Life has been tough for our felt friends since the passing of Jim Henson in May of 1990. All the Muppet movies after the great Muppet master’s death have been mediocre and recently ABC cancelled the recent Muppet show The Muppets, after one season. The saving grace for felt fans was the Tony Award-winning musical, Avenue Q, which is an “adult” take on Sesame Street, another Jim Henson creation.
When I saw the poster for The Happytime Murders it contained the tag line “No Sesame No Street.” I thought, “Maybe this will be like Avenue Q?” I was also especially thrilled to see the director was no other than Jim Henson’s son, Brian, and the production company was under his tutelage, “ha! Henson Alternative.” This sounded like the perfect recipe for some great felt fantasia. Sadly, this film is filled with terrible jokes, poor acting, continuity errors, and a bad story. You should not waste your time and money and simply re-watch Labyrinth for the millionth time.
The film sets up your typical “film noir” with puppet detective Phil Philips, voiced by Bill Barretta, scoping out the mean streets of Las Angeles where puppets and humans live alongside each, though puppets are often ridiculed or mistreated. A strange, beautiful, puppet woman shows up in his detective’s office and asks for his help in homage to Chinatown. As Philips dives deeper into her case, he accidently is nearby during the first of many murders of cast members from the fictional hit 1980’s show, The Happytime Gang. As he tries to find the murderer he is teamed up with his ex-human partner, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), who he must solve the case with.
I must say first, the puppetry is quite impressive throughout the film. I was impressed to see puppets do very human actions, such as lift weights, which they used green screen technology to achieve. During the end credits, they show how all the complex, puppet scenes were made, which actually was the most interesting part of the film. I must give a big kudos to Henson’s team for providing a quality puppet experience for the viewer.
With that, the jokes are not funny. A few times I laughed out loud, but that was after the film spewed one hundred one-liners that I simply shook my head at. If you throw one hundred darts at a target, you will probably get at least one bulls eye. The jokes are excessive and often the same humor you would hear from a teenager who probably just finished his or her childhood stage of watching Sesame Street. I felt dumber after leaving the film.
Melissa McCarthy does the best job she can with the material. Some of her expressions seem off because she is struggling to deliver such poor lines of dialogue that simply are stating the obvious or should be actions and not statements. The human characters don’t speak like normal humans do; they don’t even speak like how puppets would, but more like robots saying words in hopes of developing a flimsy story.
The story is the same L.A. Noir I have seen countless times. Trouble in Hollywood with the murder of a famous actor, which leads a booze-filled, retired Private Investigator on the case. Somehow Henson thought it would be funny to be as cliché as possible. Instead, it would have been much more fun and completely less predictable if he directed an original story. How about a puppet revenge film? That would have been original and could have lead to more possibilities of originality.
Acting and shots are also off throughout the film. I understand the material was bad, but most characters were rather generic or sterile, which is off putting in an imaginative world where you can sew an arm back on. This may be the filmmaker in me, but you can easily see objects and people move or are missing from one shot to the next, which for me was jarring. How did the director or the continuity team not see this?
I had high hopes for this felt film but it left me more nostalgic for past puppet times. The film often reminisces of the good ole’ times when people cared about the show within the film The Happytime Gang from the 1980’s and how no one cares about puppets now. Ironically, this is true in real life and a self-fulfilling prophecy, because all the recent puppet films and shows have been bad and the good stuff is also from the 1980’s. There is plenty of previous puppet content out there made by Jim Henson that is far more worth your time and money than this film. I truly hope someone will spearhead good puppet films and content once again so I can smile and laugh at dancing felt again.