For anyone who has ever contemplated a journey of self-discovery, missed a soulmate or friend, indulged in too much of a good thing, hidden himself away in solitude, or faced a frightening task, the path of a small wolf puppet feels like home. Last Sunday night at the Moviehouse in Brooklyn, 3rd Ward‘s home for film and video screenings, an overflowing crowd gathered despite the cold to catch a first glimpse at Leat Klingman‘s Wolfy’s Journey, a puppet feature film over a year in the making. Foraging the building for extra chairs with many settling for the cold cement floor barely in front of the movie screen, we all settled in for fifty-five minutes of magic, laughter, and inspiration.
The star of Wolfy’s Journey began simply in 2007 as a wolf who wanted to eat the world in a few short films. including A Wolf I Say, although definitely not without effort. Leat Klingman explained in her question and answer session following the film that while she would prefer to take more even more time, the process of creating and detailing just one of her puppets takes about three months. As a visual artist, her attention to detail and extreme talent shine through all of the seven incredibly unique characters (eight, taking into consideration a two-headed dragon comprised of Cheri #1 and Cheri #2).
Also simply, his tale begins as Wolfy contemplates his destiny and role in the world as a wolf, wandering alone in the forest at night. Along the way, he encounters Ella Bella, a gorgeous Italian bird who sings and tells him tales of an enchanted tree in her magical forest. Lisa Van Wambeck puppeteers this fuchsia-feathered and cleverly-clawed creature convincingly and with the grace befitting her character. Skillfully operating the characters of Master Gugu Nunu and Alone as well, Lisa has her hands in much of the success of this production. Rima Fand, who voices Ella Bella, speaks and sings lyrically and with a lilting and authentic Italian accent. While her delightful voice sounds only through Ella Bella, Rima’s music as composer along with Leat Klingman enthralls the audience throughout Wolfy’s Journey, creatively using strings and piano alongside unusual instrumentation such as the accordion in the background music and in the charming and well-paced songs sprinkled throughout the film.
Following Ella Bella’s scene, Wolfy runs into Aitch, his best friend who disappeared and has now returned. Erin Orr, puppeteer and vocal artist of Aitch, gives Wolfy’s companion a consistently sweet and lovable demeanor whose high point arrives later during a hilariously clever song about berries. Eventually agreeing to combine adventures, they get into some trouble and visit a spectacular and original puppet named Master Gugu Nunu. Without giving away too much of the story, I definitely would purchase the DVD if only to see and hear the sparkling-gloved duo of Lisa Van Wambeck and Brendan McMahon. Brendan’s prowess as a voice actor shines through the Master’s commanding and dynamic demeanor as he places a spell on Wolfy that one must experience firsthand.
Rising out of a foggy lake, the two-handed, sequined dragon puppet of Cheri Cheri greets Wolfy and Aitch on their next stop in the land. Having sung, recorded the voice-overs, and puppeteered for Cheri #2, the silver diva of the two French-accented pair, I couldn’t watch this scene from an unbiased perspective in any way. I did however smile giddily at the presentation of it all, happily remembering Kim Berman’s efforts as the puppeteer for Cheri #1, sweating under the set with me for several hours this past summer. Logan Hegg, the voice for Cheri #2, and I also had a great time in both our recording sessions for the song and the dialogue, and I hope our mirthful rapport in reality read through our dragon selves.
Entering into a much starker setting, our two wolf friends Aitch and Wolfy finally come upon the final focus of their journey: to assist an artist who has stopped creating and sharing his art. Due to his melancholy state, all color has left his cave and the surrounding land. This black and white realm results in profound explorations of the meaning and purpose of art and companionship through the introduction of the artist appropriately named Alone. Whimsical and beautiful in his solitary state, this furry puppet brought to life again by Lisa Van Wambeck and the dynamic voice of Lake Simons (the skillful puppeteer of Wolfy throughout the film) has a huge emotional range from despondent to ecstatic, which this team executes impressively well.
Watching portions of the process of creating such a seamless and endearing product, I have to applaud Leat Klingman and Shachar Langlev (Director of Photography) first and foremost for their vision and commitment to Wolfy’s Journey. I can only speculate how many hours Leat especially dedicated to her first of hopefully many feature films, and the devotion of all of the cast and crew who tirelessly donated their time and talents reads in every second of this heartwarming tale. How happily I watched it all come together as a moving story of themes so familiar to my heart as an adult and yet so incredibly accessible and alluring for an audience of children. Thank you, Leat, for allowing me to take a small part in a truly beautiful voyage in creating your film. I can’t wait to see where you and Wolfy journey next.
To reserve your copy of Wolfy’s Journey, visit the film’s website.