Frown Town is a patchwork quilt of secondhand garbage. Not only are the puppets physically constructed from used gear, but the characters and ideas that underpin it all are cobbled together from quirks and fragments collected elsewhere. Does that paint us as a pair of pernicious plagiarists? That depends on your poetics. T.S. Elliot, for one, has got our back: “The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.” True for poets, true for puppeteers.
When we started spinning a world around James we knew he’d need a gang, and every so briefly we planned to base them on The Beatles. James was John and we’d go from there. That idea sort of fell apart on account of George didn’t light animals on fire and Paul didn’t live in a jar, but from it we got Orly’s personality: the happy puppy dog with the heart of gold who doesn’t want any trouble from anybody, really. He’s just happy to be along for the ride. We knew he’d be sickly so we based his stringy hair and runny nose on Let the Right One In’s bullied protagonist, Oskar. For added visual interest, as well as to amp up those giant baby animal eyes, we stole the coke bottle glasses from Trailer Park Boys‘ moral center, Bubbles.
The puppets’ names are also often laced with references no one’s really meant to get. Judy’s taxonomy sprang from three prominent puppets: Judy — of Punch and Judy, the 16th century Italian wife-beating double act — as well as Miss Piggy (Swine-) and Kermit the Frog (-hopper). Kermit and Piggy are, much like Punch and Judy, a romantic due prone to bouts of furious violence. So even Henson was borrowing from what came before, only he had the lady hit the man. Hippie.
Trey Awesome’s face, hair, headband, shades and style are all derived from MGMT’s Andrew VanWyngarden, or the most syrupy distillation of hipsterdom available at the time of his inception. There’s also a bit of Arrested Development’s Rita in there, too. However, instead of good looks and an English accent causing people to overlook her intelligence issues, Trey relies on his cool quotient, which is ample.