The dirty underbelly of Sesame Street is finally being shown in Happytime Murders. Is it worth your time? Find out within...
An Over-the-Top Raunchy Noir/Cop Drama Parody
It’s finally here! The comedy we never knew we wanted. Where puppets exist in the real world, similar to how Orcs and Elves inhabited the world in Bright. Except, in Happytime Murders, it’s the Puppets, not the Orcs that are considered second-class citizens and are persecuted early and often.
Happytime Murders is a parody of an old school, black-and-white Noir film, except the differences are that it is in color and involves a TON of puppets. The main character narrates the movie, much like those classic films, and it all starts with a dame bringing a stalker case to the Private Investigator. In this particular version, that PI is a puppet by the name of Phil Philips (Bill Barretta). Happytime Murders follows Philips on his mission to solve the case of the blackmailing stalker, but quickly turns into a murder investigation of epic proportions.
What I really appreciate about Happytime Murders is that the film, from the beginning, doesn’t even try to take itself seriously. From the jump, they deliver side-splitting joke after joke, all the while supplying the audience with the plight of the puppet race. Granted not all jokes land, but enough do to keep you engaged throughout.
Another point that I appreciate is that Director Brian Henson and Writers Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robinson don’t treat the audience like they’re dumb. They get to the real mystery pretty quickly, creating a shift in the story that all seems to tie together. Early on, Happytime Murders is extremely predictable, and the crew seemed to understand that. So, instead of progressing through the plot with the audience aware of what’s about to happen, they decided to embrace that predictability, switch gears, and deliver the twists later. A twist, I can happily say I did not see coming.
All that being said, Happytime Murders is not a film for everyone. The comedy is skewed to a certain audience that enjoys no-holds-barred crass humor. For more distinguished moviegoers looking for a funny movie to see, I don’t think this one is for you, and they may be reflected in other reviews. However, for this moviegoer, I don’t mind raunchy humor. It’s got its place in the comedy genre. For me, Happytime Murders is a mindless, crass comedy that injects puppets into the modern world, flawlessly.
In fact, they take the place of the people of color who are persecuted in everyday life. It’s an obvious jab at society’s current state and the racism that is felt within this country. In Happytime Murders, puppets are frisked everyday, not given shots at jobs they are clearly qualified for, and have to deal with persecution from the LAPD. If that doesn’t scream “Reference” I don’t know what will. Regardless, while they are considered second-class citizens, the performances by these puppet actors outshine those of the established, fleshy race.
Puppet Cast Steals the Show
The top billed names of this movie are Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, and Leslie David Baker. While each of them deliver decent performances, for the most part, it’s the puppets who are the real stars of Happytime Murders.
When you watch Happytime Murders, you may look back on this review and think, “What was he talking about? This Phil Philips guy is kinda boring.” and you wouldn’t be wrong. However, I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about the slew of other characters like Bumblypants (Kevin Clash), Goofer (Drew Massey), Crab (Brian Henson), Junkyard and Boar (Bill Barretta). Each one brought the jokes, the timing, and the delivery and made Happytime Murders worth watching.
As for the human actors, I thought Melissa McCarthy was pretty good in the movie as Det. Connie Edwards. She started out really harsh and unfunny, but started to show her brand of comedy toward the middle of the movie, which helped the movie out a lot. Maya Rudolph was typical, wonderful Maya Rudolph. Every scene she was in, she owned the screen. The only problem is, there wasn’t enough of her character Bubbles. Joel McHale was your stereotypical authority figure that believes the puppets are the problem, and Elizabeth Banks is barely in it. I was actually surprised they pulled a big name like Banks, and I can only think of 3 scenes she was in. This actually felt like one of the several miscues I noted in my viewing.
Sloppy Writing and Missed Opportunities Headline the Miscues
I enjoyed Happytime Murders, but it mainly had to do with the puppets. There were several points where this movie seemed to forget where it was and what the motivations of each character were. For instance, when we first meet Edwards, she loathes Philips because they were once partners, and a fated day with a perp almost killed her. That’s all well and good, but once they begrudgingly start working together, she immediately does a 180 and starts doing anything and everything possible to help him. They weren’t at each other’s throats as much and there really wasn’t a moment that seemed to resolve any lingering issues. That seems like poor writing and a mistake in continuity.
Furthermore, this world where the puppets are persecuted doesn’t make any sense. Throughout the film, I couldn’t put my finger on why humans hated them so much. They would mention from time to time that the only place for them was entertaining humans, but that doesn’t explain why they are hated or how they came to be living, breathing, beings that even have working organs (That’s a part in the film). I would’ve loved to have known how this all came to be, but you won’t find out in Happytime Murders.
An Achievement in Production and Design
You may not figure out how or why puppets are sentient beings in Happytime Murders, but you will be able to appreciate the world Brian Henson, the son of Jim Henson, was able to create with puppetry. In fact, the world was my favorite aspect of the film. From the Adult Video Store to the Sugar Den, because Sugar is an addictive drug to puppets, to the bunnies at the strip club, and the random puppet who keeps sneaking out of sleazy places, there is always something to enjoy and laugh at.
The Production and the Design is what makes Happytime Murders worth watching. They may not win an Academy Award for this performance, and that’s probably not what they’re going for, but Henson and his team deserve to be commended for this accomplishment. You may scoff at the lewd jokes and behavior, you may even put your nose up the writing and story, but you have to appreciate the world. Henson and the entire team had fun with this film, you know they did. It’s evident throughout the film and even shown in the credits where they reveal how much green screen they used to make this all possible. This world is amazing, it’s fun, it’s hilarious, but seeing this world for yourself is worth some of your time.