The Happytime Murders (2018)

2019 #9
Brian Henson | 91 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA & China / English | 15 / R

The Happytime Murders

The Muppets meets Who Framed Roger Rabbit meets an R rating in this black comedy murder mystery from director Brian “son of Jim” Henson. Set in a world where Muppet-esque (but not actual Muppets, because IP rights) puppets co-exist alongside humans, disgraced puppet cop turned private investigator Phil Phillips (performed by Bill Barretta, which, let’s be honest, is a better name for a comedy private eye than the one they’ve actually used) stumbles onto a spate of connected puppet murders, and must reluctantly team up with his former partner, human detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), to crack the case.

The mystery that drives the plot isn’t too bad, including a neat twist/reveal that’s perhaps guessable but not terribly so. It does hew closely to the tropes and clichés of the noir genre, which is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, as it’s not a straight crime movie I don’t think it’s a problem for it to recycle all those things when it has fresh comedy to hang off them, or if it’s somehow riffing off familiar elements but with the puppet stuff, but often it isn’t that clever.

Women and puppets in blue

Nonetheless, there are some legitimately funny bits along the way, often found among the riffs on the puppet thing (for example: one of the victims is drowned, and before bagging the body they ring him out). Unfortunately it isn’t funny as often as it should be, too often relying on worn or lacklustre humour. I mean, it tries to run with the old playground favourite “idiots say what?” as a running gag. It also leans on puppets being lewd and crude as the extent of the gag, which simply isn’t that funny in itself, partly because it isn’t as original as the film seems to think it is (cf. Team America, Avenue Q).

While The Happytime Murders isn’t close to the echelons of quality where you’d find Roger Rabbit or the best of the Muppets, it’s also not a total washout. From behind-the-scenes stuff I’ve read it sounds like a lot of effort was expended on filming it, making sure the puppets could interact with the humans and so on, and those technical aspects are first rate. It’s just a shame the same level of innovation wasn’t poured into screenplay. I didn’t hate it, but it doesn’t live up to its potential either.

3 out of 5

The Happytime Murders is available on Netflix UK from today.

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Team America: World Police (2004)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #89

Freedom Hangs by a Thread

Country: USA & Germany
Language: English, French, Klingon, Korean & Arabic
Runtime: 98 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: R (cut)

Original Release: 15th October 2004 (USA)
UK Release: 14th January 2005
First Seen: cinema, 2005

Stars
Trey Parker (BASEketball, Despicable Me 3)
Matt Stone (BASEketball, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut)
Kristen Miller (Cherry Falls, Puff, Puff, Pass)
Masasa (Kingdom Come, Angels & Demons)
Daran Norris (Comic Book: The Movie, Veronica Mars)

Director
Trey Parker (Orgazmo, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut)

Screenwriters
Trey Parker (Cannibal! The Musical, The Book of Mormon)
Matt Stone (South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, The Book of Mormon)
Pam Brady (South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Hot Rod)

The Story
Global paramilitary protectors Team America: World Police must battle both the machinations of terrorists and the criticism of Hollywood actors.

Our Heroes
Gary Johnston is just a Broadway actor, until he’s recruited into counter-terrorism force Team America: World Police to use his acting skills to save the world. The rest of the team include its boss, Spottswoode; Lisa, a psychologist; Sarah, who thinks she’s psychic; Joe, an all-American jock; and Chris, a martial artist with a hatred of actors — like Gary! There’s also their supercomputer, I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E., which stands for… um…

Our Villains
Kim Jong-il, the lonely leader of North Korea, and his threats to global security. His positions is strengthened by those liberal FAGs — that’d be the Film Actors Guild.

Best Supporting Character
Matt Damon!


Memorable Quote
“We’re dicks! We’re reckless, arrogant, stupid dicks. And the Film Actors Guild are pussies. And Kim Jong-il is an asshole. Pussies don’t like dicks, because pussies get fucked by dicks. But dicks also fuck assholes — assholes who just want to shit on everything. Pussies may think they can deal with assholes their way, but the only thing that can fuck an asshole is a dick, with some balls. The problem with dicks is that sometimes they fuck too much, or fuck when it isn’t appropriate — and it takes a pussy to show ’em that. But sometimes pussies get so full of shit that they become assholes themselves, because pussies are only an inch-and-a-half away from assholes. I don’t know much in this crazy, crazy world, but I do know that if you don’t let us fuck this asshole, we are going to have our dicks and our pussies all covered in shit.” — Gary

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Matt Damon.” — Matt Damon

Memorable Scene
Puppets having sex. Sex, by puppets. Sexing puppets. Puppet sex.

Best Song
The titular refrain (“America! Fuck yeah!”) is perhaps the most memorable, though it has strong competition from Kim Jong-il’s I’m So Ronery, but my favourite song has always been the in-jokey, film-fan-y Montage. I certainly laughed far louder than anyone else in the cinema, anyway.

Technical Wizardry
Puppets! Considering the Gerry Anderson shows they’re emulating took multiple iterations and years of work to really perfect, Team America does a remarkable job out of the gate — and isn’t adverse to some puppet-based humour either, naturally.

Making of
Originally the Matt Damon character had a proper speaking part, because he’s a pretty intelligent guy really and Parker and Stone knew that. But then the puppet came out looking a bit, shall we say, ‘special’. With no time to remake it, they decided to have the character live up to how he looked: only capable of saying his own name. So it’s less a grand piece of satire on the self-involvement of Hollywood lefties, more an in-joke.

Awards
1 Empire Award (Comedy)
1 MTV Movie Awards nomination (Action Sequence for “the desert terrorist assault”)

What the Critics Said
“it’s hard not to guffaw with glee at the gross libelling and on-screen dismemberment of an array of ‘aware’ Hollywood stars (albeit in puppet form) and in which George W Bush’s war on terror is rendered in risible sub-‘Supermarionation’ form. The whole thing plays like Thunderbirds Goes to Hell and will doubtless offend all those numskulls who complained about the BBC’s transmission of Jerry Springer: The Opera. For that alone, it gets my vote.” — Mark Kermode, New Statesman

Score: 77%

What the Public Say
“The idea of the puppets in the first place is very clever, because when you make everything a puppet, everything becomes funnier. I think that the puppets themselves work so well because the creators knew their strengths and weaknesses. The puppets they use are pretty detailed and can do a lot of different kinds of movements. The team use these functions of the puppets for simpler actions (moving limbs and heads and so on) and make it look realistic. But how do you make a fistfight between two puppets look realistic? You don’t, just make some very basic and crude movements and the joke basically tells itself.” — Felix, FelixMovieThoughts

Verdict

The guys behind South Park spoof Michael Bay-style action movies — and by extension right-wing America’s view of its place in the world — through the medium of Thunderbirds-style puppets, which just heightens the ridiculousness. It’s a neat mix of clever satire and baser laughs, bolstered by surprisingly listenable musical numbers. It’s not always clever, and it’s never big (they’re puppets!), but it is funny.

#90 will be… following yonder star.

The Dark Crystal (1982)

2015 #124
Jim Henson & Frank Oz | 89 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA & UK / English | PG / PG

High-fantasy adventure about some elves trying to stop a crystal from destroying their planet.

It’s by Jim Henson, so there’s fantastic puppetry and strong design… but the story and the manner of its telling — the dialogue, structure, and characters — alternate between boring, annoying, and laughable. The hero is irritating, the dull villains are given too much focus, the plot borders on nonsensical, it takes forever for barely anything to happen, and the sequence where our heroes accidentally share their memories has to be the cheesiest thing since fondue.

Some people properly love this, but I thought it was just awful.

2 out of 5

This drabble review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.