Review| The Happytime Murders

Review| The Happytime Murders

Brian Henson, son of the late Jim Henson and producer/director of Happytime Murders, seeks to expand upon his father’s legacy of telling adult stories through the medium of puppetry. As much as the second-generation puppeteer is fairly confident the creator of Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, and the Oscar-nominated short film, Time Piece would love his son’s ribald, provocative noir murder mystery, it would dishearten the progenitor of the previously mentioned visually stunning and vibrant films how generic and and lifeless his progeny’s film turned out to be. Ironic, considering the creator of the beloved Muppets and Sesame Street characters managed to take inanimate foam puppets and give them real lives, real stories, and fully-imagined worlds, a hallmark of of Jim Henson’s true genius as a storyteller.
If The Happytime Murders were the direction Jim Henson would actually want to go with his stories, it would undercut Brian Henson’s own admission his father, at times, felt (ha!) hemmed in (ha, ha!) by his perception as a children’s entertainer; the “puppet guy”. The movie fails to break the mold into anything imaginative as it is trapped in world obsessed with it’s own conceit of hyper-sexual and vulgar puppets. The modus operandi of the whole project seems to be thinking of depraved, aberrant behaviors and all the swear words and have puppets do them and then lather, don’t rinse, and repeat until you are covered in grimy layers of the same worn out joke.
Nevermind the fact the puppets seem to replace ethnic minorities in the movie, both socially and culturally, and makes the overt prejudice against puppets seat-squirmingly uncomfrotable. The movie seems blind to the reality ethnic minorities actually are threatened by racism, bigotry, cultural and social discrimination, and have real problems like drug addiction, poverty, and crime. Sure, if the movie tackled these issues and introduced some pathos and/or ethos, it might redeem the scenes of puppets as gang members, drug addicts, or incestuous cult leaders. However, the movie cannot be bothered and must stick to catering to the lowest common denominator and telling lude, vulgarity-laced jokes, but with puppets.
The previous paragraphs of lamenting crass humor and muppet gaucherie should be taken within the context of this article being written by an evangelical pastor with a Christian ethos for a site devoted to writing about movies through the lens of finding greater spiritual and narrative significance in movie and TV. By our very nature this movie will chafe our sentiments and have us on guard. Yet, many contributors to Reel World Theology are not bothered by a TV show like The Simpsons, an adult-oriented TV show using a medium typically aimed toward kids, nor do we stray away from watching and reviewing movies containing possibly objectionable material. However, the gaping maw in quality between Matt Groening’s long-running animated TV show and 2018’s The Happytime Murders is what Jim Henson was so good at: telling compelling stories through a children’s medium. Brian Henson’s movie is nothing new under the sun, as evidenced by Fox’s “Animation Domination” or Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, but also fails to step out of the shadow of Jim Henson’s body of work and distinguish itself as something other than a raunchy, boring comedy making crude jokes with puppets. The senior Henson might have hated to have been known as “The Puppet Guy”, but this movie does nothing to suggest otherwise and that is a complete shame.

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