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Blu-ray Review: The Happytime Murders

December 5, 2018

By John Corrado

★½ (out of 4)

Set in an alternate version of Los Angeles where humans and puppets live side by side, but puppets are treated like second class citizens, The Happytime Murders is a film that had potential on paper, but ends up being one of the most disappointing movies of the year.

When somebody starts killing the plushy cast members of the classic children’s show The Happytime Gang, puppet private investigator Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) is forced to team up with human detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) in order to investigate the murders.

Phil and Connie used to work together on the police force, where Phil was the first puppet cop, before having his badge stripped following a tragic accident, which has caused them to become rivals. But the case takes on a personal bent for Phil when his brother Larry (Victor Yerrid), who played a police officer on The Happytime Gang, is brutally killed, and he ends up connecting with his old human flame Jenny (Elizabeth Banks). There’s also the added complication of the puppet temptress Sandra (Dorien Davies), a sex addict who wants him to investigate a possible extortion case.

Directed by Brian Henson, making his first film since The Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992 and Muppet Treasure Island in 1996, The Happytime Murders is a very different type of muppet movie. It’s geared squarely at adults, with a ribald sense of humour and plenty of violence. The film is absolutely filthy at times, and while on the one hand it’s easy to admire Henson’s dedication to making a mature movie featuring puppets, it also rarely ever works and is an almost unmitigated misfire.

There is a meanness to the film that keeps us from ever really liking the characters, and the screenplay has a tendency to over explain what is happening in the plot, with a lot of dead air around the jokes that keeps many of them from landing like they should. The fact that the film doesn’t really work at all, save for a few brief moments here and there and some decent puppeteering, is what makes the whole thing such a drag to watch, even with a brief running time of about an hour and a half.

The most frustrating thing about The Happytime Murders is that it actually had some potential and could have been so much better, and it’s especially disappointing as someone who is a lifelong fan of the Henson brand. But the whole thing just feels off, both in terms of rhythm and content, and it ultimately plays like a mildly good idea that has been executed extremely poorly. It’s something alright, but it’s not good, and the film is barely even worth seeing out of mild curiosity.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with Henson and Barretta, six deleted scenes, a gag reel, a Line-O-Rama which features alternate takes of different lines, and the three brief pieces entitled Virtual Environments, Avatar Demo and VFX Breakdown, which offer a look at the progression of the film’s visual effects including the use of green screens on set so the puppeteers could be removed in post-production and the use of motion capture performances to help bring the characters to life.

The Happytime Murders is a VVS Films release. It’s 91 minutes and rated 14A.

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