The Happytime Murders




'The Muppets' show all in this lurid black comedy aimed at juvenile adults.

Happytime Murders

Puppet on a sting: Joel McHale with Phil Phillips


Presumably there is a public for this priapic puppetry. A sort of Chinatown with a message – and puppets – this black comedy from the adult arm of The Jim Henson Company is not exactly the first of its kind. A couple of precedents includes the stage hit Avenue Q and Trey Parker's 2004 film Team America: World Police. Somehow, if you’re working with puppets, you can get away with much more smut. The difference here is that there are humans in the mix (à la Avenue Q), along with a meaningful agenda concerning racism, of sorts.


The film opens in a parallel Los Angles in which the underclass has fuzzy skin, short stature and, apparently, genuine bodily fluids. The tale is narrated in true Chandleresque style by Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta), the only puppet to make the LAPD, only to be debarred for accidently shooting (and killing) a passer-by. Phil is now a PI and is hired by a fuzzy nymphomaniac who just loves to be felt (geddit?). She claims to be blackmailed by an anonymous hand, but when Phil investigates, he stumbles upon a far more disturbing case. The non-human cast of the TV sitcom The Happytime Gang is being systematically murdered, leading Phil to team up with his erstwhile LAPD partner, the sugar-addicted, all-too-human Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy). Like all cinematic partnerships of the law-enforcing kind, Phil and Connie are a mismatched pair, only more so. She tells him to get stuffed, but he already is.


Melissa McCarthy, whose potty mouth reaches new depths here, co-produces with her husband Ben Falcone, teaming up with co-producer and director Brian Gibson, the son of Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets. It’s odd that the father’s son should be so derisive of his father’s legacy, as these puppets are subjected to acts of unimaginable perversion.


Melissa McCarthy’s regular co-star Maya Rudolph plays Phil’s secretary, Bubbles, and certainly enters into the spirit of the thing, introducing us to an entirely new depravity called “pilaffing.” One can sense the juvenile delectation of the puppeteers as these characters are subjected to ever-baser acts of deviation, let alone annihilation. Anybody who witnessed Peter Jackson’s second film, the anarchic 1989 Meet the Feebles, will know where this is coming from. No doubt The Happytime Murders will have its champions, while one scene – the ultimate ‘money shot’ – will go down in history alongside Jeff Daniels’ lavatorial affliction in Dumb and Dumber. Sweet.




Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie David Baker, Ben Falcone, with the voices of Bill Barretta, Dorien Davies, Kevin Clash, Drew Massey, Brian Henson.


Dir Brian Henson, Pro Brian Henson, Jeff Hayes, Jason Lust, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, Screenplay Todd Berger, from a story by Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robertson, Ph Mitchell Amundsen, Pro Des Chris L. Spellman, Ed Brian Scott Olds, Music Christopher Lennertz, Costumes Arjun Bhasin.


Black Bear Pictures/Henson Alternative/H.Brothers/On the Day Productions/STXfilms-STX International.

90 mins. USA/China. 2018. Rel: 27 August 2018. Cert. 15.