Delightful Puppets And Mary Steenburgen Offer Holiday Treats In Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow — A Review

Turkey-HollowJim Henson’s Turkey Hollow, premiering tonight on Lifetime, is a fun throwback to simpler days when puppets ruled holiday specials and crusty farmers living off the grid could be charming.

Set in the mythical town of Turkey Hollow somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Ron Emmerson and his children Annie and Tim visit his Aunt Cly over Thanksgiving weekend where turkeys are the most important commodity and the town cherishes the local legend of the Hoodoo, a Bigfoot like monster. While Tim eats up the stories of the monster, Annie just wants to get signal for her phone.

Arriving at Aunt Cly’s, she finds there is no signal, television or internet from which to stave off her boredom. She’s also fairly certain that her father brought them to Cly’s so he could ignore them. Tim, meanwhile finds a basement full of wonders including a notebook referring to strange sounds in the forest. He assumes his great uncle, deceased for an unspecified time, hunted the Hoodoo and vows to do the same. After waking up in the middle of the night to the sounds his uncle wrote in his notebook, Tim goes looking for answers and ends up releasing a rafter of turkeys at a local farm. The turkey farmer threatens to take Cly’s farm as recompense, so Tim tries to find them, finally meeting the four creatures — played by Henson Creature Shop puppets — making all the racket in the forest.

Once Tim learns how to communicate with them and Annie begins to trust them, the group set out to find the turkeys and the truth out in the forest.

Focused on the kids, Graham Verchere and Genevieve Buechner do a fairly good job as Tim and Annie. Though somewhat broad in the initial minutes, the two come off as siblings and play quite well off the puppets. But the all-star actor in the production is Mary Steenburgen as Aunt Cly. Irascible, stubborn and quick to mention the ills of modern society or factory farming, she seems the most at home in a Henson-style world. This becomes doubly true when she encounters the creatures.

The creatures themselves will remind you of Henson creations of old. Each speaks one sound, which doubles as their name, but quickly become expressive and charming. Credit goes to the team of puppeteers animating the creatures as they have all the life, energy and off-beat character of old favorite Muppets and creatures the company devised and performed in shows like The Storyteller. They are given precious little time, though, appearing on screen roughly half-way through the film. Considering their quality, more scenes would have been welcome. But with only the length of a telefilm to set up a world and resolve a conflict, there is only so much time for puppet characters.

That conflict, personified by the turkey farmer, played by Linden Banks, and two dimwitted farmhands, is pleasantly cartoonish … though some may find it a little too cartoonish as their antics are tied some allusions about the modern agriculture business. At the same time, the performances are recognizable in the context of older Henson specials or the villains in films like The Great Muppet Caper.

And that familiar tone makes Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow a pleasant holiday diversion. With wonderful monsters, a strong anchoring performance from Steenburgen and fun fourth-wall breaking antics from Ludacris — who appears intermittently as the Narrator — provides something for children, and the kids who grew up with the Henson specials, something warm and enjoyable.