I’ve been looking forward to The Happytime Murders ever since I saw the trailer for it a few months ago. I love puppets and muppets and basically anything even remotely related to Jim Henson. I also loved Greg The Bunny, so The Happytime Murders was right in my wheelhouse. It was almost guaranteed I was going to love it. And I did. Though I noticed that some of the other review sites (Rotten Tomatoes) weren’t that kind to this film. That’s too bad, I had a great time.
When the puppet cast of an ’80s children’s TV show begin to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet takes on the case.
I’m always really impressed by Film Noir’s ability to blend strangely with different elements. Who Framed Roger Rabbit did it and it was this movie I kept comparing The Happytime Murders to. All the elements were there – the former detective, the femme fatale, the goofy sidekick, etc. And The Happytime Murders hastened to let us know that this was not for kids. There were more ‘fucks’ and graphic adult material in the first half hour of this show than any two other R-Rated flicks this year. I like that. I love gratuitous sex and violence, especially when it’s funny. And the writing was so good – believable dialogue, good pacing and characters you could empathize with.
The puppeteering was amazing. The character design for every puppet was carefully thought out and the main character, Phil Phillips, had better emotional range than some human actors I could name. He could look pensive or angry or sad or like he was taking the piss out of someone and I wasn’t taken out of the moment. That’s no small feat, given that the entire appeal of this movie was watching puppets in situations that would be horrific if it were actual human beings. Melissa McCarthy was also great – I tend to love everything she’s in. Though reading the Wikipedia page, this was the lowest grossing movie of her career. Shame about that – she was brilliant here.
Where this movie fell down for me is in all the moments they took a break in the action in order to make more jokes about how weird puppets can be in adult situations. While the appeal of the movie was that weird juxtaposition, it felt like they overdid it. Roger Rabbit had it right – keep it funny but don’t make funny the only point. And they didn’t have to – The Happytime Murders had plenty of subtle (maple syrup instead of whisky, for instance) because it was a carefully thought out world. You’d be forgiven for not noticing that though, because so much of the action is working hard to be shocking.
So is The Happytime Murders worth watching? I’d say yes. I’m going to see it again in the theaters. But it’s not for everyone; pretty much you have to like puppets AND toilet humor. The trailer pretty much nailed what the movie would be like, so if you hated the trailer, you’re going to hate this film. I hope The Happytime Murders makes a killing as a cult film, I loved the hell out of it.