Taking a medium usually synonymous with children and aiming it squarely at adults is not a new concept but it is one that can work very effectively. Team America did it, as did South Park (no coincidence that they came from the same creative minds) and it has been done to some degree before with puppets but never from some of the people behind The Muppets. The Happytime Murders changes that and while The Muppet magic is clear in some places, this film does seem to stray too far out of their comfort zone.
From the beginning the film makes it clear that this is not Kermit and buddies doing a police drama. It is a detective story but set in a world where puppets and humans co-exist and the puppets are second class citizens. This is introduced with crude, sweary, adult humour that will raise a smile. There is always something novel about seeing characters which resemble those aimed at children doing very disgusting things and The Happytime Murders plays this to the maximum.
A lot of the time this goes over really well. It can be very funny in places and clever ideas are mixed into a world well worth exploring. It is clear that this comes from the Henson House because the puppets are treated with respect and the world they inhabit is fully formed. This means you get great asides like puppets “snorting rock candy” or special “puppet hospitals” which aren’t necessarily vital to the plot but help you believe the world which has been created. This is pushed further by the great characters.
The Happytime Murders is a simple detective story, playing off every noir cliche it can. From the mysterious “Dame” bringing a case to a wider conspiracy and main character Phil, a disgraced cop now Private Eye, is a perfect stereotypical, forlorn hero. It is to reluctant human partner Melissa McCarthy’s credit that they have such great chemistry together. From their begrudging respect to the awful insults they throw at each other, it feels like these characters have known each other forever and helps you get involved in the movie.
The case itself is a good one and considering this is a comedy about puppets, the mystery is also fairly decent too. It won’t take much brain power to work out the killer or the motive or any twist that arrives but it isn’t so simplistic that you ever get bored.
You may stop laughing though. The comedy clearly comes from puppets doing inappropriate things and like any novelty, this soon wears thin. The swearing stops shocking, the sexual scenes don’t feel as distasteful and you start rolling your eyes at the immature humour rather than finding the funny in it throughout.
Overall, The Happyime Murders is a decent comedy that corrupts an aspect of many people’s childhood. The puppets and humans come to life together well in a world which is expertly realised. The story is entertaining enough and will keep you hooked, even long after the jokes have stopped landing.
Rating – 3.5
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