The late Jim Henson loved to push the boundaries of what puppets could do with the Muppets. That meant things like riding bicycles or drinking liquids from glasses. And while Jim wasn’t adverse to more adult humor in some of his work, his son Brian has a much more adult comedy out now in the form of The Happyland Murders.
So, how does Brian handle it?
So, in a fictionalized version of the real world, puppets are living beings that are discriminated against by the world at large. There’s an obvious racism allegory at work, but the movie doesn’t really worry about that too much in the grand scheme of things. Former cop turned private detective puppet Phil Philips is on a case when he stumbles into a mass shooting that ended with multiple puppets dead. That eventually gets him work as a consultant for the LAPD alongside his former partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy), and those two obviously have some bad blood between them. Soon, other murders occur, and it doesn’t take Phil long to find a connection. Along the way, we see puppets swearing, doing drugs (sort of), and having sex.
And that’s basically the joke. Puppets that have the same basic design as the Muppets are swearing, doing drugs, and having sex. While the other members of the audience I was sitting with seemed to dig that stuff, there weren’t many people there and I was largely unamused. Childhood icons, or similar such characters, have been the subject of such comedy for ages, and there are ways to do it well, like this bit here:
Even if we just limit the concept to puppets, this isn’t new as seen with movies like Ted or Meet the Feebles or even the TV series Greg the Bunny, all of which showed fluffy things alive, swearing, or getting involved in some sort of adult type situations to varying degrees of success. Happytime Murders doesn’t bring anything new to the table aside from generally wasting the likes of McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph, and Joel McHale. Heck, I noticed plot holes in the third act. That’s never a good thing. Six out of ten glasses of maple syrup.