Movie Review: The Happytime Murders
There is fun to be had with Brian Henson’s The Happytime Murders. Just be very sure you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Once again, I find myself at odds with popular opinion on a movie (#Avengers3istrash). The Happytime Murders is getting murdered on aggregators such as Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. I thought it was perfectly acceptable… as a raunchy comedy. Which it had always positioned itself as. I think you can have fun with this movie too, as long as you don’t frame this movie as Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2.
The Happytime Murders (2018)
Phil Phillips is a puppet with a past. Once the first puppet to serve on the LAPD, he’s since been drummed out of the force with extreme prejudice. And Phil knows a thing or two about prejudice, as puppets are considered second class citizens in human society. Now working as a private dick, Phil has gotten a new client: a nymphomaniac with a bad case of blackmail. The case takes Phil down memory lane, but everyone on that avenue comes to a dead end.
This Movie is not for the Family, Guy
First up: the obvious. This movie is a machine gun of raunch with the infinite ammo glitch activated. The first 25 minutes are relentless, and I laughed out loud at the sheer energy with which subversive, slimy, and silly jokes washed over me. Then I got a little tired. Then the movie got truly filthy, wrapped everything up and went home. It says on IMDb that The Happytime Murders is an hour and a half long, but my watch said about an hour and ten minutes. This movie moves like Melissa McCarthy after snorting pixie sticks.
The humor is something fans of The Family Guy or Rick and Morty can get with. It’s all dirty, but it’s bounded by real themes: inequality, prejudice, sexism, racism, addiction, and the Hollywood lifestyle all get a jaundiced eye. I’ll get into this topic in a second, but suffice to say, nothing in this movie is truly pointless.
Sorry, We Discontinued the Refer a Fiend Program
The Happytime Murders has a Roger Rabbit plot with a Family Guy screenplay, but there’s one big difference. This film wants nothing to do with referential humor, call-outs, and cameos. Despite being produced by Jim Henson’s son (and his studio, Henson Alternative), these are not The Muppets. As easy as riffing on pop-culture could be, this film eschews it. It would have been low hanging fruit to write a scene where Phil stumbles upon someone looking a lot like Kermit was having some kinky sex with someone looking a lot like Miss Piggy. They could have made all the epithets that humans used to disparage puppets topical to things like Sesame Street, The Muppets, or Mr. Rogers. It might sound trite, but for a movie with 1 Million Jokes, I came away impressed that they didn’t take the
Seth McFarlane Easy Way Out.
Remember when I said nothing is truly pointless in The Happytime Murders? Well, that was a bit of damning with faint praise. While it escapes being edge-lord trash, the movie drops the ball with all the subversive themes it introduces. The film doesn’t hide that the puppets are stand-ins for racism, colorism, and classism. Melissa McCarthy’s character hints at institutional racism, bad cop bias, and she even has her own battles against sexism and cultural identity. Sadly The Happytime Murders just never gets above the 101 level with these topics. It weaves them into the tapestry only to drop one thread in favor of another in it’s breakneck pacing.
The rest of the plot of The Happytime Murders is fairly cliché hard-boiled film-noir, so not investing in the subtleties that could have set the film apart was a big miss.
To Be Seen and not Felt
While the blistering pace of this who-did-whodunit leads to missed oppurtunities, it does ensure that the film is breezy-sleazy fluff. It’s also well-made, from the animatronic angle. The end credits are spliced with shots of how the puppets came to life, and it’s top notch work. While Brian Henson might not share his late father’s comedic sensibilities, the Henson Alternative group know how to instill personality and life into their puppets. Which is nice, because the non-puppet actors outside of Maya Rudolph are pretty lifeless.
So, on balance, The Happytime Murders is perfectly fine as a silly, dirty, blink and you’ll miss it movie. It’s just not anything beyond that. It has hints of greatness in it, but can’t quite commit. If you like dark humor, or just really, really, love puppets, The Happytime Murders is worth a watch. Everyone else might just want to go get a rental instead.