The efforts of the Supermarionation technique were primarily focussed on making puppets as human-like as possible. But ocassionally, although certainly less and less frequently as the years went on, animals would be created in puppet-form to populate the Supermarionation world. The quality of the results varied considerably, sometimes coming up with some very bizarre creations. There eventually came a point when all animal roles were only portrayed by the real thing – hence the classic Attack of the Alligators!
But today we’re celebrating all the creatures which had to be made by the puppet workshop at AP Films to stand alongside their human co-stars without looking too odd.
Rocky and Dusty – Four Feather Falls
In the magical western town of Four Feather Falls, Sheriff Tex Tucker has four magic feathers in his hat, two of which enable his horse, Rocky, and his dog, Dusty, to talk. These two loveable animals were main characters in the series and the fact they work so well on-screen is a testament to the charm of Four Feather Falls. They’re both pretty remarkable puppet creations. Their whole bottom jaw opens and closes in-sync with their dialogue which must have been tricky to engineer with the new developed electronic mouth movement system. They also have eye mechanisms in their relatively small heads. Dusty is often shown walking with all four legs going at once which must have been something of a nightmare to puppeteer. Rocky on the othe hand is never seen walking with his legs, as behind the scenes photos reveal that his legs were completely removed and his body was placed on a trolley whenever Tex needed to ride him or any of the other horses in the series.
Overall these guys get away with fitting perfectly into the world of Four Feather Falls without looking too odd because they’re a couple of great characters who are very well rendered as puppets, but also because Four Feather Falls gave us some far more unusual human characters.
Mitch the Monkey and friends – Supercar
Mitch is the Supercar team’s pet chimpanzee, originally brought into the fold by Jimmy Gibson. Mitch causes the team all sorts of trouble but because he ocassionally provides them with a laugh or two, they keep him around. He’s voiced by David Graham who famously took a trip to London Zoo to get into character!
The puppet is far from being an accurate representation of a chimp, but seeing as Mitch behaves like a mischevious little boy for children to relate to, they probably wanted to make him as human-like as they possibly could. It’s worth noting that AP Films hired a ex-Disney animator to design the Supercar characters, and the Disney school of thought certainly seems to have been applied to Mitch.
Mitch also gets himself a girfriend in the episode Crash Landing who basically looks the same as him with a pretty face… well as pretty as a chimp’s face can be anyway. Then in the episode King Kool, we encounter a musical gorilla… because the second series of Supercar did that kind of thing.
King Kool’s supposed to be a gorilla although he doesn’t really look all that different to Mitch except he’s about 10 or 12 foot tall – which is pretty big for a gorilla… His ridiculously long arms and legs make him a difficult puppet to manipulate well and the days of Supercar trying to remain grounded in realism and scientific possibility are well and truly left behind in this final episode.
Zoonie the Lazoon – Fireball XL5
While Zoonie isn’t exactly an animal from the real world, he does fall into the category of being a pet so I’ve included him in this list. He was also voiced by David Graham.
There aren’t many things that Gerry Anderson fans can universally agree on, but I think everyone would agree that Zoonie the Lazoon is an ugly and horrendously annoying creation. He hardly does anything useful that warrants the World Space Patrol keeping him around. Zoonie was born on the planet Colevio and ended up being adopted by Venus because she has no taste in what makes a good pet apparently. Despite being a completely made up creature who could have looked like anything at all, Zoonie has to be one of the ugliest puppets ever created by the AP Films team.
Teufel – Stingray
At the beginning of Stingray, Titan was given a fish god to worship by the name of Teufel. This was most likely an attempt to justify why Titan was such a weirdo. Teufel doesn’t say a single word but his so-called ‘judgement’ on Troy Tempest was what started Titan’s fairly senseless war with the surface world.
The puppet of Teufel is certainly a big ugly fishy and, although a little ridiculous, probably could exist in the real world if a fish happened to fall out of the ugly seaweed and hit every slimey leaf on the way down.
This puppet was sold in the 1995 Phillips auction of various puppet items from the Supermarionation shows.
Oink – Stingray
Seals are supposed to be adorable. That’s something they’re generally pretty good at. Oink is fairly wide of the mark in that regard. He’s cross-eyed, scruffy-haired and basically immobile because of his useless flippers. Once again, David Graham was behind his one word of dialogue. No prizes for guessing what that was.
Oink stumbled on board Stingray in the third episode, Sea of Oil, and sort of hung around for a bit until disappearing from the series after episode 14, The Invaders. You probably didn’t even notice that he’d gone.
Kathleen the Cow – Thunderbirds (Operation Crash-Dive)
Kathleen resides on a farm in Ireland and was visited by the delightful Scott Tracy in the episode, Operation Crash-Dive during a mission to track down a missing Fireflash plane. They formed quite a bond.
We only see Kathleen’s head and her role in the episode is pretty minimal, but she is notable as being the last animal to be created as a puppet to appear in a Supermarionation show. After this, all animals were portrayed on-screen by the real thing in an attempt to achieve as much realism as possible. One wonders if there was a time, early on in pre-production, when Attack of the Alligators! was going to be produced using puppet alligators. Would the episode have been the classic that we all consider it today?
So that brings us to the end of this short but sweet list of some of the puppet animals that popped up in the Supermarionation shows and tested the creativity and engineering talents of the puppet workshop at AP Films. In a quest to make the human characters more and more life-like, stories that required animal puppets were left behind to ensure that nothing unusual or inadvertently cartoony cropped up on-screen to break the illusion.
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You forgot Footso from Twizzle, and Pompom the poodle, from Torchy the Battery boy.