If you are going in expecting The Happytime Murders to be somewhere near the same level of funny as Sausage Party (depending if you liked it), lower your expectations now. This was a movie that was supposed to “ruin” the childhood of many of us who grew up on Sesame Street, while also giving a big middle finger to the ‘wholesomeness’ of Disney. Ultimately it tried too hard to be an adult movie about puppets.
The last time we got a really good puppet movie was 2004’s Team America: World Police and before that, we got a good melding with human/cartoonish characters in a gumshoe mystery in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit? It’s sad to think that The Happytime Murders will not be as memorable as the two aforementioned movies.
When we look briefly at what went wrong with the movie, we can see that the majority of the problem lies in the story. Todd Berger and Brian Henson (one of Jim’s sons) took a very lazy approach in trying to deliver a detective story that we all have heard and seen before. But, they just wanted to add foul mouthed puppets; which alone wouldn’t have been bad…if the story went somewhere. What audiences are left with is a very predictable buddy cop story about puppets who are being killed off one by one due to a long-standing grudge. If you have seen enough of these stories, then you already know who committed the murders within the first 20 minutes of the movie.
In setting up this world visually, as stated earlier, Henson and company just tried too hard. This was a world where puppets were treated as second class citizens by humans, and many were down on their luck. Thus, the gags relied too much on trying to sell the hard times — like sugar being the drug of choice, puppet hookers, and one disturbingly funny scene of a cow and an octopus mating…yes that happened. The gag works depending on your sensibilities and your love of dark humor.
The other issue is that depending on whether or not you saw the red band trailer, the best part of the movie was given away. My thought was that again, Henson and crew tried too hard to sell audiences on the foul-mouthed puppets, not realizing that shows like Crank Yankers had already did a good job of that.
Beyond that, the human actors did a competent job of attempting to keep this threadbare movie afloat. Melissa McCarthy did well in her role as Detective Edwards; an officer who is trying to solve the murders with her ex partner Phil Phillips (voiced by Bill Barretta). McCarthy gives a good performance by being able to meld into both human and puppet worlds seamlessly. It’s almost a waste of her talent being in this movie. Leslie David Baker gives a good performance here as well in his role as Lt. Banning, but the real gem of this movie is Maya Rudolph in her supporting role as Bubbles; Phillips’ secretary. Although Rudolph’s time on screen is minimal, almost every scene she is in is hilarious — both for her lines and her expressions as well.
The Happytime Murders will not break any new ground as far as being a solid movie. The gags are hit and miss and the story is predictable. It feels more like the director just threw jokes at the wall hoping that something would stick rather than plan this one out well. You will get a few good chuckles from this, but I can’t really say this is a must see movie, as we were lead to believe.
2 Cow Udders out of 5