The Happytime Murders was never going to be a box office smash but it is destined for midnight movie status.
Within days of its release the film was already being panned as one of the worst of the year, something not remotely true. It’s not for everyone but it’s ambitious as hell and one of the weirdest movies to hit mainstream cinema in decades.
The film is directed by Brian Henson, son of famed Muppet creator Jim Henson, so you already know you’re in good hands. In a world where puppets and humans co-exist it is puppets which have been selected for every racist and xenophobic stereotype around. Merely by being different they are treated as second class citizens by everyone from people on the street to the FBI.
The audience gets to see the world though jaded Private Eye Phil Phllips, a disgraced puppet detective in Los Angeles. From the start there are shades of Chinatown and The Long Goodbye but with puppets. Make no mistake though, this isn’t a film afraid to push the limits. Within the five minutes we get to watch puppet porn being made between an octopus and a cow, it’s that kind of movie. But in the hands of Brian Henson, who last directed Muppet Treasure Island, it still has a lot of heart.
The plot really gets rolling when Phil teams up with his former human partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to find out who has been murdering the cast of the 90s sitcom The Happytime Gang, one of which was Phil’s brother. Along the way Henson creates a truly unique world with rules and laws that make sense in a universe where puppets and humans evolved at the same time. It’s weird, it’s outlandish, but it works.
This isn’t the first time audiences have seen puppets go bad, but it is the first time it’s been in a movie so mainstream. Up until now there was just the very obscure Meet the Feebles (done by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson) and Greg the Bunny, the short lived but fantastic puppet fantasy show on FOX from the early 2000s. Happytime Murders improves on both but, unlike the Muppets, was never around to win hearts. This one is for adults that just want to have a good, weird time at the movies.
Is Happytime Murders going to win an Oscar? No, though it probably deserves one for special effects. But it is a film well worth seeing in theaters if only for its sheer uniqueness. If you are the type to complain about the lack of originality in Hollywood but don’t see this movie you’re missing out.