THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS is the latest film from director/producer/actor Brian Henson (Muppet Treasure Island) and is a NSFK (not safe for kids) puppet film that is part dark comedy/part social commentary that features a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye and his ex-partner on the search for the person (or puppet) responsible for a string of puppet murders. The film stars Melissa McCarthy (The Heat, Bridesmaids), Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise), Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids, The Way, Way Back), Joel McHale (Community) and Bill Barretta (2011’s The Muppets).
Welcome to a world where puppets and humans co-exist; however, not peacefully, as puppets are inferior and considered second class to those that are human. In steps Phil Philips (Bill Barretta), a puppet private investigator who once was a decorated LAPD officer. After a string of murders occur, he reunites with his ex-partner, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy). When it’s revealed that the killer is targeting the cast members of the 80’s television series, The Happytime Gang, Phil and Connie search for the remaining cast members to warn them. However, memories of the past begin to claw their way to the surface, resulting in bad blood between Phil and Connie. As the feds close in, they begin to target Phil, who has now found himself on the run and determined to solve the mysterious murders of his friends.
Let me preface this by saying I’m not the biggest fan of puppets nor have I ever seen Meet The Feebles, a show that everyone keeps telling me is the reason that we now have THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS. With that in mind, please be aware that my review may be slightly skewed because of this. With that out of the way, THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS is definitely a raunchy comedy that I felt missed the chance to put forth its full potential. The concept of puppets and humans trying to co-exist in a world where prejudice towards puppets runs rampant, a theme that plays out throughout the entire film. Though light-hearted at times, the aforementioned theme heavily plays into what is actually happening in our world currently. Those who don’t want their comedy movies to be anything more than just a time to turn their brain off may be surprised with this continuous thread in the movie, but for myself, I thought it was smart and incredibly important to showcase considering how prevalent racism is in our society still.
As for the humor, that’s where I felt the film fell flat. Going in, I knew it was going to be either a hit or miss, and after taking a few days to think about it, I came to the conclusion that as a whole, I wasn’t overly impressed with the film. Sure, you have your run-of-the-mill raunchy jokes and ejaculating puppets, but it never ended up meshing well with the tone of the movie, which at times, was surprisingly serious. The talent is obviously there, and I did find myself laughing at a few of Melissa McCarthy and Maya Rudolph’s deliveries, but as a whole, I was let down by the majority of the performances. With that said, it is still possible to have smart writing that incorporates ridiculous and raunchy scenarios without going down the avenue of tiresome tropes and failed executions.
As for the main stars, the puppets themselves, I have to give credit to the many puppeteers that made this film happen. I did like watching them interact with humans in a way that was more realistic and not sugar-coated in happiness and rainbows. Also, learning about why there was such bad blood between Phil Philips and Detective Connie Edwards was unique and one of the main points of the story that I did enjoy. There’s also a scene that takes place in a Sugar Den that made me appreciate how badass Melissa McCarthy can be when push comes to shove (quite literally). Having gone to the pop-up event in LA for the release of THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS allowed me to have a better appreciation for some of the scenes in the movie, especially that of the Sugar Den. I just wished the movie aligned with my experience at the pop-up cause that was one of the best pop-ups I’ve ever done.
All in all, THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS just wasn’t a film for me. I don’t know if this movie is in alignment with Meet The Feebles, but if it is, those fans will probably have a blast watching this. I did love the design of the puppets and the interactions between them and the humans, but at the end of the day, I feel as though THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS fell short of what it could have truly been. With that said, if you think you would like puppets saying “fuck” and ejaculating silly string, then, by all means, go see it this weekend when it’s released. For me, I think I’m done with puppet movies for awhile.