What have you done, Brian Henson?
Brian Henson was always something of a prodigy child (we can assume, at least).
His father, Jim Henson, started working with puppets all the way back in 1955 with a show called Sam and Friends. Kermit the Frog made his first appearance on that show just a few years later and, suddenly, The Muppets were born.
The property was eventually sold to Disney and Henson went on to direct several movies and shows regarding around his beloved characters (and some that weren’t, like Labyrinth and Dark Crystal) before sadly passing away at the age of 53 in 1990.
Then it was Brian Henson’s turn. Taking over where his father left off, Brian Henson directed The Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992 and Muppet Treasure Island in 1996. While that was his last outing with the muppets, per-say, he’s kept himself busy with various other projects and shows, most of which still revolve around puppets.
Come 2018 and he’s ready to take this medium into a whole new, R-rated direction. Enter The Happytime Murders.
The premise is an ingenious one: humans and puppets are forced to co-exist in the modern world, with puppets being on the lower end of that totem pole as they’re discriminated against day-in and day-out. To deal with that, most puppets have turned to various avenues that include crime, drugs, sex, drinking or anything else.
Yes, this ain’t your grandmother's muppets anymore, as these creatures are out of control in The Happytime Murders.
Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) is one of the more relatively less-troubled puppets living in Los Angeles. At one point in time, he was actually a pretty big advocate for human-puppet relations, as he was the first puppet to ever be assigned to the police force, which was a huge step forward for their kind.
He was good, too. Phillips and his partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) locked away more criminals — puppets and humans alike — than one could count, making Lt. Banning (Leslie David Baker) think this was the best decision he ever made.
Then came the fall. Without getting into details, Phillips was caught in the wrong end of a puppet scandal and forced to leave the force. Years passed without him ever speaking to Edwards or Banning, as he held up shop in his own private investigator office, alone, instead.
But now, there’s a new problem in town. Someone is going around and killing everyone associated with an old television program called The Happytime Gang — a show in which both Edward and Phillips have personal ties to.
Against both of their better judgment, they find themselves teaming up once again and taking to the streets, trying to stop the killer before all of their friends wind up dead.
Again, the premise is great. While we’ve seen private investigator stories done like this before, setting it inside this vulgar world full of children’s creations doing obscene things is something that could have and should have been thoroughly entertaining. The only thing is, it’s not.
I had heard bad things about The Happytime Murders before walking into the theater. Scratch that, I had heard outright abysmal things about it, as some people were calling this the worst movie of the entire year.
I don’t think The Happytime Murders is the worst movie of the year. I don’t think it’s the worst movie of the summer, either — that title still goes to Mile 22. While The Happytime Murders certainly isn’t good, it might just be not as bad as you heard it was.
There are three over-arching problems that I had with this movie.
The first, and ultimately most damning, is the humor. Similar to 2016’s Sausage Party, The Happytime Murders introduces a bunch of characters that would usually be intended for children, but instead drink and cuss the whole movie. That’s a funny idea, but it doesn’t go any farther than there.
There isn’t actually any good writing or thought attached to these jokes; they are simply relying on the novelty of seeing a character who kind of looks like Oscar the Grouch dropping the f-bomb to make you laugh. Once that wears off — and it does after the first five minutes — there really isn’t all that much else funny inside The Happytime Murders besides the occasional giggle, as the jokes are all really lazy.
The second is the message. In the first five minutes, The Happytime Murders puts itself in a position to become the next Zootopia and do something with the whole human/puppet conflict. Instead, it becomes more like Bright as they really don’t know what they’re trying to say here.
To do something with a premise like this, you really have to commit to it and have a firm understanding on the point you want to make. Yet, in The Happytime Murders, the idea they’re playing with only floats in and out of the movie whenever it’s convenient after its initial introduction.
The third problem is the female characters. Keeping it pretty simple, there aren’t any women in this movie who are actually treated with any kind of respect. Melissa McCarthy is constantly mistaken for a man or mocked about his weight, while the majority of the other females are all prostitutes or sex addicts.
All of that being said, there was some part of me that didn’t hate myself while watching The Happytime Murders. I wound up getting way more into the mystery aspects of the film a whole lot more than I thought I would (the scenes when the puppets died and the stuffing flew everywhere were actually really funny), to the point where I would have been made if I stopped watching part-way through and didn’t get to see who did it. While The Happytime Murders really doesn’t know how to capitalize on the premise it has on its hands, I still got some joy out of just seeing this world come to life and the different aspects that are explored within it.
Ultimately, I think of this more of a disappointment than I do a terrible film. It should have been great, without a doubt, but I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to call it awful either. You don’t need to run out to the theater to catch The Happytime Murders, but if you could do a lot worse than watching it on cable during a rainy Sunday.
Watch the trailer for The Happytime Murders here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought about the film!
'The Happytime Murders' review: Oh for the love of stuffing...4