In a world where puppets live their own lives alongside humankind, someone is murdering the cast of the defunct television program “The Happytime Gang” just as the show is entering into syndication. Who’s behind this? Why are they doing it? Former cop turned private investigator — and puppet — Phil Phillips (voiced by Bill Baretta) is determined to solve the case.
Phil is forced to work with his former LAPD partner, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) if he hopes to get anywhere with the case. Clearly they have history, and clearly it will be revealed to us before the movie ends. Throughout they interact with supporting cast members Elizabeth Banks (as a former human cast member of the aforementioned TV, now a stripper, and ex-lover of Phil), Joel McHale (as an F.B.I. agent, though it is never explained why the F.B.I. gets involved), and Maya Rudolph (as Phil’s perky assistant Bubbles), amongst others both human and puppet.
Well, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” this ain’t. Far from it. This is an R-rated picture of puppets acting badly, both with and without humans. Over the course of the movie we’re shown puppet porn, prostitutes, drug addicts, sex scenes (puppet on puppet, and puppet on human), and violence.
Not that it is ever truly revealed how most of that works out, but it’s meant to be a comedy, so try not to think about it too hard. Like “Roger Rabbit” and it’s mingling of toons and people, it is never explained how these puppets became sentient creatures. In “Roger Rabbit” the toons could be taken out by paint thinner and other nasty chemical compounds that would disolve them; here, enough phsycial trauma will spill the stuffing from inside a puppet and kill it. (There are discussions of the internal organs of puppets in the movie, particularly in a pertinent plot point, but we never see any of this…just lots of white fluff.)
As the movie progresses with lots of cutesy, fluffy critters dropping F-bombs, the plot trudges along in somewhat predictable ways. The story isn’t covering any particularly new ground, and the majority of the jokes seem to center on all the non-puppet like things these puppets do. I would be lying if I said I didn’t find any of it funny, but some of it just seemed the filmmakers wanted to push the boundaries of what they could get away with — to the point it often seemed forced. We get it. Puppets in this world have sex, do drugs, have weird fetishes. There’s even a brief spoof of that scene from “Basic Instinct” with a puppet in the Sharon Stone position, of course.
The movie could have focused more on the buddy cop aspects of the plot. Or it could have focused on why most humans treat puppets so badly, a point frequently shown. The end credits also have various imagery in the background of the puppet characters in the movie, the movement for puppet rights and acceptance by people as equals, Phil’s career as the first puppet cop. And of course, puppet porn DVD cases. While some of the titles were slighly chuckle worthy, again, the filmmakers seemed to want to constantly go for the “adult” jokes rather than funny ones, and those hints at a more robust plot just make it all the more frustrating.
The Happytime Murders isn’t the total dumpster fire most critics are making it out to be, but it certainly isn’t going to overly impress anyone, either, I don’t think. It has some laughs scattered throughout, but the movie tries a little too hard to shock more than amuse. Some will find the shocking scenes funny, of course, and more power to them. I just wanted a little more substance, and a little less silly string.