Growing up with puppets is a normal part of life. You grow out of that life thinking these fluffy characters are fun and friendly and full of wisdom. And then there’s the adult versions of these fluffy characters. The rude, crude and highly adulterating puppets that ruin all these fond memories you might have left from your childhood. The Happytime Murders makes sure of that.
In a world where puppets live among humans, though an unwanted and neglected minority, ex-Detective Phil Phillips finds himself in the middle of a killing spree. But the spree is specific to the puppets from a 90s TV show The Happytime Gang, which includes his brother.
Teaming up with his old partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), the two race against time as the cast members of the Happytime gang start to be murdered one by one. With the help of Phillips secretary Bubbles (Maya Rudolph) the three manage to solve the crime and overcome some personal differences.
The one thing that has come to be expected of adult puppetry is the humour and for the most part the Happytime Murders fits that profile. However, the humour doesn’t carry all the way through as you would expect, aside from the foul language deserving of a soapy mouth wash. But when the humour hits, albeit only because a puppet is doing it, it’ll easily have you giggling.
The film has been in production since 2008 with a number of A-listers lined up to star alongside the puppets. And while the script underwent a number of rewrites, some of which were from McCarthy, the storyline itself isn’t anything to write home about. But when you consider it’s a movie with puppets, it’s rather clever and original. Where the film falls is in that they try to introduce as many puppets and human puppet interaction as possible, sometimes feeling a little forced.
Narrating and driving the film is puppet Detective Phil Phillips voiced by Bill Barretta. Now for those of you who haven’t been following the puppetry scene, Barretta has quite the ensemble of characters he voices in the Muppet universe. He has Pepe the King Prawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear, Dr. Teeth (The Muppet band leader), Rowlf, Swedish Chef and Lew Zealand.
Barretta is without a doubt a talented voice over artist and narrates the story with style, charisma and some dulcet tones that will have any puppet wanting more. Having to portray almost all emotion with his voice when a puppet has only one look seemed all too easy for Barretta as he captures the emotion to carry Phil Phillips.
Alongside the leading puppet is leading lady and human, Melissa McCarthy as Detective Connie Edwards. McCarthy slips into her traditional comedy shtick as the loud mouth over the top gal. While her execution is funny, it’s nothing new for McCarthy and almost slightly predictable. That isn’t to say her scenes aren’t done well, they’ll have you giggling all the way along, but it’s nothing you haven’t already seen from her.
Happytime Murders managed to pull some other worthy actors in for the ride with Maya Rudolph as Detective Phil Phillips’ caring and sassy secretary Bubbles. Joel McHale as the annoying FBI agent and Elizabeth Banks as Jenny, the love interest for Phillips.
Overall the film has some funny and somewhat crude humour, but it’s not hilarious. The puppetry is without a doubt spot on bringing back memories of Sesame Street. While there are some laugh out loud parts and some strong messages in the undertow, there is nothing memorable about it. It’s not something that will leave you thinking about once you’ve left the cinema. It’s funny to watch and it’s clever to think how it all came together so nicely. But it needed to push some more boundaries to really hit the spot.