When you consider creative geniuses who left us far too early, Jim Henson has to come to mind. Despite the puppeteer’s decades-long career that defined the childhoods of generations with clean and iconic comedies such as Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and everything The Muppets, you can’t help but feel cheated that Henson passed away after just 53 years. And while the name “Henson” has long been synonymous with wholesome humor, the legend’s middle child and eldest son, Brian, has journeyed down a shockingly naughty path with his new puppet comedy, The Happytime Murders. This R-rated transition probably isn’t what his father envisioned, yet Brian Henson’s uninhibited and vulgar puppet murder mystery proves more than just a cheap novelty with a unique shtick.
In a world where humans and puppets co-exist, despite the fact that puppets are viewed as inferior citizens, Phil Philips (voice of Bill Barretta) was once the first puppet police officer. However, tragic circumstances cost him his badge and now Phil spends his days as a private detective taking on small cases. But when a mysterious killer begins targeting the stars of a once-popular puppet sitcom, Phil teams up with his former police partner (Melissa McCarthy) to put an end to these murders.
My appreciation for The Happytime Murders will inevitably feel overblown, mostly due to the critical backlash feasted upon Brian Henson’s new film. But despite its desperate quest for laughter at the hands of shock value and gross immaturity, The Happytime Murders offers a well-cloaked mystery delivered at a fantastic pace. The film’s story engages with its hysterical characters and natural fluidity. And although Melissa McCarthy’s time in the spotlight continues to fade, she delays the inevitable with a strongly executed and insanely committed comedic turn. However, the true standout of the film is its clever and concise screenplay. The jokes are relentlessly thrown at you from a variety of angles, and through it all the leading star, puppet Phil Philips, begins to feel more and more human-like, which is a true testament to the writing. The Happytime Murders isn’t a movie designed for all audiences, as it’s obviously short on subtlety and artistry. Yet, if you’re willing to put all seriousness aside and open up to some lewd silliness at the hands of more than just a few crazy puppets, you’ll be able to enjoy The Happytime Murders for the absurd and raunchy comedy that it is.