The Happytime Murders: A great TV show idea wrapped in a mediocre film

Melissa McCarthy stars in The Happytime Murders
Melissa McCarthy stars in The Happytime Murders /

In the new puppet comedy The Happytime Murders, the son of Jim Henson pushes the puppetry inspired by his father into Rated R territory. But is too offensive for its own good?

The world of puppeteering can be magical when executed properly. Some of the greatest family films involved puppets, not to mention the early Star Wars movies made magnificent use of puppeteering. Jim Henson changed the whole dynamic with The Muppets for many children growing up. Each film and every character was sprinkled with so much magic and heart. Now, most of those kids have grown up. So what better concept than to take the idea of The Muppets and put an adult spin on things, right? In The Happytime Murdersthe son of Jim Henson,  Brian Henson, has decided to take this approach with a fresh audience.

The issue here is that the ambitious concept might have worked better in a different medium. The Happytime Murders possesses fun ideas and humor but the execution becomes rather much in a 90-minute runtime. Much like The Muppet Show, this is a concept that would have benefited from being a half-hour program for a willing network before pushing it into a full-length film.

The film centers on Phil Phillips–played by Bill Barretta, who also voices the Swedish Chef– a private investigator puppet who is surviving in a world where humans and puppets discriminate against one another. The story is demonstrated using film noir detective tropes. For example, the attractive lady puppet shows up asking for Phillips help and something about her seems dangerous. Soon after, everywhere Phillips goes someone gets killed.

Happytime Murders
Maya Rudolph and Melissa McCarthy star in The Happytime Murders /

This leads to Phillips having to reunite with his ex-partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to solve the murders. What the characters find out is that all these murders connect to a hit television show from the 80s called The Happytime Gang. To make matters even worse, the star of the show Jenny (Elizabeth Banks) is Philips ex-girlfriend who could be in danger.

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Throughout all these events several insane things transpire before our eyes that will either shock, offend, or make you laugh depending on the person. Puppets get their heads blown off, shredded, fornicated, plus many other wildly twisted things that are not commonly seen under the Jim Henson brand. One could argue that the film probably embellishes on the shock value a bit too much, but the results may vary for some viewers.

The other thing to consider is that comedy is highly subjective for a consumer. Not everyone will find the same things funny. Shock humor aimed to offend is not for everyone but there is an audience out there that might find many of the over-the-top puppet moments hilarious. Personally, I did not find the jokes off-putting or terrible but it does get carried away at times. That said, I did enjoy the experience of the film and don’t think it’s as terrible as others suggested.

Maya Rudolph stars in The Happytime Murders
Maya Rudolph stars in The Happytime Murders /

The main issue is The Happytime Murders should never have been a movie. The comedy genre has so many great films that ultimately when measured against other films, make this attempt at comedy a disappointment. Even as a comedy film with shocking and offensive humor– countless films have done better. It’s a fun film but not one that will make an impact with people this weekend but maybe it was not meant to.

I believe The Happytime Murders as a concept could have worked better as a series on HBO, having the puppet Phillips solve cases every Sunday in this grown-up puppet universe. Having it as a television series possibly could have allowed audiences to adjust to the material as well as allowed director Brian Henson to develop and mature the material over the course of several episodes and seasons. As a film, it just seems forced and unfortunately, the concept of cursing puppets wears out its welcome before the film even reaches the third act.

Will The Happytime Murders get a sequel?. dark. Next

Overall Thoughts

The Happytime Murders is not the worst movie of the summer as many critics suggest, but the film falls short of its potential. The ideas behind the movie would have been better suited for a television audience rather than a theatrical run. It has some fun moments and honestly, it’s possible that the movie might find an audience on home video. It’s the kind of comedy that is fun to watch with a group of people on Netflix or Redbox perhaps. As a moviegoing experience though, it’s best to just save your money for now.

The Happytime Murders Is in theaters now.