Folkmanis Puppets-- Pirate -- Princess -- Knight -- Witch -- Jack-in-the-Box (Folkmanis Puppets, 2004)

If you've been in a children's bookstore or toy store recently, chances are you've seen Folkmanis Puppets. They are, simply, the best puppets out there. Though they make fabulous, imagination-stimulating toys for kids, amusingly, most of the people I know who have or collect Folkmanis are adults.

Folkmanis puppets come in all sizes, from tiny finger puppets to huge dragons. The group I'm looking at here are all 12" character puppets.

The first is the Pirate, a positively sexy little guy with his long black hair and eye patch. The poor thing must have had a hard life, though, as he comes with a silver hook instead of a left hand! (Don't worry parents, it's just shiny cloth.) With his puffy pirate shirt, soft "suede" vest, and polished "leather" boots, he's absolutely the vision of the perfect sea raider. He even comes with pirate bling-bling, in the form of a gold necklace and bracelet -- securely sewn on, of course, so as not to be lost while he's adventuring.

Folkmanis puppets don't just have price tags, but little stories attached. The Pirate comes with some nifty pirate trivia.

Now, one adventure Mr. Pirate might have would be kidnapping the lovely Princess. She really is a beauty, with almond shaped blue eyes and dark hair all the way past her toes. Her pink and silver dress is lovely, covered in silver stars -- with matching undies, even! Princesses, of course, are paragons of style, and so of course her pink faux leather pointy hat precisely matches her dainty shoes. Her tag comes with a German folk tale called Grizzlebeard.

Fortunately, if Pirate does kidnap Princess, she comes with a lovely handkerchief that she can wave for help, and attract the attention of the Knight. He's a rather splendid specimen, if perhaps getting on a little in years as suggested by his bushy gray eyebrows. He wears a decorative red vest and gold tunic over his very spiffy iridescent armor, armor which is even properly jointed at the knees and under the arms for easy movement in battle -- his visor even works. His shield is decorated with a lion rampant, and is removable in case he feels like relaxing... though his mace is firmly attached so I'm not sure how much relaxing he can do, really. He comes with a brief encapsulation of the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and aside from the fact that his gauntlets bear a rather startling resemblance to oven mitts, he's the perfect heroic figure.

And a good thing, too, because there's a Witch around. And what a lovely little witch she is, with her long red and black hair and the sparkly red belt around her ragged black dress. Her shoes are suitably pointy, as are her nose and ears. She comes with a sturdy broomstick, no doubt for flying in and swooping down on the unwary. Her eyes glow orange, which is a nice touch if she's the villainess in your puppet show, and she even has a wart. The Witch comes with witch trivia and a poem by Ben Jonson.

Finally we have the Jack-in-the-Box. The Jack is not my favorite of the bunch...to tell the truth, he's rather ugly. He's a Punch style clown with dark curly hair and a pointy nose and chin. His head is oversized, and frankly he's a little creepy. I would have found him even creepier when I was a kid. His garish box is fairly sturdy and can be wiped down with a damp cloth; the puppet is operated through a hole in the bottom of the box. I do like his turquoise and royal purple outfit, but I notice that in the picture on the Folkmanis site he is shown with bells on his hat. The puppet I have here does make the sound of bells, but they are sewn inside his hat and where the picture shows bells, there are little yellow pompoms. A child safety issue, no doubt, but don't buy the puppet expecting shinies. The Jack comes with Jack trivia and the lyrics to Pop Goes the Weasel.

All in all these are some pretty cool toys for children OR adults. Like all Folkmanis they are sturdy and finely crafted and should last for a very long time. I'd not bother with the Jack-in-the-Box, myself, but the rest are definitely worth the purchase price.

[Maria Nutick]