The Happytime Murders

2018-09-06 14:01


A murder mystery set in a world where humans and puppets co-exist, but puppets are viewed as second-class citizens. When the puppet cast of an 80s children’s TV show begins to get murdered one by one, a former cop, who has since become a private eye, takes on the case.


Growing up I was always way more Team Muppets than Team Sesame Street, and the Muppets Christmas Carol is still one of my childhood favourites.

I am also a fan of the Henson Company’s more psychedelic films like Labyrinth, where Jim Henson flirted with more adult, off-kilter themes. While I was intrigued to see what an R-Rated Henson movie would look like, I remained sceptical about where it would find an audience.

In the end, this is the kind of movie where you feel very bad about yourself for laughing so damn hard, even if the jokes are lewd and cheap gags, but the incorporation of puppets into the underworld of murder, drugs and sex does amount to hilarity with a whole lot of fluff.

Once the first puppet cop, now disgraced PI Phil Philips (Bill Baretta) is trying to give a leg-up to all puppets in a world that constantly discriminates against them. A new case however sees him return to the force and to his jaded ex-partner (Melissa McCarthy), investigating the series of murders of a retired sitcom family.

Its R-rating is what’s going to attract people, and director Brian Henson had no qualms about pushing those boundaries to its max. While the puppet porn shop scene might haunt you for the rest of your life, once you get past the initial shock of seeing children’s objects beating the crap out of each other (the first f-bomb from a puppet was met with a lot of laughter) you find yourself reluctantly enjoying it.

If you found Team America and Sausage Party to be the height of comedy (though The Happytime Murders is not AS silly) you’re guaranteed to have silly fun watching McCarthy get high on sugar and a puppet trying to turn tricks for drugs. 

However, the genuine hilarity really came from the lead puppet Phil, with Baretta doing a masterful job as voice and puppeteer. Todd Berger’s writing had some real unique zingers and the vitriol spewed between McCarthy’s character and Phil will leave you in stitches.

At some points I even felt like the movie was hilarious enough with just the script and should have rather toned down on the lewd gag. For example, the real star in the puppet sex scene in the office is Phil’s secretary Bubbles played by Maya Rudolph, whose calm reactions were what really made your stomach hurt from laughing.

The Happytime Murders was always going to struggle to find its audience, with little relevance to the Muppets franchise and a hope for some R-rated box-office gold that’s become popular with the success of Deadpool.

This is already evident by the low rating American critics have given it and its slow performance at the box office. However, you need to take it for what it is, and the South African audience has always been better at doing that and not taking a movie as serious as the US. I do hope for some more adult puppet content from Henson’s mature label in the future, but perhaps next time try for something a little more original than a former-cop-turned-PI finding redemption storyline.

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.