You may have heard that The Happytime Murders, the R-rated puppet noir starring Melissa McCarthy, is getting hammered with bad reviews. It’s currently standing at 27% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the worst movie of the year or it’s the worst movie ever, depending on who you ask. Well I am here with a Hot Take—it’s not that bad. Is it good? No. But The Happytime Murders is too boring and mediocre to be the worst movie ever made (that’s still Manos: The Hand of Fate, if you’re wondering). I would describe The Happytime Murders as, at best, “aggressively mediocre”.
This is a labor of love from Brian Henson, son of Jim, who has been doing “Alternative Henson” live puppet shows for years featuring felt creations engaging in adult behavior like smoking and having sex. It’s shocking! They’re puppets and they’re f*cking! I am so shocked! Except I’m not because I, personally, have a totally broken puppet-shock radar since I saw Peter Jackson’s puppet-f*cking classic, Meet the Feebles, when I was fourteen. I haven’t been shocked by a puppet coming across its desk in two decades. And you know what? You won’t be shocked, either. Why? Because it’s NOT SHOCKING. Sure it’s executed with felt puppets but it’s still just a gross-out gag. It’s not even an especially new or fun gross-out gag. This is the primary problem facing The Happytime Murders—the humor is generic and “puppets f*cking” isn’t enough to sustain it for its barely-ninety-minutes run time. “Puppets f*cking” is good for five minutes, tops, and then you need actual jokes.
What is amazing about The Happytime Murders is its technical accomplishment. The concept is basically the same as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, with humans and puppets co-existing in a world that presumes puppets are people. The execution of this world requires not only very precise puppeteering but specially designed sets meant to accommodate humans and puppeteers walking around in synch—sets had to be built with elevated pathways for the human characters so they interact with the puppets at the right height. Technically, it’s impressive, and clips at the end of the movie give you an idea of the work that went into making it, which is honestly the best part of the movie. I would happily watch a “making of” feature about The Happytime Murders, but I have zero interest in ever watching the movie itself again.
The Happytime Murders is boring and barely funny, but it is still better than Bright. It has a similar “fantastical creatures standing in for human bigotry” concept, but it’s done much less annoyingly in Happytime. Puppets in this world are second-class citizens, and there is a steady low-level bigotry thrown their way throughout, but the movie never makes the connection explicit. It just presents a world where a group is discriminated against and lets us make the connections, which is more subtlety than Bright ever managed.
So The Happytime Murders is not the worst movie you’ll ever see—especially if you’ve already seen some actual trash like Meet the Feebles—but it is a boring “comedy” absent real jokes. The craft is impressive but the central gimmick isn’t enough to carry a whole movie. It’s just the right combination of interestingly made and poorly written—Melissa McCarthy took an uncredited pass at the script—to make for a frustrating watch. If a Basic Instinct gag executed with puppets is enough to entertain you then have at it, but if you want, you know, real jokes, look elsewhere. I can’t honestly recommend Meet the Feebles because it’s…a lot, but you can always revisit Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Same concept, WAY better story, and it holds up.
Red band trailer, NSFW: