Movie Review: ‘The Happytime Murders’ Directed by Brian Henson
I think it’s fair to say that most adults around my age grew up watching a variant of “The Muppets” or “Sesame Street.” The beloved creations of Jim Henson were a staple of my household; my mom likes to remind me that I learned how to read from watching “Sesame Street.”
Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve seen any Muppet movie or TV show, but when I saw the first trailer for The Happytime Murders, a part of me got a little nostalgic, and another part of me got excited thinking about the possible amalgam of Muppet-like characters interacting in the real world. And so I went into the theater with an actual sense of curiosity and enthusiasm. 90 minutes later, I left thoroughly disappointed and entirely too sober to enjoy the movie.
It’s not that director Brian Henson didn’t have a novel concept to work with; private investigator Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) is to date the first, and last, puppet police officer on the LAPD force. After he was terminated for fatally shooting a civilian, he resorts to becoming a private investigator, running a small office with the help of his secretary and assistant, Bubbles (Maya Rudolph). We find out in the first few minutes that although puppets and humans physically co-exist, they don’t exactly socially co-exist, as puppets are treated as second-class citizens (a rather overt reference to racism).
Unfortunately, any momentum the film has runs out of steam after the first twenty minutes or so. After Philips accepts an assignment from a new client, he unwittingly becomes a witness to a puppet hit in which Mr. Bumblypants, a former actor on the television show “The Happytime Gang,” is ruthlessly murdered. As the rest of the cast is picked off one by one, Philips is forced to team up with his former partner, Detective Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to try and hunt down the killer.
And that…well, that’s about it as far as anything interesting in the film. The last hour of the film essentially turns into a one-trick pony: trying to see how much the film can get away with since any graphic murder or sex scene features cute puppets. The storyline is meant to pay homage to the old detective serials from the early 20th century, but there isn’t really any intrigue or suspense to it. The dialogue is mediocre at best; there are a few funny moments, but they’re mostly hidden between forgettable conversation and, at times, cringe-worthy shock moments. It’s painful to say, but there is very little to come back to when it’s all over. You will also never be able to look at Silly String the same way again.
If there’s one saving grace to The Happytime Murders, it’s the puppet work and choreography. The puppeteers and CGI do a flawless job in bringing the puppets to life in the real world. The gag reel that plays during part of the credits pulls back the curtains and shows how many of the scenes were done, and I have to give props to The Jim Henson Company; they’re masters of their work. It’s just a shame that the rest of the film wasn’t up to their level.
I really, really wanted to like The Happytime Murders. If anyone could pull it off, it would be the company whose legacy influenced generations of young children across the decades. Unfortunately, a flimsy plot and a shoddy script prevent the film from ever reaching anywhere near its lofty goals. Maybe down the road, Brian Henson can revisit the idea of blending puppets and the real world, but it’s going to require a far better effort than what they put out this time.
The Happytime Murders gets a D.