The Happytime Murders Review

The Happytime Murders
When a killer targets the puppet cast of ’90s TV show The Happytime Gang, ex-cop puppet private eye and prime suspect Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) re-teams with his old, human partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to find the culprit and clear his name.

by Dan Jolin |
Published on
Release Date:

27 Aug 2018

Original Title:

The Happytime Murders

The idea of an ‘adults only’ puppet-based comedy is hardly stuffed with novelty value. Way back in 1989, Peter Jackson orchestrated cat-on-walrus fellatio — among countless other felt-based atrocities — in his knowingly distasteful Meet The Feebles. More recently we got Avenue Q on the stage and Team America: World Police on the big screen. But The Happytime Murders does give the freaky-fuzzy sub-genre a bit of a fresh spin, with a neat Roger Rabbit-esque set-up that establishes a world where puppets exist alongside humans, even if they’re treated as inorganic inferiors.

The Happytime Murders

At its heart is a classic mismatched-cop partnership, with weary, blue-felt gumshoe Phil (performed by long-time Muppeteer Barretta), once the only puppet on the LAPD, reluctantly pairing up with his abrasive former partner Connie (McCarthy) after his actor brother is murdered by a mysterious killer intent on wiping out the cast of an old TV show, all of them puppets (aside from Elizabeth Banks’ token human). Thanks to the expertise of Barretta’s puppetry, you quickly forget one half of this buddy-comedy double act is a glorified hand in a sock, and in addition to the banter they pull off, you can even feel the affection between these two characters as they gradually get over their past differences and re-warm to each other.

The sad truth is, it’s just not that funny.

The world, too, is impressively mounted, with director Brian Henson (son of Jim) obviously a dab, sock-swathed hand at this. CGI-assisted puppets strut and scamper around the streets of LA like it’s the most natural thing in the world, whether they’re lifting weights on Muscle Beach, snorting sugar in a poker den, or performing bizarre sexual acts for porn videos (look out for some milky, Feebles-esque octopus-cow action).

Yes, that’s right: Happytime revels in its shaggy-puppet not-for-kids-ness. But totally overdoes it, flogging the same shtick until it’s numb. The sad truth is, it’s just not that funny — a crucial failing in a comedy. The gags fly like fur during a catfight, but far too few of them land, relying too much on the incongruity of cute(ish) googly-eyed toy-things saying and doing bawdy things.

It says a lot that the movie’s funniest sequence features no puppets at all, just a brief teaming of McCarthy with Maya Rudolph (as Phil’s secretary Bubbles). As if, without any brightly hued, bouncy creations around, Henson and co realised they had to really focus on the comedy interplay. Elsewhere, it’s all about lame sex gags (silly-string jizz!), drug references that fall flat (puppets get high on sugar, ha ha?) and saying rude words.

So for all the meta-culture-clashing promise of the world, when it comes to delivering actual laughs, The Happytime Murders fluffs it.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit meets Meets The Feebles, in a disappointing adult comedy that never lives up to the promise of its premise.
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