Mary Poppins Returns
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A misbegotten amateurish but somewhat funny low-budget b/w horror tale of a lonely doll-maker given to shrinking human beings into dolls.
Another movie based on tiny miniaturised people, familiar huh, well that's not surprising seeing as this movie was rushed into production riding on the coattails of similar themed movie 'The Incredible Shrinking Man'. Although to be fair, this movie is vastly different in terms of plot to the Jack Arnold feature. Once again the movies poster is completely misleading, much like the movies title. For starters there is no attacking by the shrunken people, and they aren't really puppet people either, they are specifically referred to as dolls throughout. Although there is one scene towards the end where they are forced to take part in a puppet show, but that still doesn't justify the title. As for the poster, well again what you see never happens, they don't fight a large animal like that, they don't utilise any large weapons. Again towards the end two of the tiny people have to fend off a dog, buts that's all.
The plot is quite unusual really, its not really a horror or a sci-fi, its almost more of a fable or fairytale of sorts. The plot follows a lonely old man by the name of Mr. Franz (John Hoyt). Franz is a doll maker, he creates children's doll entirely by himself, he also repairs them and often ventures into the realms of puppets too. He is well known within his field, held in high regard, his dolls are famous for their detail, their overall craftsmanship. The strange thing is, certain people who have worked for him, or have known him, have a tendency to vanish without a trace. The other strange thing is, Franz has a special collection of dolls, in glass containers, that all have eerie similarities to these very people. Franz claims that he models his dolls after people he has known, but his latest secretary Sally (June Kenney) grows highly suspicious after her fiance disappears and a doll turns up looking just like him. As Sally delves deeper, involving the police, Franz takes steps to ensure her silence, and before she knows what's hit her, Sally joins the special collection of dolls. It is then we discover that Franz doesn't want to hurt his special dolls, he merely wants them to be with him forever, his special friends, he wants to look after them and promises them a life of no worries or stress. Despite initial troubles trying to get the other tiny people on their side, Sally and her fiance Bob (John Agar) eventually manage to organise an escape plan.
Now for the most part this film is (as already touched upon) slightly misleading. Film title and poster aside, you could be forgiven for thinking most of this movie revolves around the adventures of shrunken people trying to get back to normal proportions, but you'd be wrong. Most of the movie revolves around Franz trying to keep his secret under wraps from the world whilst he carries on his daily routine of doll manufacturing and maintenance. The whole crux of this movie is Franz and his loneliness, he is a sad elderly character whose wife left him many many years prior which seems to have affected his mental state badly. So badly in fact that he invented a machine purely to shrink people down to doll-size so he can keep them as pets. Strangely enough he is not a bad person though, he's not a cackling, evil villain, hell bend on world domination, no. Neither is he a psychological maniac looking to torture and harm people. This old man merely wants companionship as he grows old, people to talk to and have parties with, nothing wrong with that. Obviously the horror aspect comes in when he captures people and shrinks them with his hand made machine...ironically a machine which would surely bring him much fame, fortune and attention if he shared it with the world.
But again this isn't really a horror, or sci-fi, it has more of a fairytale vibe to it, mainly because Franz looks after the people he shrinks. He doesn't use them for hard labour, or slavery or anything like that, he treats them well, makes them special clothes, food, has parties for them etc...In return the people he has shrunk have actually become slightly brainwashed over time and come to enjoy their small lifestyles, the lack of work related stress, the daily grind of reality. In the end you actually feel sorry for Franz when his little people escape and regain control of the machine, returning back to their regular sizes. He isn't worried about being caught by the police anymore, he's more scared of being left alone, with no companionship, its sad and shows us maybe he is just misunderstood (yet clearly needing help).
