The Happytime Murders: Missing Jim Henson’s Soul
This is not a good movie. I just want to say off-the-bat that there was some moments I liked but those were very few and far between. The 2018 movie, directed by Brian Henson…. the son of Jim Henson (the creator of The Muppets, Sesame Street, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth. That fucking Jim Henson), marketed itself as an R rated comedy. But I was in a theater on the day it came out, with maybe 10 other people who were mostly silent throughout the film.
This was a kid’s movie with sex and swear words. Brian, along with the writer, Todd Berger, seem to have a lot of experience creating films for children. Brian worked on a few Muppet movies and kids shows. Todd worked on Kung Fu Panda and Smurfs shorts. Now neither of them solely worked on G rated projects, but I can tell you right now Happytime Murders felt like a kids movie. The jokes were very dry and bland. Most of the line were ones I already heard a dozen times, or seriously sounded like it was meant for a younger audience. Multiple times there were “digs” or “burns” at other characters and nothing ever crossed a line, nothing made me say “oh holy shit!”. In fact there actually were two children in my theater, I’m bad with ages but let’s ball park them around 10-15 years old, and I don’t think besides one or two graphic moments, that there was anything they couldn’t watch. There was a few funny situational scenes that were funny (like a dalmatian puppet being a dominatrix for a human firefighter) but none of the actual lines made me bust out laughing. I don’t think the human cast members helped much.
Melissa McCarthy is the Jason Statham of comedy. That wasn’t a compliment. She can only play one role. I’m not an actor so I give her a lot of props and do think she is great in some movies. But the character in this movie, Detective Connie Edwards, just didn’t fit that mold. The rest of the human cast didn’t seem to fit their roles either. Bubbles, played by Maya Rudolph, was a 2 dimensional P.I. secretary that love for her boss for basically no reason. The intimidating FBI agent Campbell, played by Joel McHale, was a complete moron. Lt. Banning, by Leslie David Baker, was a wasted opportunity that only existed to force the plot along. And Elizabeth Banks played a stripper…. okay so maybe not all of the human were so out of character. Most of the time while watching the movie, I thought about how much better it would be if none of the people were in it and it was just a detective movie with puppets. That is obviously where they put all their talent.
I may have not liked this movie, but the puppeteers deserve a shit ton of credit. Here is where I would list them if any of them were actually on IMDB, but this is the industry we live in. I’m sure Brian Henson had a lot to do with that part as well. The dude has been working with puppets literally his entire life; he was on Sesame Street when he was 4. The puppet’s looked unique, grotesque, cartoony, and/or intimidating. They were all over the place with the design for these things and no two looked anything alike. The main character, voiced by Bill Barretta (want to point out that his name was 28th down on the IMDB cast… wtf is that site doing), was your stereotypical hard-boiled washed out private eye. They did a great job making you see that too. I actually liked the premise of the film. A bunch of puppets that used to dance and sing are now all washed up and life fucked them hard. We get prostitute puppets, drug addict puppets, incest puppets, gangsters, strippers, sexual deviants, and horny crabs. Watching puppets have sex would have been hilarious, expect for the fact I already saw it with Team America: World Police. I also think the movie would have been so much much better if it was just about the puppets because mixing them with humans just made for some weird awkward interactions.
The metaphor for racism is something really easy to do and overused to the point of eye rolling in modern Hollywood. Puppets and humans live together in society, so of course we have to be forced to hear all about how puppets are second class citizens and they’re treated unfairly by the color of their felt. Racist joke after racist joke got zero laughs in the theater, where they replace the black skin with blue skin or use derogatory terms like “socks”. In movies like Blade Runner, that stuff works because that is literally the point of the film. The point in Happytime Murders if to solve a case. That part of the plot wasn’t bad either. I don’t think it was hard to see certain elements coming, but at the end of the day I was pleased with the detective story and who the killer really was. That was a good story, and had nothing to do with humans treating puppets unfairly at all. The racist metaphors were put in for no reason and didn’t service the plot or make the movie more enjoyable in any way.
This movie gets Snapped out of existence for being a wasted opportunity. We know you can have puppet movies that are serious. Jim Henson made funny kids movies and dark adult movies. His son tried to make a funny adult movie but swung and missed. The problem I see is that no one else will take a crack at this for a long time. And that’s a shame because I want the puppeteers and puppet designers to keep putting their talents to good use. I mean in no other type of movie are you gonna see a puppet octopus jacking off a puppet cow until it jizzes milk all over the place.
Movie Watched and review written by: Troy Smith