The Happytime Murders (2018) Review

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Felt Up

The Happytime Murders (2018): 8 out of 10: is a dark comedy-crime film set in a fictional Los Angeles where puppets coexist with humans. The story revolves around a down-and-out puppet private investigator named Phil Phillips, who used to be the first puppet cop in the LAPD. Phil is hired to investigate a series of gruesome murders that target the cast of a popular children’s TV show from the ’80s, “The Happytime Gang.”

As Phil delves into the case, he is forced to team up with his former partner, Detective Connie Edwards, a human who has a personal grudge against him. The duo must put aside their differences to solve the case, which becomes more complex and dangerous with each new victim.

As they follow the leads, Phil and Connie navigate the seedy underbelly of the puppet world, encountering eccentric and often risque puppet characters who engage in all manner of vices and criminal activities. They soon realize that the motive behind the murders may be linked to a long-buried secret from the past of “The Happytime Gang.”

The film combines elements of crime investigation with dark humor, exploring the themes of discrimination and prejudice between puppets and humans.

“The Happytime Murders” is a raunchy and irreverent take on the traditional buddy cop genre, with a unique blend of puppetry and human actors, offering a twisted and adult-oriented look at the challenges of coexistence in a world where puppets and humans share the same space.

The Good

The Good: You ever feel you just watched a different movie than everyone else? When Eli Roth’s Death Wish came out, the internet was filled with hysterical people rendering clothes and crying on camera about how this was the wrong movie at the wrong time and how it supported the police gunning down innocent black men.

As a Death Wish film directed by Eli Roth, this claim seemed plausible. Throw in star Bruce Willis who had been slumming in direct to video hell for the last few years (For a very sad reason it turned out later). I bought the narrative hook, line, and sinker and sat down to with my popcorn to watch this tone deaf tragedy.

Anyone who has actually seen 2018’s Death Wish knows what happened next. As I said in my review, “In reality Death Wish is an action film that is barely an exploitation film and not the bloodstained act of violence some individual members of the media strangely painted it as.”

The Happytime Murders was painted by critics as unfunny and shocking and gross. Now Melissa McCarthy has been in some Paul Fieg films that certainly had those elements. But this was directed by Jim Henson’s son, Brian. His last theatrical film was Muppet Treasure Island. What level of depravity are we talking about here, people?

Well, somewhere between South Park’s Team America: World Police and Avenue Q. There are some sex jokes and risque humor. I wouldn’t bring your eight-year-old, but your teenager and grandmother both should be fine.

Turns out The Happytime Murders is a dick picture. But in this case, it is a private dick. A universe where puppets exist in real life are treated like second-class citizens and are addicted to sugar. Melissa McCarthy plays a police detective and her ex partner is a former disgraced cop now private eye who is a puppet.

Think the world of Who Framed Roger Rabbit mixed with Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid but with puppets. The Happytime Murders owes a lot to Who Killed Roger Rabbit, but it is its own thing. Unlike Roger Rabbit, there are no puppet celebrity cameos in this one and I think that is for the best. Happytime creates its own universe.

And it is a great universe. Seriously Happytime has some excellent and efficient world building. It also sports some superb acting. Melissa McCarthy is very solid and restrained as the lead. Elizabeth Banks is a hoot as former actress now stripper with a thing for the felt. But Maya Rudolph steals every scene she is in. I don’t recall her being any better than she is in Happytime Murders. Really top notch performance.

The puppeteering is also excellent. I know with modern green screen and CGI it is easier to erase puppeteers than before. Brian Henson still is not afraid to go to old school, however. The care and love he poured into the production is visible on the screen.

Oh, I almost forgot Happytime Murders is also hilarious. Not every bit and character works (see below) but I got some really good laughs watching this.

The Bad

The Bad: There are a few universe building things that seem well half baked. We have puppets that have no bones or organs, but somehow a human character gets a transplant for a puppet liver. Apparently puppets also reproduce in this universe, but with silly string? My head hurts.

Oh, and Joel “you got work for me” McHale is in this. His character makes little sense, and he is not very good in the film. Joel is apparently spending the actor’s strike hosting a reality show for called House of Villains where the worst reality show woman compete to see who can be most obnoxious. Crimes against humanity such as this need to be called out.

The Ugly

The Ugly: I will someday get the image of an octopus milking a cow for pleasure out of my system. Someday.

In Conclusion

In Conclusion: The Happytime Murders is a is the best puppet noir I have ever watched. Admittedly, it is also the only puppet noir I have ever watched. Still an often hilarious film with a decent story underneath its grimy felt exterior and a solid human cast. A genuinely good time at the movies that got a surprising amount of hate when it first came out.

I genuinely like Joel McHale, but his one note smarminess seems off compared to the rest of the film.
The puppet deaths are often violent… and hilarious.
I remember how we were all amazed when Kermit rode a bike in The Muppet Movie
Elizabeth Banks wearing a fur coat on her knees in an alley. I smell new Screen Saver.
Seriously, Maya Rudolph is the funniest thing in The Happytime Murders.
I think we have all had blackmail letters like this.
Okay. Small error by someone in props. As you can see from the cast photo below if it is not obvious from the mugshot. Lyle Finkelstein is definitely not white. At best, he is purple.
Maybe I am just a sucker for smart women like director Elizabeth Banks or perhaps mailman rabbits, but I would watch this show.
Speaking of shows I would watch. Law and Order SPU (Special Puppets Unit) would be a must see for me.
I love the detail work like the raincoat on the bunny Puppet (Mr. Bumblypants) while in the sex shop.
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