Film Review – The Happytime Murders (2018)

The first movie from Brian Henson’s Henson Alternative label, a studio off-shoot dedicated entirely to adult-themed muppet movies, already looks dated. The Happytime Murders attempts to inject a sense of anarcho-punk in to the Muppets universe, but instantly seems to be faltering in the footsteps of previous similar work. Shadows cast by movies such as Ted, Team America: World Police and most notably Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles, along with stage musical Avenue Q, loom large over this, Henson’s attempt to mash together the much-loved Muppets aesthetic with Viz-style toilet humour doesn’t really produce anything of interest and, worse, nothing particularly original.

Bill Barretta provides the voice of Phil, the puppet private eye protagonist who gets drawn into a murder case in which stars of an old TV show, The Happytime Gang, are being murdered one-by-one. Forced to work alongside his ex-partner, Melissa McCarthy as a detective harbouring a suspicion of puppets, they stumble through a thin neo-noir story of numerous, perverse vices inducing pornography, drug abuse and illicit sex.

Much like the regular, family-friendly Muppets movies, this is a world in which puppets and humans live side-by-side. In the Henson Alternative world of The Happytime Murders, it’s a world in which puppets are downtrodden, treated as a marginalised underclass and hated by many humans. It’s a thematic flourish that was used to good effect in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? But in this, it’s a chance to make a sly, satirical point about race-relations and institutionalised racism in the police force and society at large that mostly drifts by without notice.

One suspects the chief draw for any movie-goer with an interest in this, and probably the chief interest of the filmmakers, is less political and much more simplistic: a chance to see puppets act incongruously by swearing, drinking and fucking their way through a movie. Depressingly, The Happytime Murders doesn’t even excel at this. Apart from an early eye-popping scene in which an octopus gets intimately acquainted with a lactating cow, there’s very little here that will provoke much clutching of pearls. Instead, the movie fairly quickly settles into a tedious rhythm of puppets being shot to pieces in a blizzard of cotton wool or snorting lines of sugar like it was cocaine. It ends up being about as shocking as the average daubing in the back of a schoolboy’s textbook and with about marginally less of a point to make.

Chris Banks | [rating=2]

Comedy, Action | 15 | UK, 27 August (2018) | STX UK & Ireland | Dir. Brian Henson| Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph ,Leslie David Baker,Joel McHale.

Check out the Video review from Chris for the film too…