Superheroes, dinosaurs and dystopian futures have been on the big screen this year, but we haven’t seen anything as “out there” as The Happytime Murders. It’s a crime comedy with Melissa McCarthy as a detective trying to solve a whole series of murders… alongside an ensemble cast of puppets.
The film, opening on August 24, is directed by Brian Henson, son of legendary Muppets creator and puppeteer Jim Henson. (Brian Henson is also the current chairman of The Jim Henson Company.) While you might recognize some of the puppets, The Happytime Murders promises to be different from anything we’ve seen before.
The Henson Legacy
The Jim Henson Company has produced iconic TV shows for children of all ages, from The Muppet Show, to Dinosaurs and Bear in the Big Blue House. Between producing those shows and designing Muppet characters for Sesame Street, Henson changed children’s television and left a remarkable legacy.
With The Happytime Murders, the company has created puppets for a very different audience. Other “mature” films have used puppets, like the Supermarionettes in Team America: World Police, and the Muppet-like characters in Peter Jackson’s early effort Meet the Feebles. But this is The Jim Henson Company’s first full-length venture into humor exclusively for adults.
Brian Henson dabbled in jokes for older audiences with the live show Puppet Up!, and a live-action movie is the natural next step. In a recent interview with Collider, Henson recalled how he once thought that an R-rated puppet movie would never work, before discussing what The Happytime Murders means for the future of the company:
“…we do a live show that’s very R-rated and that’s improv comedy. I thought, “This is really good. We found a new voice for puppets. It’s really funny, it’s viciously funny, and it’s a contemporary funny. This is a good next place to take Henson-style hand puppetry.” So, I thought, “We should do something scripted, in long form, that’s in this tone. And then, we remembered this script that we had passed on… I feel like we’ve always been a little bit naughty… We’re not Disney. We’re not wholesome, in that sense… I am deliberately rating it R because I actually wanted to make it clear that this is for adults.”
So while The Happytime Murders may not be the first adult comedy starring puppets, it is the first to star these kinds of puppets.
Rated R Humor
Seeing these instantly recognizable Muppets smoking, drinking, and committing murder (among other things) is enough to provoke a double, maybe even a triple-take. The film’s trailer alone shows Henson’s puppets doing all sorts of things that the old Muppet show critics, Statler and Waldorf, would scowl at. (But face it, those two have probably done at least half this stuff themselves.)
That juxtaposition alone, of Muppets and outrageous behavior, is enough to make The Happytime Murders a totally unique film. With the influence of Melissa McCarthy and a cast that also includes Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, and Joel McHale, there’s a solid comedy backbone behind the shock of degenerate puppets.
McCarthy’s cop character has to figure out who’ killing cast members of the children’s show The Happytime Gang. She reunites with her former partner, the puppet Phil, to track down the killer. Henson says the film has all the bases covered:
“You think you’re seeing a shock comedy… where puppets are doing what you never thought you would see, but then it actually is a really compelling story. The characters are really deep and well-developed, so it’s a one-two punch. People will come in thinking, “I wanna see puppets doing what I have not seen Henson-style puppets do,” but then what they get is actually a really good movie with really good characters.”
The Happytime Murders hits theaters on August 24, 2018.