In a world of puppets, where everyone is connected to a life-force in the sky through their strings, Prince Hal of Hebalon (McAvoy) vows to avenge the death of his father while his sinister uncle Nezo (Jacobi) plots to usurp the throne. While Hal quests among his enemies, Nezo takes over the city.
With the possible exceptions of Thunderbirds and Team America, Strings is uniquely cast entirely with stiff-faced, mobile-eyed puppets. But the skill of the unseen puppeteers and director Anders Rønnow-Klarlund, plus a well-chosen voice cast, make the characters astonishingly expressive. The point is not to make wooden people seem lifelike, but to explore their existence as puppets, which leads to imaginative coups as lovers entwine strings and duellists snip at opponents’ cords with curved hooks.
Laid in a wholly imagined alternative world, the plot draws obviously on Shakespeare and fairy tale, but has a modern sensibility which pulls back from squabbles over thrones to show the deep-seated corruptions of this society — even the heroic Hal blithely accepts it as his right when he loses a hand and one is taken from a slave to replace it. Varying materials, from weathered wood to fine porcelain, convey the different stations of characters, and often scenes set in driving rain or drifting snow add elements of the real to a striking, ingenious picture.
Just being innovative wouldn’t be enough — this has real dramatic sweep and the touch of magic that makes the best fantasies more than simple escapism.