Folkmanis Puppets -- Pinocchio and Troll and Hedgehog (Folkmanis: 2004)

My familiarity with Folkmanis puppets goes beyond this current assignment. Last year my wife was looking for a small but meaningful Christmas gift for our three young daughters. At our local nursery/gift shop, she came across a set of fairy 'finger puppets'. Each puppet was about six inches tall and fit snugly on your finger. The workmanship was of the highest quality and the girls absolutely loved them. They have repeatedly asked for more from the set, but Christmas only comes once a year.

There are few things that can rouse me from my generally lethargic state in the Green Man Breakroom, but the offer of some Folkmanis puppets did the trick. When the illustrious Chief offered them up for review, I threw in my lot and won out over the competitors.

And I'm glad I did. Just like the three finger fairies my daughters own, these two puppets are true winners. I have had to restrain all my kids from playing with them long enough for me to do 'research' on them for this review.

Some general features of Folkmanis puppets: They are made from a mix of fibers, mostly nylon. The construction shows the greatest care, with areas of high stress being double-stitched and reinforced to withstand multiple uses. Each puppet also comes with an identifying tag, telling you what the puppet is. On the inside of the tag are facts and stories about the character.

The Troll with Hedgehog puppet was the personal favorite around my house. The troll depicted has a broad nose and squat face, surrounded by bushy eyebrows and a mane of hair. The face is friendly, but not so sacharine that it can't also be construed to be angry by a good puppeteer. The Troll measures about 17 inches tall, with its legs bent into a natural sitting position. The arms are a bit long, as befitting a troll, and in its left hand is a detachable hedgehog that can be 'grasped' by the troll with velcro. The hands, however, are the one weak point of this puppet. There are four fingers on each hand, but each finger is just slightly less than the width of the wrist. Thus, each hand is considerably wider than should be. If the hand were centered on the arm, the effect would be enormous hands of power. However, the hands are off-center, so two of the fingers are at the end of the arm and the other two are way off. In short, they look just plain weird. But except for that, the workmanship is impeccable, with even the brown and green clothes looking authentic. The mouth and hands are workable, although the mouth doesn't allow for great flexibility.

The other puppet we're looking at today is Pinocchio. It is quite a sizable puppet, measuring in at 30 inches tall. The main feature of the puppet is the retractable nose. Within the head cavity is a plastic ring that extends and retracts the nose. The mouth is also fully workable with the added bonus of a tongue that you can put a finger into, allowing you to create some humorous mugs, having Pinocchio stick his tongue out. It takes a little bit of practice to coordinate the workable head parts, but it's quite worth the effort. The hands are also workable, but you need both your hands to operate both the head and hands together. Pinocchio is dressed in typical seventeenth-century Italian dress. He wearsbrown breeches that reach down to his knees. His doublet (with ruff) is a cranberry color with a white shirt underneath. His head is topped by a conical cap. His shoes are of brown leather. The weak point of this puppet (as with many of the Folkmanis human puppets) is the face. The face's basic shape is flat with the eyes only slightly inset. Of the human puppets, Pinocchio is the exception in that his nose is a major feature, but on the others (including the finger fairies), the nose is just drawn on. Even so, Pinocchio's face looks a bit plain, even boring when the nose and tongue aren't being operated.

Folkmanis' catalogue includes quite a few more fantasy- and folk-based characters, from five-foot long dragons to witches, kings, and queens, to a fiddler (who reminds me a bit of our own Jack Merry). Whether you're a puppeteer or a child or a child at heart, Folkmanis puppets are worth the time to hunt down.

[Matthew Scott Winslow]

To view the complete catalog and learn more about Folkmanis puppets, visit their Web site