So yes there isn't too much tiny action going on until at least the halfway point. Once the main two protagonists are shrunk down things do get a but more interesting, but not overly so. Again this isn't an action sci-fi, we don't get any fighting or giant spiders. What you get is the small team of shrunken people chatting about their tiny lifestyle, how they kinda like it, discussing the pros and cons and eventually discussing escape. Once the escape plan is put into action then we do get some typically predictable miniature sized action of sorts, by that I mean them trying to switch on the machine to enlarge themselves again. These sequences are visually the most striking as they utilise giant sized props (doorknobs, telephones, scissors etc...) to create the shrunken illusion, admittedly nothing amazing if you've seen other similar films of this genre, but nonetheless very effective and they still hold up today. Later on when the tiny people try to escape for the second time we don't get these nice practical effects, its all rear screen projection against live action footage which always looks hokey.
The movie is a fun ride there's no doubting that, its more of a talkie adventure for sure but luckily the amazing performance by John Hoyt as the creepy yet endearing Franz keeps you solidly engaged. Honesty I can't stress enough how perfect Hoyt is here, the man is a legend of B-movie fluff and making that fluff actually semi decent. Whilst this movie is a solid offering its still naturally very cheesy and full of problems. I mean lets be honest here, surely most people would be able to tell a real human being from a doll?? Sure the human might be doll-sized but surely it would be noticeably very human. I do like the fact that the special dolls in their glass containers are clearly just small cardboard photo cut outs. Then you have the quite glaringly obvious plot hole of...why don't the shrunken folk ever run away? I understand they are tiny and thusly at a great risk from many things, and I understand that Franz takes good care of them. But at first they say they were angry with Franz for shrinking them, which is natural, so surely anyone would have simply run off, very easy to disappear at that size. Its very very weird that they all accept their fate as dolls which get put into suspended animation for weeks, possibly months at a time. Oh yes, Franz has also managed to invent hyper sleep basically, this guy is fecking genius and should be working for NASA earning top dollar! Why the hell is he acting like such a loser feeling sorry for himself??
There are plenty of other funny little bits that I noticed also, such as Franz merely throwing in the bin evidence of the fact he knows where certain missing peoples are. I mean come on! no wonder Sally finds it sheesh! I also liked the badly mimed sing song moment towards the end when Franz's pets enact a play with him in his puppet theatre. The fact that when Sally and Bob escape they don't go to the police, they also could have easily enlarged themselves way back in the middle of the film when they first attempt to escape...loads of time, and why Franz thinks he must kill all his living dolls when the police get a bit too close for comfort, just enlarge them again dude. I also liked Bert I. Gordon's blatant nod to his other movie 'The Amazing Colossal Man' during this film, which, I might add, is the second bloody time he's done that! He also stuck a nod to 'The Amazing Colossal Man' in 'Earth vs. the Spider' whilst adding a nod to this movie too! both in 'Earth vs. the Spider', talk about self promotion! But I guess the biggest mystery of this movie is the fact that we don't find out what happens to the other shrunken people. Both Sally and Bob escape and manage to enlarge themselves again, but the other four people just vanish. I guess we are meant to think they eventually get found and enlarged, but who knows, maybe a rat ate them all.
So what can I say about this movie in the end? It doesn't compare to the superior 'The Incredible Shrinking Man', yet it offers a fresh plot which is good. The effects are very similar of course but not as spectacular as said shrinking movie. Hoyt steals the show where as everyone else is passable, where as the plot is really all about a lonely old man who can only relate to people when they are doll-sized, so he can manipulate them and the situation to his liking. Not so much about adventures of tiny shrunken people. Yes its basically very fairytale-esque, an old toy maker with magical powers who thinks he's not harming anyone by trying to bring a little happiness into his glum life. He's like a selfish old wizard or witch that doesn't realise they are being selfish and kinda evil. I guess the moral of the tale could be, always be yourself, don't try to force people into friendships, and errr...don't shrink them down to the size of a doll and keep them as pets either.
The title is misleading, unlike other fifties movies of this kind, and should be called attack of the puppet master instead. The guy turns these people into puppets, and they have to try to get back to normal. It's a pretty simple story, and it's kind of cute, but not all that good in the end. It's just okay.
Acually, they're Dolls, not Puppets. I suppose that Attack of the Doll People just didn't sound as scary(?).
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