It’s likely only French-speaking audiences remember growing up with the ‘90s TV show LES MINIKEUMS — an extremely popular kid-oriented sketch comedy series about the zany escapades of a teen pop band, who incorporate catchy little tunes into each of their short skits. On paper, the concept sounds like any dozen series on the Disney Channel during the same decade… but that’s where the similarity ends.
If you haven’t already noticed from the nightmare-inducing images here, the “hook” of LES MINIKEUMS is that the band members and all their friends are portrayed by disturbingly lifelike puppets.
When you think “puppet pop group,” you probably have something cuddlier and more Muppet-like in mind than these oddities — most of whom are fashioned from foam latex, with realistic eyes, hair and teeth.
The original series ran on the TV channel France 3 from 1993 to 2002, and was reportedly too expensive to keep on the air amid flagging ratings. I’m stunned the cancellation wasn’t the result of angry parents whose children were psychologically scarred from watching the rubbery, blank-eyed homunculi every day.
But oddly enough, the show was popular with adults as well — thanks to parodies of popular shows and movies (including STAR WARS and ALIEN) and jokes about real-life celebrities, much like the UK puppet show SPITTING IMAGE (though not quite as risque).
The show’s songs were released on two albums, and a few “singles” reached the French pop charts — including “Ma Melissa,” a parody of ‘90s boy-bands like N*SYNC and the Backstreet Boys.
After a 15-year hiatus, the show has now been revived on France 4 (new shows began airing last December), with most of the original band members returning — albeit updated to appeal to a new generation of viewers — and joined by several new pals.
Fabrication techniques and materials have clearly improved since the first series’ run, and now the characters look a bit less disturbing… assuming you’re not troubled by the “Uncanny Valley” element.
With that said, LES MINIKEUMS is actually kind of amazing, integrating multiple puppetry techniques to create a sense of too-close-for-comfort realism, and the band’s musical “performances” are amazingly lifelike; since the puppeteers’ actual hands (in flesh-colored gloves) are used, the characters are able to realistically mime playing instruments and directing their own music videos.
If you’re as curious as I am about this weirdly fascinating show, dozens of their skits are available online, particularly from the new series (via their official YouTube channel), and fans of the earlier incarnation have posted several playlists that are easy to find… if you’re ready for even more intense nightmares.