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DVD Review: Stories of the American Puppet

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Stories of the American Puppet originally aired on PBS and won an Emmy for writing in 2001. The program traces the history of puppetry in America from its roots in Europe to nearly present day. Narrated by Dan Lauria of The Wonder Years, the film focuses on the developments of the 20th century, including the careers of such well-known performers as Edgar Bergen, Shari Lewis, and Jim Henson. In fact, Lewis' last interview is captured in the program. The DVD extras includes clips from classic puppet performances.

Stories of the American Puppet is educational and interesting, but the structure of the program is somewhat confusing. Instead of sticking to a strictly historical approach, as in the beginning of the program, later segments focus on one performer at a time. Thus the narrative seems to go forward in time only to go back. I found this frustrating because I was looking forward to hearing about the puppets of my childhood, in particular the Muppets. Every time I thought the show was close, it jumped backward to cover another seminal performer.

I was also disappointed when the show covered puppets I knew. There are many interviews talking to and about the artists, but not very much footage demonstrating the puppets in action. At 58 minutes, the program feels truncated; it would have benefited from more footage. More footage is available among the extras, but only of vintage performances (i.e., no Muppet Show). Here again I expected more and longer sequences to be included. (Perhaps I've been spoiled by the modern movie DVD, which often has hours of documentary footage.)

I also found Dan Lauria an odd choice for host. I did not recognize him, and if he has any connection to puppetry, it was never made clear. Lauria is not a small man, and in particular, he has large hands. The effect was to have a man who looked like he could never wield a puppet be talking about them.

Be that is it may, the program is still enjoyable and certainly informative. Mozzarella Media, producer of the DVD, is an education company, and it shows; this DVD would make a fine classroom showing. I would also think anyone in love with puppets would enjoy it. For those of us who are just curious, it is a pleasant introduction. I could it see it gracing many school and public library shelves.

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About Nancy Fontaine

Nancy Fontaine is a librarian and freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband, two cats, and every four years during presidential primary season, the national press.