This is the first movie directed by Brian Henson since Muppet Treasure Island, and the first under his “HA” or “Henson Alternative” brand. It’s absolutely an R-rated comedy, a spoof on the gritty crime noir dramas.
The Happytime Murders posits a world in which puppets are real and walk around on their own, but are still puppets. As such, they are often looked down upon by humans, and seen only for entertainment purposes. P.I. Phil Phillips used to be a detective, but then missed a shot while trying to save his human partner, Detective Connie Edwards who had been taken hostage by a puppet. He missed shooting the puppet, and instead shot an innocent puppet bystander in the background. Because of this, Detective Edwards pushed to get him kicked off the force, claiming that puppets could not be cops, because they wouldn’t go after other puppets who had committed crimes.
Then, just as Phil gets hired by a puppet named Sandra to find out who is blackmailing her, Phil’s brother and his castmates from the show Happy Time start getting murdered, and it’s up to Edwards and Phillips to put their past behind them to work together to solve the case.
If that sounds a bit sketchy to you, you’re right. The movie uncomfortably starts with the “puppets as a minority” narrative and pushes way too hard to enforce the R rating. There are some funny moments here and there, but really – the movie is just not nearly as hilarious as it should be. Watching McCarthy beat up a room full of puppet thugs after snorting a line of pure sugar was entertaining, as well as some of the side-jokes that came as a result of the puppets being puppets – after one of them washes up on the beach, cops have to wring him out. Overall, it was just too uneven and had way too much ‘gross’ humor, which I found unnecessary. You can certainly earn your R rating without attempting to make everybody nauseous (the sugar as puppet-heroin joke went too far; the puppet porn shop went too far; the puppets getting torn up by dogs went too far; the puppet sex scene - yes, there's a puppet sex scene - went too far). What I enjoyed was watching the outtakes over the end credits – clearly the Muppeteers had a great time making this movie, and cracked each other up.
- Melissa McCarthy plays Detective Connie Edwards, who thanks to Phil’s missed shot ends up with a puppet liver and a bad addiction to sugar. She did what she could with what she was given.
- Elizabeth Banks plays Jenny, who may or may not be in on it?
- Maya Rudolph plays Bubbles, Phil’s assistant who is more capable than she seems at first.
- Leslie David Baker plays Lt. Banning, the cop in charge who has had enough of your crap.
- Joel McHale plays Agent Campbell, the FBI agent who tries to step in and take over the investigation, but is not the sharpest tool in the shed.
- Notable muppet performers were Bill Barretta as Phil Phillips, Dorien Davies as Sandra, Kevin Clash as Lyle, and Drew Massey as Goffer. Also, Brian Henson himself plays a crab in a garbage can.
Overall, the potential was there for this to be a live-action Roger Rabbit style flick, and it fell short. I hope it doesn’t eliminate their chances of trying again.
5 out of 10 – just not nearly funny enough. Watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit again to see this done better.
Do not watch Cool World.