Reel Reviews | The Happytime Murders

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

In the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, two clashing detectives — one human and the other a puppet — must work together to solve the brutal murders of former cast members of a beloved puppet TV show in The Happytime Murders.

A puppet named Phil Philips, the only puppet to ever be a member of the Los Angeles police force, is now a private investigator finding work wherever he can but mostly doing very dirty cases in the rundown corners of the city. Ex-partner, Connie (Melissa McCarthy) and Phil find themselves reunited because they are both investigating a series of grisly puppet murders curiously linked to an old show called The Happytime Gang, a show to which Phil has a deep personal connection. So, can Connie and Phil put aside their anger toward each other in time to catch the killer, or will Phil become a victim himself?

The Happytime Murders is a movie that has long been mired in controversy. After spending years in development hell, when the movie was completed and the trailer for the movie dropped, the show Sesame Street filed a lawsuit claiming that its brand was being damaged by the implications and possible association that it may receive from the film. Unfortunately, the lawsuit may have been the most provocative thing to come out of the process.

Directed by Brian Henson and written by Todd Berger, The Happytime Murders stars Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, and Elizabeth Banks. Happytime is only slightly funny in very sparse moments. Its crudeness and vulgarity are reminiscent of Broadway’s very adult Avenue Q or even more closely the almost NC-17 Team America: World Police. The film goes out of its way to intentionally not be anything like the classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit? even though the plot outline is very, very similar. Where Happytime could address the living disparity between humans and puppets, it just dismisses the social issue and dives headlong into the mostly humorless depravity of sex and alcohol crazed puppets.

McCarthy plays a good sidekick to Phil in this twisted buddy cop movie but even her comedic ability is abysmally utilized in the film. The only character that may have a shred of decency is Maya Rudolph’s secretary to Phil, Bubbles. The sad fact of the matter is that even though the movie is only 90 minutes long, most of the best jokes can be seen in the trailer for the movie.

Like every good comedy movie made recently, there is a comedic outtakes reel that plays through the credits. This reel shows us all the work that was put into making the movie. This part of the film is pretty astounding and more interesting than the movie. The bad part is that you have to sit through the entire movie to see the best part during the closing credits.

Jim Henson grew up and developed the Muppets franchise in this area. He went to the University of Maryland and is revered even to this day in this area. Northwestern High School has a wing dedicated to him. Henson was a pioneer imagined his characters as being able to reach adults and even used some of his creations on early Saturday Night Live sketches. Jim also pioneered educational models and used the Muppets to bridge social gaps. The real crime is that in this movie, Brian Henson (son of Jim and collaborator on some Muppet movies) nearly undoes all the goodwill and positivity that was created by his father. I say nearly because in the course of time this movie should be less than a blip on the radar. Maybe his father’s shadow was too big for him.

Sesame Street was right to sue. They should not be associated with this movie but unfortunately, they are inextricably linked. Where Jim Henson wanted to have puppets that speak to an adult audience, the question would be is this what he had in mind? The Happytime Murders is definitely, not for children nor is for sober adults. Save your money on this one and watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit? on Hulu or even McCarthy’s Spy on FXX.

Grade: D-