If you’re as much of an enthusiast of beautiful hand puppets as we are here at Puppets By Post, you probably won’t need us to tell you about the rich heritage that puppets have across all forms of entertainment – and the silver screen is no exception.
The likes of Thunderbirds Are Go (1966), The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (1999) and The Muppets (2011) have all shown down the years how puppets can be used to good effect in live-action films. It may therefore have interested you to learn of the latest instalment in this burgeoning subgenre of flicks based on the magic of puppetry, The Happytime Murders.
Starring such big names as Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Elizabeth Banks and Joel McHale, this black comedy crime film is certainly somewhat darker in tone than many puppet-based movies to have hit the big screen over the decades. So, given that it is now airing in UK cinemas, is it worth going to see?
An extremely mixed response from both critics and audiences
Let’s share the bad news first: most of the reviews of The Happytime Murders have been far from greatly complimentary. Indeed, it has only scored 25% on Rotten Tomatoes, referring to the percentage of the site’s Approved Tomatometer Critics to have given it a positive review.
The percentage of users of the same site who gave it a rating of at least 3.5 stars out of five is a slightly more impressive 43%. Nonetheless, it’s fair to say that The Happytime Murders has drawn widely varying reactions from audiences, which might not be too surprising, given its very transgressive premise compared to what we generally associate puppet movies with.
The film is set in a world in which humans and puppets co-exist, albeit with the latter treated as second-class citizens. As it emerges that a serial killer is on the loose, murdering the brother of puppet private investigator Phil Philips (played by Bill Baretta) and puppet cast members of a popular 1980s TV series, Philips teams up with McCarthy’s character, Detective Connie Edwards, to hunt for the culprit.
What did the professionals actually say?
Many critics were scathing, such as Toronto Star writer Peter Howell, who bemoaned the film’s “sex jokes both visual and verbal that don’t improve with repetition.” Meanwhile, in the words of The A.V. Club’s Erik Adams, “the knowing handling of noir conventions and clever metaphor for race relations of [director] Brian Henson’s R-rated fluff bath were all treated with greater grace and more panache 31 years ago in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”
Nor was The Guardian’s Charles Bramesco wooed, describing the film in a one-star review as “a staggeringly bad attempt to add X-rated humour to Sesame Street.” Ouch.
So, sadly, not only is The Happytime Murders definitely not a movie to watch with little ones – having been given a 12A rating in the UK – but it also appears to be a poor cinematic representative for its beautiful hand puppets.
We therefore suspect that you may be best off sticking to the aforementioned classic movies, or even purchasing from our own extensive selection of beautiful hand puppets here at Puppets By Post, to engage in some rather more wholesome and rewarding puppet-based fun.