Why ‘The Happytime Murders’ Matters?
Henson Alternative bridgeing childhood and adulthood.
There has been very few films this year that have impacted me as much as The Happytime Murders.
Yes…you heard me right…The Happytime Murders, the adult themed puppet movie recently released by The Jim Henson Company.
Where films like Annihilation left me speechless, Avengers: Infinity War devastated, the only movie that I constantly think about and confounds me is The Happytime Murders. The reasoning…Well, as an avid Muppets’ fan it’s hard to watch your childhood slip away. The puppets in this film are unlike anything you’ve seen before in a Henson production. They have sex, do drugs, explode into heaps of felt and fur when shot, swear, and are all together nasty and crude. However, maybe that’s a good thing.
Let me explain…Like many others, I had no idea that this movie existed until seeing a Red Band trailer in front of my Deadpool 2 screening (a truly clever bit of viral marketing). Also, just like Deadpool 2, the movie is gross, harsh, offensive, but at the same time witty, sharp, heartfelt, and hilarious.
The plot is simple because it’s a murder mystery where private investigator, Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta), teams up with his former cop partner, Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), as they try to track down a serial killer known for targeting once-famous cast members of the puppet TV show, “The Happytime Gang.” The plot is just there so the characters have something to do. The real reason the movie exists is to watch puppets act outrageously, and it takes some time to get used to all the scandalous behavior. In fact, during the beginning of the film in the porn shop, I questioned if I should walk out. Nonetheless, as the movie progressed, I got behind the characters, the project, and Henson Alternative as a brand.
The importance here is the film is a cultural touchstone. Yes, there have been mature puppet projects in the past, including Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles and broadway play Avenue Q. However, there isn’t anything of this magnitude from the innovative Jim Henson Company (whose last arguably, but truly revolutionary film was The Dark Crystal (1982), which changed the face of the company and scared the shit out of me when I was a kid). That was the first Henson production to not use any human counterparts. It’s puppets all the way in The Dark Crystal, which is why it’s a standout for the genre, and furthermore a statement to Hollywood that puppets can drive a film.
The Happytime Murders even touches upon this notion in its storytelling. A major plot point being that puppets here are second class citizens—just as The Henson Company and its products are considered by most as second rate entertainment. In a world where CGI is so prevalent in film, they should be adored for their use of practical effects—even if it’s used in a manner to shock and awe the audience.
The Happytime Murders is a risk for the family-friendly company whose projects are mostly partnered with Disney (not surprisingly absent here). The film was even sued for its tagline “No Sesame. All Street.” by the company rival called the Sesame Workshop—a case where the movie won. Brian Henson (son of Jim) has clearly dedicated a lot of time and effort into getting this project of the ground (it has been in development hell since 2011), and he clearly has a passion for bringing puppets to as many audiences as possible; including to adults.
The Happytime Murders is a film that perfectly bridges childhood and adulthood. It’s a wonderful start for Henson Alternative, and a fun movie to watch. Also, to be honest, I’d rather watch this movie than a third “traditional” Muppet film, and that’s something to praise not condemn.