Remember When This Avengers Movie Wasn’t Everywhere?

It was another slow day at the Little Puppet Theater.  The theater director, ringed by hanging puppets waiting to be used, hung up the phone. “Dang!” he said.  “Another cancellation.  Big party too – fourteen cats from the cat shelter, with staff.  The cats wanted to see the new Avengers movie. What is it with this Avengers movie?  Everywhere I go, it’s Avengers this, Avengers that. Did you know it is 3 hours long? Did you know that Thanos destroys half the universe?  Uh oh! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!” The director waived his hands in the air.

The set designer looked up from his phone.  “Did you say something, sir?”

“What is it with this Avengers movie?”

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“Well,” said the set designer, taking a deep breath, “the Avengers: Endgame is the culmination in the epic series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, abbreviated MCU if you really want to sound cool, to rival the last epic series, called…oh I don’t remember what is was called.”

“Aha!” said the director, clapping his hands together.  “So that’s the secret! You need a series.” He rubbed his hands together.  “Well this gives me an idea!”

The first installment of the Little Puppet Theater Theatrical Universe (LPTTU) was “Pinocchio: The Beginning.”  A toymaker makes international sales of wooden puppets to belligerent regimes. While making a pitch one day, the toymaker is captured by partisans, but escapes by turning a pile of firewood into a large wooden puppet body suit and then doing a dance – “I got no strings…to hold me down” – kicking up his legs and twisting his head around – thereby distracting the kidnappers and making a clean getaway.

The performance had a decent run.  There were a few classes of school age children, and a bus from the nearby home for people who refuse to use touchscreens.  Reviews were mostly positive. The role of Pinocchio was praised for its energy, but a few critics found it lacked depth.

The next show – “Howdy Doody” – premiered a few weeks after that.  In this show, Howdy Doody – a puppet introduced in a small role in Pinocchio: The Beginning – is a scientist working for NASA when he discovers a wormhole to a planet 2,000,000 light years away.  On the planet, Howdy Doody finds a neckerchief that, when taken back to Earth, magically turns its wearer into a huge tv star even though the wearer is an extremely creepy-looking marionette.

“Howdy Doody” was both a commercial success and a leap forward for the franchise.  Critics praised the “growth in maturity” that the theater had shown in the sequel of what could only promise to be a series for the ages, something that would one day come in a box set wrapped in shiny cellophane and bearing a gold sticker proclaiming that there was contained therein additional material not in the original run.

For the third installment of the Little Puppet Theater Theatrical Universe, they decided that Kermit the Frog was going to hatch a diabolical plot to destroy the world, assisted by (and some would say, driven by) his partner in crime, Madam Piggy.  The play was produced in the greatest of secrecy, with a few well-placed rumors circulating, such as the final battle with Pinocchio and Howdy Doody. The marketing started a year in advance. Fast food restaurants sold plastic figurines of the puppets with kids meals.  The puppets appeared on morning talk shows. Large companies ran tv commercials using cheap references to the LPTTU.

By the opening night of “Kermit and Piggy: Apocalypse” the media was saturated with coverage.  This promised to be the biggest opening weekend ever for a puppet show.

“You did it, sir!” the set designer said.  

“No,” said the director.  “We did it.  They said that puppets shows were dead.  We showed them!” It was a proud moment for the theater, and would have been prouder still, but the Estate of Jim Henson sued for copyright infringement, and the Little Puppet Theater Theatrical Universe met an ending that can only be described as epic.

Mark Kaplowitz

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