The Happytime Murders
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
The Happytime Murders is a very hard R-rated comedy set in a world where humans and puppets live side-by-side. Puppet PI Phil Philips must team up with his former partner, human cop Connie Edwards, after the cast members of a beloved puppet television show start turning up dead. The plot, reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, is just an excuse for many scenes of puppets swearing, doing drugs and having sex. Some of that stuff is funny, but too much of the movie relies on the idea of puppets doing these things instead of actually using the setup for clever jokes. That is a shame because the cast has some good moments and the puppeteers do really impressive work. This is a very juvenile production that consistently mistakes vulgarity for comedy.
Oddly, for a movie with such a high-concept gimmick, the human characters are more interesting than the puppet ones. Phil is the only puppet given a real personality. The rest are introduced just enough for the gags to make sense. On the other hand, Melissa McCarthy as Detective Edwards, Maya Rudolph as Phil’s assistant, Leslie David Baker as a police Lieutenant, Joel McHale as an FBI agent and Elizabeth Banks as the lone human cast member of the old tv show are all given funny bits. Unlike their puppet counterparts, they are not expected to get laughs merely because they are being offensive.
Even though it is derivative of the far superior Roger Rabbit, the world of The Happytime Murders is kind of interesting. If only the filmmakers did anything with it. In a half-baked commentary on modern-day race relations, puppets are treated like second-class citizens. They are disrespected and denied work. Many of them live in run-down neighborhoods and are addicted to sugar (which is the puppet equivalent of cocaine). There are a lot of amusing things that could be done with this concept. The Happytime Murders (78 minutes, plus some outtakes over the end credits) does pretty much none of them. That leaves the relentless raunch, which misses more than it hits.
One of the things I found curious while watching this movie is the inconsistent logic when it comes to the inner workings of the puppets. They can be punched, thrown around and one has his eye ripped off, all to no effect. They have no bones, yet, apparently, they have internal organs. A bullet to the head kills them for some reason and they can even procreate. I am fascinated by the science at work here. Of course, these things are completely irrelevant to what The Happytime Murders is actually attempting to do. They are not the type of things I would have been thinking about if I had been enjoying myself.
When it comes down to it, the most important thing about a comedy is if it makes you laugh. Everything else can be easily forgiven if it can do that one job. Humor is extremely subjective. I did not laugh much at this particular comedy, but if this sounds like your sense of humor, you will probably laugh a lot. It has a weird sort of amateurish charm to it and the puppet designs are fun to look at. I can see The Happytime Murders becoming a cult film. However, that is not a cult I will be joining.
2 out of 5
Bill Barretta as Phil Philips, Junkyard, Boar
Melissa McCarthy as Detective Connie Edwards
Maya Rudolph as Bubbles
Elizabeth Banks as Jenny
Leslie David Baker as Lieutenant Banning
Joel McHale as Agent Campbell
Dorien Davies as Sandra
Directed by Brian Henson
Screenplay by Todd Berger