The Happytime Murders is a bawdy comedy that’s being sold as “dirty Sesame Street”. However, as the film fired off obscenities and crude visual gags, I couldn’t help but be distracted by other filmmaking elements.
Early into The Happytime Murders, I was mesmerized by the puppetry – a fascination that carried its way through to the credit cookies that revealed how the production pulled off its tricks. Filmmaker Brian Henson, son of legendary puppeteer/producer/director Jim Henson, does a fantastic job establishing a universe where humans and puppets co-exist, which also includes a discriminating hierarchy (puppets are seen as a source of entertainment and are, therefore, not taken as seriously). The world is filled with bright, new Henson creations that have their own individual qualities that set them apart. The designs are terrific, and their interactions with actors and other puppets are consistently in-character.
Despite its lowbrow appeal, The Happytime Murders is a film that’s always at work. Heavy chroma keying and other post-production effects are used to seamlessly map out the dedicated puppeteers who, unbeknownst to us, fill the screen. And, careful staging allows Henson to load the frame with animated critters, leaving the film’s cast of comedians (reliable R-rated performances from Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Joel McHale, Maya Rudolph, and Leslie David Baker) to fully commit themselves to their on-screen exchanges.
There’s no point to elaborating on the film’s gross-out humour and sexualized goofs. You’ve seen the trailer, you should already know if the film is for you. The comedy worked for me and, personally, even surprised and shocked me – mission: accomplaished for Brian Henson, screenwriter Todd Berger, and the production team. But I urge movie goers who may have a different definition of comedy to still take a chance on The Happytime Murders. Behind the film’s outrageous indecency is innovative, top-of-the-line craftsmanship that shouldn’t go unrecognized.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie