To understand the concept of The Happytime Murders, one must understand that the Muppets, a franchise focusing on combinations of marionettes and puppets has been in media primarily directed at kids. Though the motifs of friendships, family, fun and adventure may be appreciated by adults, the Muppets was designed for children.
One should also understand that the characters of the Muppets have gained an iconic status over their 40-plus years of existence.
As one approaches their teenage years, they may find themselves less interested in kids’ entertainment such as the Muppets and more interested in PG-13 or R rated content. In contrast, The Happy Time Murders takes the well known children’s characters and puts them in a world with crime, profanity and sex.
In the world of The Happytime Murders, Kermit the Frog and other iconic characters from the TV show and movies do not exist. Instead, the film introduces the audience to entirely new characters, a brave decision considering that most if not all media with the Muppets predating The Happytime Murders has used at least some of the characters from the TV show where they debuted.
Also different is the relationship between humans and Muppets: rather than look at Muppets as equals and befriend them, the majority of humans see Muppets as inferiors, the thought of becoming friends with one embarrassing. The protagonist, a Muppet, ex-cop and private investigator named Phil Phillips (voiced by Bill Barretta,) tells the audience this over a voiceover, a lazy way to tell the viewers what could be shown with visuals. In fact, the opening narration could be removed without consequence; a taxi driver refusing to pick up a Muppet illustrates this point fine on its own.
The plot gets going when the cast of the 90s show The Happytime Gang, the first successful show to display humans and Muppets living in harmony, is murdered one by one. To put a stop to these murders, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) is sent, with Phil as a witness, to investigate them.
There are reveals and twists, providing an excuse for foul language, fighting and sex. The problem is that the inappropriate parts of The Happytime Murders appeal only to those who think something considered publicly inappropriate is automatically funny. Take, for example, a scene where Phil goes to investigate a building that sells pornographic magazines and screens pornographic films. There are tons of jokes about sex, but none of them have a punchline.
The only thing to laugh at is the fact that types of characters associated with a kids’ show and movies are doing something considered inappropriate for kids, and there’s no substance to that. There are various scenes that revolve around genital humor, but again, only one with an immature mind can think they’re funny. There are some drug jokes as well, but once again, the only thing to laugh at is it being inappropriate.
The Happytime Murders did occasionally make me laugh, but every time I did I felt embarrassed to be laughing at something low brow. It’s ok to have some slapstick and/or thoughtless comedy, but comedy needs to do more than pander to people who have just learned dirty words and/or what sex is. A dirty minded young teen or pre-teen might consider this edgy, but it lacks substance. Its bare bones humor is made of tastelessness and directed towards minds who think that being inappropriate for people 10 or under is automatically mature.
That said, The Happytime Murders is roughly what I expected to see from a fictional species of characters from a children’s. The Muppets are great and there are many great films with sex, profanity and/or crime.
Presumably, the film aimed to take beloved kid’s characters and put them in a world of a movie for adults only. The problem is Happytime Murders exists as a film “for adults only” by containing material that’s not suitable for anyone 10 or under but also not thought provoking.
Finally, those who see The Happytime Murders should know that there’s nothing to get into. While I have admitted to not feeling invested in Avengers: Infinity War, I do at least give that film credit for having interesting characters.
Even without seeing their solo movies, I recognized Thor as a brave warrior who would go to battle to save half the Universe. Scarlet Witch was admirable in her ability to defend those she cared for but sacrifice the life of a loved one when she needed to. Spiderman wasn’t just a superhero. He was a teenage boy named Peter Parker who wanted to enjoy his youth but recognized the importance of saving people. I felt no such interest in any character in The Happytime Murders.
In fact, it’s a miracle I remembered the film for long enough to write this review.
Cal Sylia can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org