The Jim Henson Company built its brand of puppets into household names. Their family-friendly frolics appealed to literally all ages. But saying safe for all the family can be awfully limiting to the creative spirit. In 2018 Jim Henson’s puppets took on subjects that are made entirely out of blue material, into the dark mystery of The HappyTime Murders.
Private Investigator Phil Phillips is a puppet, in a world where puppets and humans cohabit. Trouble is puppets are all second-class citizens. He was once a cop, but his hesitance to draw fire on a puppet got an innocent killed. His brother got an exclusive syndication deal on a TV show called The Happytime Gang. However, as the crew of The Happytime Gang are ending up dead one-by-one it’s up to Philips and his former partner human cop Connie to put aside their differences and crack this case.
Philips is the star of the show in more ways than one, he’s like a raunchier Frank Drebin, and he drinks far more than your typical puppet, but his quips, mannerisms and deliveries are all stellar, not only as a send-up of noir clichés, but standing on its own (as Philips does a lot, picture A.L.F. when he walks). He’s joined by Melissa McCarthy, she has an interesting backstory where she’s a half puppet, that does lead to a subplot about drug addiction I wish was explored further. But the sequences of her getting down with the city’s worst puppets are some of the best in the film. Maya Randolph also has a nice cameo role as Phil’s secretary that was a hoot to watch.
But the audience is in the film for the puppets, and Jim Henson’s puppets are all uniquely designed, and I imagine that working on these puppets was a nice creative break for the puppeteers and designers. A lot of them look as wholesome as they did on TV and others have this cartoony sense of revulsion. The film takes a whistle-stop tour of vice and debauchery and while there it will make you laugh until your seems split. Watch as former stars of screen are forced to become drug pushers, drug fiends, and sex addicts, shocking on its own, but even more so when you consider these participants are stuffed puppets.
While it may not be for everybody, The HappyTime Murders knows what it wants to be and delivers on that. And while its adult-themed puppet exploration into noir tropes isn’t exactly novel as separate components as a whole it works surprisingly well. It makes an intriguing whole that I think deserves at least one viewing, yet with its grittier aspects of second-class citizens and abundance of jokes, it may require repeat viewings to get a hand on the situation.
If you want more positive reviews delivered to the e-mail box of your choice, you can click on that little text bubble at the bottom of the screen. Do you agree or disagree? or have a suggestion for another pop-culture artefact that needs a positive light shone on it? Leave a comment in the comment box below! But remember to keep it positive!