The Happytime Murders is directed by Brian Henson. It stars Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Leslie David Baker, Kevin Clash, and Elizabeth Banks.
The Happytime Murders is set in an alternate world where puppets now live in society alongside human beings, but are often the victims of discrimination. Phil Philips is a puppet who was once a cop, but a mistake on the job cost him his position, and there haven’t been any other puppet cops since, leaving him to make his living as a private investigator. When the cast members of a popular puppet show from years ago which starred Phil’s brother, among others, are killed in murders, it’s up to Phil to go on the case with his former partner who still holds a grudge.
Let me get this out of the way first. Despite the presence of puppets, this film is absolutely NOT for children. It’s rated R for a reason. Keep the little ones at home. I can’t stress this enough!
The Happytime Murders has a novel concept, a foul mouth, and no moral compass whatsoever - basically all the makings of a great comedy. But it’s weighed down by an overemphasis on “shock value” gags and profane language, and the storytelling is a cliched mess which level lives up to the potential it could have had. There are a handful of truly funny moments, but ultimately film runs out of steam relatively early on.
I respect the film for its base concept of bringing together a world of humans and puppets who aren’t exactly all on the best of terms. It seems like a clever metaphor for race relations, though unfortunately it never explores these concepts either intelligently or satirically. The best thing about the film is its leading puppet, Phil, a hard-nosed private eye who would be right hat home in something like Chinatown or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, despite his being a puppet. He’s the best thing about the movie. A talented ensemble of puppeteers and voice actors does an amazing job bringing these characters to life.
Disappointingly, despite its initial promise, The Happytime Murders never really takes off. The film values “shock” gags over coherent writing and storytelling, and gives us a movie with so many cliched elements but tries to cover it up with shocking and often disgusting gags, from a “milking” scene and a doggy dominatrix to female puppet pubic hair and a sex scene that will never allow you to see Silly String the same way again (though admittedly I did laugh pretty hard during the latter). Too often, it feels like a case of “we’re run out of ideas, so let’s say ‘fuck’ a lot!” Because of the overemphasis on shock humor and the fact that the film doesn’t really have anything interesting, compelling, or original going on underneath, it wears out its welcome and runs out of steam less than halfway through its runtime.
Probably the biggest disappointment of the film is the human cast. Melissa McCarthy is great in the right material, but here her character has no real defined personality and basically does whatever the scene requires. At one point, there’s a scene of her character getting drugged up which has absolutely nothing to do with the main plot of the film, going to show the movie’s lack of ideas. Even Joel McHale is reduced to a one-dimensional FBI agent role where he’s the butt of jokes we’ve heard in a million other movies. Of the humans, Leslie David Baker, who plays McCarthy’s character’s superior officer, fares best. And that’s largely because he’s the “straight man” trying to keep his head together in a world fast descending into chaos.
The Happytime Murders has some great puppet work, but its overreliance on shocking the audience with explicit language and footage can’t hide the fact it’s largely an unoriginal and derivative piece of work. Despite that, I won’t deny I laughed pretty hard a few times; I just wish more of the jokes stuck and had a lasting impact. Rent it when it comes out on video, but put the little ones to bed first.
Rating: Two stars out of four.
DISCLAIMER: Images in this review are the property of their respective owners, including Black Bear Pictures, Henson Alternative, H.Brothers, On the Day Productions, and STX Entertainment. All rights reserved. For promotional use only.