You know what I loved growing up? Pretty much show that had puppets in them. I’m talking Sesame Street, Bear In The Big Blue House, Muppets, etc. So, when I heard there was a puppet cop movie called “Happytime Murders” coming to theaters, I was naturally intrigued. Of course, I heard so many bad things about the movie that I decided to not go.
As cool as a darker and more adult interpretation of the classic puppet show formula sounds, the massive backlash against the film just turned me away. To me, a good puppet show needs to feel both “unique” and “interesting”. I don’t need something super dark, edgy, or adult, just something entertaining.
Recently, I discovered an old Canadian show that fits this description. Very few people know about or remember this show, due to it only having lasted one season. I very vaguely remember it from when I was younger, but I recently rediscovered thanks to a friend show me several episodes. The show is called “The Longhouse Tales”, and it is probably one of the most forgotten shows I’ve ever come across.
There’s no Wikipedia page for it, no TV Tropes page, and zero old fan-sites for it. There only exists a few pages, most of which were made by people who actually worked on the show. It only aired on APTN in the year 2000 for a little while, before disappearing into obscurity for years. It eventually resurfaced on Amazon Prime, becoming part of their “Toonscape” service.
So, enough beating around the bush, what’s show all about? Well, the series revolves around a mystical storyteller named “Hector Longhouse”. One day, Hector arrives in an old shop run by an agitated turkey named “Tyconderoga”. The turkey lives with a pair of bats, who act as a comedic foil for the feathery shopkeeper.
Each episode involves Hector telling a story, usually centered within the “Animal World”. The Animal World is based on Native Canadian legends, and features a lot of mysticism and bizarre scenarios. The main character of the Animal World segments is a coyote named Dwight, who is implied to have some sort of connection with Hector.
Is Dwight Hector’s spirit animal? Are Hector and Dwight the same being somehow? We never get answers to these questions, as their connection is never fully explored in the series. What the series does like to tackle quite a bit is the two worlds and how they “connect”. The world that the turkey, bats, and Hector inhabit is referred to as the “Real World”.
The Real World, as well as the Animal World have a strange connection to one another. Much like how Dwight and Hector are connected, the two worlds have a strange symbiotic relationship as well. Events that occur in one world can bleed into the other, often in weird reality-warping ways.
A good example of this is when characters from the Animal World end up in the Real World, or vice-versa. The way reality within both worlds can bend on a dime gives the show a surreal vibe. Despite clearly being mad for kids, the show has no problem in showing bizarre material to their age demographic.
A good example of this is the episode where Dwight ends up falling unconscious after a magic-based accident, and nearly ended up dying by the end of the episode. To resolve this incident, Ish almost sacrificed his magic powers to the evil pterodactyl known as “Nevar”. The show had more stakes than your average puppet show, which really helped build up the show’s identity.
It also helps that this show had an abnormally high budget for a kids show. The show had a budget of 6.5 million dollars, which is pretty high for something made in the year 2000. The high budget did not go to waste, as this show looks amazing! Backgrounds are gorgeous and brimming with life, while the puppets themselves have an absurd amount of detail.
Characters are well-designed, and the special effects were fairly solid for the time. On top of this, you had some solid talent working on the show. Longhouse is played by Tom Jackson, a man with a fair bit of experience in television acting. Before this show, he would play a character in an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. One of the bats on the show was voiced by Fred Stinson, who most Canadian kids will remember as “Major Bedhead” on The Big Comfy Couch.
What made the show really good in my eyes was its world-bulding. While the series was mostly episodic, there was a strong sense of continuity between episodes. The characters changed and evolved over time, as more of these two worlds are explored in each episode. There’s tons of hidden details that make the show worth re-watching over and over again!
So, if this show is so great, why is it so obscure? Well, it aired on APTN for only a few months, and wasn’t given much advertising. The show appeared on the cover for a 2000s issue of Starweek, but that’s about the extent of its exposure. The only way to watch the show is by paying for the previously mentioned “Toonscape” service. Of course, barely anyone uses this service and it doesn’t offer much in the way of truly interesting shows.
It sucks that most people will never get to experience this show, due to how difficult it is to get one’s hands on it. No DVDs, no VHS tapes, no digital downloads, there is only one way to legally watch this show. Of course, one could always pirate the show. I don’t blame a person for taking this route, considering the limited amount of ways one can watch the series.
So, that was The Longhouse Tales. It was a unique puppet show for the time, that combined education with reality-warping shenanigans and fun character interactions. It’s not perfect or amazing, but it provided a solid experience based on Native Canadian legends. It may not have brought in the kind of attention Happytime Murders did, but at least Longhouse was actually watchable and entertaining.