully truthful Handshake) have won numerous awards and made his films much in demand on the festival circuit.
Puppet is his finest creation. Like all his work, it is hand drawn, touches on real human feelings, is filled with suffering, and is exceptionally funny. I’ve seen it on a big screen with an audience and by the end, all you could hear was laughter.
A man happily makes a hand puppet, which of course, has its own happy face. But the puppet isn’t docile and its smile doesn’t form from kindly acts. It quickly sews a clone, and together, they control the man, taking him on a journey that can only bring him pain. The jokes remind me of the physical comedy bits in Bug Bunny shorts (and that’s the highest compliment I can pay any humorous film), though darker. This isn’t Looney Tunes, but Truly Disturbed Tunes. There’s also a good deal of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Puppet, though comparatively, Mickey’s adventures were a slightly rainy picnic.
The theme here is obsession, though multiple forms of masochism fit nicely. I wouldn’t claim Puppet is a statement against obsession since it’s unlikely Smith has any interest in being cured of his own artistic compulsions. Puppet just shows you what it feels like.