The Happytime Murders is one of those films where you almost can’t believe this blend of humans and puppets hasn’t been done before in an R-Rated setting. With success stories like The Muppet’s, it entirely surprised me to see that The Happytime Murders fails to actually use its R rating to any effect.
The Happytime Murders is set in a world occupied by both humans and puppets – a puppet ex-cop (Brian Henson) and his old human police partner (Melissa McCarthy) team up to unravel the mysteries of a strange string of murders.
The first act in this film starts fresh and engaging, introducing you to world that you want to see more of, something that could explore and mirror the satires of our current day one; unfortunately when the first act ends and second begins it becomes evident this film is aiming to base itself around the clashing personalities of the two detectives and the fairly basic storyline laid out. It’s not that this film didn’t provide an engaging mystery, it’s that this is a film that was ripe with possibilities to satirise and laugh at the current world, much like Team America: World Police (2004). It instead insisted on following a linear storyline and stitching too many threads of generic crime/mystery tropes into the film itself.
The brings me to the characters; the films main puppet performed by Bill Barretta is not as lively in character as you’d hope, but he offers a fairly substantial character for audiences to go along with. Bill would have worked better with a more appropriate paring as Melissa McCarthy’s performance is yet again riddled with choppiness. McCarthy’s performance as an actress (especially in comedies) is showing how short her range has become as her mannerisms and acting style is becoming increasingly repetitive. Much of the film is based on Phil Philips and his partner (McCarthy) throwing quips at each other and attempting to get along, from the get-go it is rather clear that not just chemistry lacks but the very bond between puppet and human is all but nonexistent between these two lead roles.
The strongest aspect this film provides is its practical effects in puppeteering and sets, which should be a given for any film that uses puppets as their selling point. The structure of the film is where the threads begin to fray – ultimately the film starts oddly strong, but as it delved deeper into its own story’s “mystery” it became slower and slower to the point in which impatience grew by the films close.
When you’re offered to create an R-rated puppet film, opportunities are opened for both the director and writers to play around with their own little society in funny and creative ways, when an R rating is given there is even less of an excuse to entirely miss your mark. The Happytime Murders is trying to be a human story with puppets as placeholders, while there are moments where it shows the world it could offer has potential, it squanders it in a drawn out story that results in an unsatisfying payoff. Stuffed with plenty of R-rated humour – The Happytime Murders is far from a cuddly family film – unfortunately much like the puppets themselves, the film shows there’s little substance to its fluffy innards.