philadelphia inquirer


To Save the Animals
The Philadelphia Zoo enlists puppets in a show about sparing endangered creatures.

April 15, 2011| By Dana Vogel, Inquirer Staff Writer

You can hear the animals talk at the Philadelphia Zoo.

The newest exhibit there, “Xtinkshun: A Wild Puppet Xperience,” is a multimedia presentation, featuring seven puppets created by the Jim Henson Co. that talk about animal extinction. The company is best known for creating the Muppets and the puppets for Sesame Street.

Theatrical puppet presentations at outdoor stages, daily parades, and a short “mockumentary” film make up “Xtinkshun,” which opened Saturday and closes Oct. 31.

Most of the puppets represent endangered species, and one, Didi the Dodo, stands in for an animal that is extinct, sharing her wisdom in the hope of preventing other creatures from dying out. Didi is joined by Leo the Golden Lion Tamarin, Alfreda Cheetah, Iggle the Eaglet, Phibi Frog, Igor the Tiger, and the Douc Langur. Each puppet has his or her own stage, and performances take place every half-hour.

“We have an innate excitement for animals. It’s a very dear subject to us,” said Jason Weber, creative supervisor at Jim Henson.

Weber said this was the first time the company had created puppets for an outdoor exhibit. Producing kitelike puppets for the twice-daily interactive parade around Bird Lake also was a new undertaking.

“It was challenging but fun,” he said.

The company also played a role in the making of the “mockumentary” that is being screened during the exhibit. The eight-minute film, modeled on a news program, sets the stage for the exhibit. After Didi the Dodo explains why she founded the Xtinkshun movement, each animal is introduced.

Dan Zanes, front man of the Grammy-winning group Dan Zanes & Friends and member of the 1980s band the Del Fuegos, also got in on the action, writing a song, “Hail the Creatures,” featured in the mockumentary and the daily parades. Zanes said growing up in New Hampshire had given him a lifelong appreciation for the environment.

He tried to place himself in the minds of the Xtinkshun puppets when writing the song, he said.

“I felt like it needed to be upbeat. If these things aren’t upbeat, people feel defeated. Young people need to feel they have a chance.”

This was exactly the message the zoo had in mind when creating the exhibit.

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