A puppet private detective and his former police partner try to solve a string of homicides in The Happytime Murders. Phil Philips (Bill Barretta) is a disgraced former police detective, who now works as a private investigator. While investigating a blackmail case for his new client Sandra (Dorien Davies), Phil finds himself in the middle of a double puppet homicide. When it becomes apparent that the targets are cast members of The Happytime Gang, Phil is reluctantly reunited with his old partner Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to track down the killer.
The Happytime Murders is an adult-oriented buddy cop comedy with puppets, directed by Brian Henson under the Jim Henson Company’s Henson Alternative label. Under development since 2008, The Happytime Murders takes place in a world where puppets live alongside humans, who treat the former like second class citizens. Phil Philips was the first puppet police detective, though he ended up being fired in disgrace after a controversial event that estranged him from his partner Connie Edwards. However, Phil and Connie are reunited when members of The Happytime Gang TV series ends up getting murdered, with $10,000 in syndication royalties being a possible motive.
If there’s a reason to check out The Happytime Murders, it is for the novelty of seeing puppets created by the Jim Henson Company in a very non-Muppet type of story. In fact, it is probably the adult content of The Happytime Murders that kept the film in development hell for the last decade. The film marks the return behind the camera in more than two decades for director Brian Henson, whose career has always had the shadow of his father Jim Henson looming over it. In theory, The Happytime Murders would have been the perfect opportunity for Brian Henson to finally step out on his own.
However, The Happytime Murders is a messy film in more ways than one. When the film’s many button-pushing adult gags work, it can be incredibly funny to watch. However, the film has just as many gags that just fall flat and are someone groan-worthy to watch, with the sight of Phil’s stripper ex-girlfriend Jenny (Elizabeth Banks) seductively eating a carrot in front of a group of around rabbits coming particularly to mind.
In many ways, the weakest link of The Happytime Murders are the human characters, who almost seems to be there just to have someone for the audience to relate to. In fact, The Happytime Murders might have been a much more interesting film, if it focused solely on the puppets. That said, Maya Rudolph does steal the scenes she is in as Phil’s secretary Bubbles.
Ultimately, The Happytime Murders can be summed up as a somewhat messed up puppet buddy cop film that is both occasionally funny, while also being incredibly stupid.