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The Happytime Murders – Movie Review

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The Happytime Murders – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy VVS Films

The Muppets are often seen as being primarily for children, but Jim Henson had long intended his felt creations to be considered as serious performers for adults. This can been seen as early as the Muppets’ appearances on Saturday Night Live and their beloved variety show. With The Happytime Murders, Brian Henson has finally made a movie his father would have gotten around to at some point. This is an outrageous comedy that, while hardly groundbreaking on a storytelling level, delivers the required laughs with Melissa McCarthy holding her own against her puppet co-stars. It certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but The Happytime Murders is nonetheless an admirable effort.

The movie’s central detective story follows the expected beats of the genre, but it’s in Brian Henson’s commitment to the concept that allows The Happytime Murders to work. The  humour allows for many moments that play with the contrast of these seemingly innocent Muppet-like beings participating in lewd behaviour. The various puppets that populate the production each function in their own unique ways and Henson, along with screenwriter Todd Berger, has fun with giving them human attributes with a twist. The puppet designers deserve a lot of credit with all the sorts of different creatures and felt people that run across the screen.

Melissa McCarthy’s Detective Edwards and Bill Barretta’s PI Phil Philips create a solid team-up between them and McCarthy seems to really enjoy herself, acting alongside many of the puppets. While there is a good amount of crude humour and those offer their fair share of funny moments, the character interactions also deliver the goods. Henson includes some neat background details that expand on the characters and the world. There’s a funny little running gag involving maple syrup that becomes a vital part of Edwards’s characterization. The various environments are also enhanced by whichever puppets are in the scene and what they are doing.

As expected with a project directed by Brian Henson, a good amount of the fun comes from watching the puppetry at work. The various performers imbue a good amount of personality to them. It’s also wild to see them perform acts not normally associated with the Muppets. There is a decent amount of homage to the likes of Meet the Feebles and Sesame Street as Henson is unafraid of even playing with his father’s sacred cows. There is room for the Muppets to play around in dirty areas. There is also a self-awareness that these are puppets, right down to end credits that showcase the behind-the-scenes work of the cast and crew.

The Happytime Murders is not the first adult puppet production, as we’ve also gotten Avenue Q and Team America: World Police this century, but it’s created by an artist closely connected with the legacy of the Muppets. Brian Henson has normally played in the family friendly arena and it’s neat to see him play around with puppets in a more adult environment, even in a movie that follows the basic buddy detective movie beats. The jokes do go beyond these being dirty puppets and become an appreciation of the craft and how they can do more than just sing songs and create empathy. Muppets are just as capable of being dirty and vulgar and The Happytime Murders unapologetically explores that.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison