Sesame Street was undoubtedly a memorable part of immeasurable childhoods over the past fifty years, me included. So now, after Jim Henson’s work left such an impression on millions, his son Brian (The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island), presses old Father Kermit T. Frog’s legacy further. What has he brought us today? No number lessons. No dandy songs. No celebration of differences. No hilarious skits. Now about the skits, I can say several Sesame Street YouTube clips I have watched in the past had me literally rolling on the floor laughing, they were clearly made by passionate experts who knew how to entertain kids and adults alike. Yet The Happytime Murders, despite attempts to satirize our inclusion issues like last year’s Bright, fails to entertain anybody.
First, it’s hard to believe the puppetry in this flick seems run by people who never touched a sock before in their lives. Remember how Bert and Ernie’s skits were always funny despite their immobile faces? The puppeteers’ simple rhythmic hand gestures breathed out incredible tangible emotions that brought Bert and Ernie to life. Here, the felt figures always remain rigid, as if the crew controlling them were simply told, “move your thumb up and down to make the jaw move,” that’s it. Nothing else generated a hint of life from those static faces.
In fact, why use puppets at all? The only way the story integrates puppets into its scenarios happens when one bully rips off a puppet’s eye in the first scene. Other than that, the puppets’ species identification leaves zero effect on the plot; use mammals, mutants, or orcs instead, and everything would stay the same. That applies also to a liver transplant Melissa McCarthy’s character got from her puppet partner; make it an orc liver and nothing changes.
The folks behind Black Bear Pictures completely misunderstood that for something to be a social commentary, it must mirror reality accurately. Case in point, inside this version of modern Los Angeles, poachers are shown exactly once illegally trading puppets’ feet… apparently it really happens nowadays? These screenwriters should‘ve focused further on the word “Dummies,” a racial slur for puppets, but like the puppet poaching, it’s only mentioned once briefly.
If you somehow saw The Happytime Murders already, you most likely forgot those parts until I reminded you. Apparently, a sex tape of a squid milking a cow has priority over detailed worldbuilding (again, the fact that they’re puppets is irrelevant). Oh, that’s right. There’s hardcore porn in this movie! And it gets better: a puppet dalmatian tortures its firefighter tied to a bed, fifty shades style! But that’s nothing compared to the masterful potty humor that happens in between, when one bunny puppet caught eye-to-gun pees glitter then craps Easter eggs. The comedy works because… well… who knows!?
Then a full-on, surprisingly dull sex scene happens between two puppets that climaxes with semen made of silly string shooting onto the office walls. During my college days, I learned six key comedy rules:
1. Comedy is Conflict.
2. Comedy is Conviction.
3. Comedy is Deception.
4. Comedy is Greatest Wish and Worst Fear.
5. Comedy is Truth.
6. Comedy is Chaos and Anarchy.
Said office sex accomplishes just 1 out of 6.
Maybe a better editor could have turned the awfully written jokes decent, but I honestly doubt it, the loud anti-comedian Melissa McCarthy’s irksome double-bladed insults puts her at an ultimate low. Although the ultimate reason why these jokes fall flat is simply because nobody working on this understood basic puppet psychology; why did they think puppets snort hyper sucrose through licorice instead of cocaine? Because it’s related to kids? What shallow thinking! Brian Henson clearly was going for a mix between a satirical buddy cop thriller that counteracts that of a “playtime” atmosphere yet because of the low contrast in the image, he can’t even get the basics of that right. The color grading is not the only thing creating an amateurish look though, the puppeteers’ erased green screen suits behind their puppets can be very clearly spotted, which somehow still looks less cheap than the outdoor highlights blown out by the sun.
If none of that was bad enough, the writers throw in hinted puppet-human romances that haunts your senses to the levels of Howard the Duck under the bedsheets beside Lea Thompson. Why can’t these dissimilar species just be friends? Oh right, racial allegory, duh! Hilarious, in celebrating integration of differences, The Happytime Murders unintentionally says people ought to pursue romance with their own kind, because anything apart from that becomes borderline bestiality.
Honestly, it infuriates quite a lot to see such miniscule effort send Jim Henson’s grave spinning. Why must our relationships alongside inanimate human-shaped objects come to this?
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
The Happytime Murders. Powster. Web. <https://www.thehappytimemurders.movie/>.
Velino, Kartia. “‘Happytime Murders’ is the most miserable puppet show ever.” Digital image. Kartia Velino. Smartcat, 22 Aug 2018. Web. <https://www.kartiavelino.com/2018/08/happytime-murders-is-the-most-miserable-puppet-show-ever.html>.