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The Happytime Murders (2018) Movie Review By Stephen McLaughlin

The Happytime Murders

Director: Brian Henson
Writers: Todd Berger (screenplay by), Todd Berger (story by)
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph

The Happytime Murders reminded me so much of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in many ways. Instead of “Toons” being the second class citizens of the world, it is the puppets who are disrespected and when the cast of a ’90s puppet TV show begin to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet Phil Philips (Barretta) takes on the case.

Released in late Summer 2018 the movie was already receiving bad publicity as the Sesame Workshop sued the team behind The Happytime Murders for the tagline, “No sesame. All street,” claiming that the film tarnished their reputation. Interestingly the lawsuit was rejected by the courts and soon after, the studio issued a statement, saying they were very pleased that the ruling reinforced what the studios intention was from the very beginning and that was to honour the heritage and memory of The Jim Henson Company’s previous creations while making a clear distinction between any Muppets or Sesame Street characters and the new world Brian Henson and team created. Personally I feel the tag line was pretty weak to begin with and wasn’t worth the hassle of a law suit.

The storyline is a classic whodunnit template and I think this is probably the only negative I had with the film. The plot was a little predictable and the so-called twist you could see a mile off. Now I have that out the way I can honestly say that I actually enjoyed most of the film. Melissa McCarthy’s performance as Detective Connie Edwards, a former police partner of Philips is great. McCarthy in her mannerisms and delivery remind me so much of John Goodman. Edwards is very similar to Philips in beliefs and police protocol. I think the chemistry worked when both former partners were at loggerheads with each other the most. The in-house fighting and line delivery made me laugh and I don’t mind admitting that.

Voicing Phil Philips was Bill Barretta. A veteran voice actor who has a long line and history with a lot of Jim Henson made productions. I’ll be honest and say although I was a massive “The Muppet Show” fan growing up in the late 70’s and early 80’s I didn’t care too much for the cinematic exploits of the Muppet gang and the name Bill Barretta wasn’t that familiar with me. Hey we didn’t have IMDb back in the day to check the cast to see who voiced who. Barretta is terrific as the ex-Cop. Grumpy, bitter and carrying a massive chip on his shoulder towards his ex-partner Edwards was good to watch. 

The Happytime Murders is a technically successful movie. Back in the day of the muppets or to be fair most puppetry on TV we had to accept our favourite characters had to be behind a desk and we only saw the top half of their body. Throw into that, we could clearly see the rods controlling their arms. It didn’t bother us watching them entertain but that was then and this is now. The film boasts some very clever techniques in making us believe puppets live amongst us. We witness them crossing the road, walking down the street, eating in restaurants. It’s all here and shot beautifully. The tone of the film is also a plus point. The humour is evidently adult orientated and possibly in the same vain as Ted or Team America. Very close to the bone humour and at times very surreal but always funny. The characters whether puppets or human connect well and this is another element of the film that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Put it this way, if the puppets weren’t so obviously puppets you would forget that they aren’t real to begin with. 

Brian Henson as Director will probably feel a little disappointed in the audiences reaction and feedback to this film in regards to plot. There is no hiding from it. The fact is you can carry a film with great acting from a good cast and enjoy the delights of the technical aspects to a degree, but if the storyline is weak then people aren’t going to connect with it or for that matter go back to it time and time again. Overall I wasn’t going into the film with high expectations. I liked most of what I witnessed in comedy, performance and visuals but felt the filmmakers missed a trick by not investing too much in the story. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t recommend giving it a watch. In fact I think it has enough in it for a one off enjoyable experience. Recommend.