Puppets may be more associated with the kid friendly, family adventure section of the entertainment world, but they also go very well with cheeky humour as well. From stage show Avenue-Q, to series Mongrels and the occasional in-jokes of The Muppets and Fraggle Rock, the small, cute and cuddly creatures work greatly when juxtaposed with dark humour. So when Brian Henson (and The Jim Henson Company), announced a new puppet/live-action project with an edge, I was excited. We have The Muppets and Sesame Street taking care of the young ones but this would be exclusively for us grown ups.
Sadly, despite the talents of Henson’ s creature workshop and Melissa MaCarthy as star, The Happytime Murders is lifeless and forgettable.
The Happytime Murders is set in a world where puppets and humans live side by side but definitely not in harmony. Puppets are considered lower class citizens by human everywhere. When Private Investigator (and a puppet) Phil Phillips is hired to find the sender of threatening letters, he stumbles across the murder scene of a former TV bunny. Phil believes someone is taking out members of former TV programne The Happytime Gang. When Phil teams up with his ex-police partner Connie Edwards, (McCarthy) the pair stumble on a plot bigger than just murder.
The film is directed by Brian Henson, Son of Muppet creator Jim Henson. Brian has a long history in puppetry but also directed arguably the greatest Muppets outing, The Muppets Christmas Carol.
In terms of story, this is pretty standard for a cop drama: Ex-partners reunite on unsolved case and uncover their backstory in the process. It’s not original but for the concept it’s the humour you turn in for.
The film has two major problems. Firstly, it’s not funny. A few quick gags here and there but neither the premise nor the script is good. Soon into the film it’s clear it relies on characters and puppets telling each other to “f-off” as it’s main source of humour. This wears thin quickly.
The second problem the film has is that it does not know what it wants to be. Is it pure slapstick or a cop buddy story? The film never decides which route to take so is painfully stuck inbetween. The inconsistent tone, alongside bad humour makes the film a complete mess.
The talent of the puppet makers is still seen here. The range and look of the creatures is still what you would expect from such a company. Less lively than the companies previous film efforts, perhaps to make them fit in against their human setting. Yet in trying to make the puppets more human, they have diluted the fun and energy puppets usually bring to a project.
The cast is led by Melissa McCarthy. There is no doubt that McCarthy is a talented actress, with brilliant comedic skills but this absolutely wastes her in every way. She has no real story or script to work with. Also the jokes around her appearance also reflect a major problem with the film industry. McCarthy is a very pretty actress, yet not being slim seems to pigeonhole her for fat or manly jokes. Nether are accurate and neither work as comedy in the film.
Phil Phillips is voiced by puppeteer Bill Beretta, who fails to inject any life or charisma into his character. Small roles from Elizabeth Banks and Maya Rudolph add nothing to the film. No amount of on screen talent could save a bad script.
A dull and lifeless film that wastes the talent of its actors and puppets makers.
The Happytime Murders is out in cinemas now!