As someone who grew up on a steady diet of The Muppets and Sesame Street, I’ve always had a deep appreciation for any kind of puppet-based entertainment (hell, I even rocked an ALF bedroom for several years as a kid), so I went into The Happytime Murders with an open mind, simply because I enjoy Melissa McCarthy and was curious how Brian Henson would blend together puppets with the “meatsack” (a term utilized throughout the film) world at large. While The Happytime Murders is comprised of many highs and a few lows, overall I did have a great time with the movie and enjoyed the fact that it was an experience that went way beyond just utilizing the fuzzy co-stars as a means to shock viewers with some naughty shenanigans (don’t worry—plenty of that goofiness abounds here, but there’s definitely more going on).
The Happytime Murders is centered on former puppet cop Phil Philips (Bill Barretta), who, about 20 years prior, had an incident with his partner Detective Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) that ended up discrediting his professional career in law enforcement, and now he spends his days working as a private investigator, following cheating spouses or looking into cases of blackmail. It’s revealed that Phil’s brother, Larry (Victor Yerrid), once co-starred on the popular series The Happytime Gang alongside a variety of other felty characters and human performer Jenny (Elizabeth Banks), and now the retro series is about to get picked up for syndication, which means the Happytime crew are about to make some bank. But as the various members of the Gang get picked off one by one, it’s apparent that someone is set on collecting the money for themselves, and it’s up to Phil and his former partner to figure out just who is behind the “ghastly” Happytime murder spree.
Look, if the concept of potty-mouthed puppets indulging in very salacious activities doesn’t sound like something that is your cup of tea (and I get it), I’m afraid there’s not much that this film will do to help quell those feelings. For me, though, I laughed myself silly on several occasions during The Happytime Murders, and the movie’s few minor comedic misfires weren’t enough to derail my overall enjoyment (there’s a scene involving silly string being used as bodily fluids for Phil Philips, and the joke hangs around about 45 seconds too long). There’s a great bit involving playful dogs and a puppet death, as well as a den of puppet ne’er-do-wells that McCarthy sets straight in hilarious fashion, and a sequence set at Venice Beach where Detective Edwards is trying to locate a missing member of The Happytime Gang (the bit between McCarthy and a puppet spiritual advisor is something I’ve already quoted twice today).
Plus, the concept of these puppets existing within our normal world isn’t just about “ha ha, let’s watch these innocent playthings do horrible things and isn’t that funny?” There’s actually something a little deeper going on in The Happytime Murders, where these non-human entities are being treated in ways that feel wholly relevant to what’s going on in the world these days, and I like that Henson went in a route that I wasn’t really expecting. The initial feel of the story here, penned by Todd Berger, may feel inspired by Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but at its core, The Happytime Murders is more of a buddy cop tale than anything else (which is another type of cinematic catnip for this writer), and I really enjoyed the back-and-forth between McCarthy and her former partner, as it felt just as natural as if we were watching her interact with a fellow human actor.
By and large, if you’ve seen any of the trailers for The Happytime Murders, the film delivers on its promise of wild and wooly fun that very much earns its R rating (although the movie is far funnier than anything seen in the trailers). Henson’s approach is admirably ambitious, the mystery is fun to follow, and everyone involved looks like they’re having a helluva good time (particularly Maya Rudolph, who steals pretty much every scene in which she appears). If you’re looking for a raunchy and raucous time at the movies, The Happytime Murders delivers just that, and be sure to stick around for the credits, as they provide an entertaining behind-the-scenes look at everything that went into bringing all of the puppets to life in the human realm.
Movie Score: 3.5/5