Comedy is without a doubt one of the hardest genres to do well. There are a lot of people who can be funny for short bursts or can make funny short videos but staying consistently funny throughout a 90-120-minute runtime? That is one of the hardest things to do. It is one of the reasons why we don’t have a lot of good comedy sequels. It is hard enough to get it right once but twice?
I always respect good comedy writers, actors, and directors because it is a very hard task. First, you have to have a funny premise. There has to be a good foundation to build your comedy from. The Happytime Murders (directed by Jim Henson’s son Brian Henson) has a good premise to start building off of. In the world of Happytime Murders, puppets and humans interact in the real world. The puppets are second-class citizens in this world and struggle to get by. There is a series of murders that pairs a puppet detective named Phil with his former partner Connie Edwards (played by Melissa McCarthy).
If this sounds a lot like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that. The Happytime Murders has a similar idea except unlike Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the puppets in Happytime Murders say the f-word, have sex, make dirty jokes and get killed in vicious ways (actually given the violence of old cartoons this may not be that extreme). You know what? I’m on board with that. It isn’t a hard leap to take “something” that is normally associated with children and have that “something” do raunchy stuff but clearly there is a market for things like that. If there weren’t then movies like Ted, Sausage Party and Team America wouldn’t be successes. It appeals to the juvenile side of us and I don’t think there is anything wrong with (I also actually quite like Ted).
However, The Happytime Murders won’t be joining the ranks of Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Ted or even the wildly uneven raunchy animated film, Sausage Party. The Happytime Murders wastes a solid premise with flat characters, an uninteresting murder mystery and the worst sin of all, just isn’t a funny movie.
That is the key with a comedy, it has to be funny. Comedy is also one of the hardest things to critique as it is to succeed as making one. Everyone has just has a different sense of humor and you can be great at a comedy technique and still not make someone laugh. I have already established that I am more apt to enjoy a movie like this than perhaps some other audiences. That being said this just isn’t funny. I kept waiting for the clever jokes, the raunchy comedy that really pushed buttons, and the comedy that takes advantage of the premise but none of that came. I got some raunchy comedy but that was more shock value and didn’t really have any funny substance behind it. This movie was only an hour and a half but it felt so much longer. It seemed like the writers never really moved beyond the idea of puppets saying the f-word. I saw the trailer, it was funny. But once we get into the movie there has to be more than just puppets saying the word fuck. The porn shop scene should have been really funny but the writers didn’t really know what to do with the raunchy moments except just show us something raunchy without adding something funny about it. Raunchy on its own isn’t funny. This is why the direct to DVD American Pie movies just aren’t funny. There are all raunchy with no joke beyond the raunchy.
The other disappointing part about all of this is the world building isn’t that much fun. There is no “toon world” equivalent in Happytime Murders. There are none of the fun interactions of Ted. If anything Happytime Murders took the same route as Bright in building their world. Just having a stand-in for racism except Happytime Murders is a comedy and Bright thinks it is a serious action movie. Bright had good ideas but upon further examination of the world building, I realized that it was more hollow and lazy than I initially thought. Happytime Murders is almost the exact same thing. It is a strange thing to harp on in a comedy but there is potential to do so much more with this. Who Framed Roger Rabbit has such a fun world to be in while Happytime doesn’t feel that interested in doing the legwork of creating a fun world for the puppets to exist in.
The storytelling isn’t that good either. Granted in a comedy like this, the plot isn’t really what is the most important thing. The murder mystery itself isn’t that hard to figure out and the few so-called twists are either seen a mile away or are just so out of left field that you realize how little you cared about this anyways. There is an asshole cop (played by Joel McHale) introduced about halfway through the story that is meant to be a foil for Phil and Connie but it is almost as if the movie forgot to introduce him. We are almost halfway through and he shows up as if we already knew who he was. This is the type of lazy and poor storytelling that continues to crop up time and time again.
There have been times where I have been mixed on comedies but others really like it. A lot of people really liked Game Night. I liked aspects of it but I didn’t love it. At my pre-screening, I could tell the audience was enjoying it. The movie just didn’t quite work for me. I heard very little laughter coming from my theater with Happytime Murders. Some may say, The Happytime Murders is just a dumb comedy it isn’t supposed to be trying that hard. I know what the movie is, I’m not expecting Dr. Strangelove. That doesn’t mean Happytime Murders works for me. I like a good dumb comedy as much as the next person, I just prefer my dumb comedies be actually funny.
If you want a solid dumb comedy just wait for Dodgeball to come on TBS. If you want a good and intelligent dumb comedy, go grab your DVD or Blu-ray copy of Anchorman. If you want a good comedy about a childhood symbol saying the “f” word, go onto a premium channel and watch Ted. If you want a clever mix of a human world and “cartoon world” where the cartoons are second-class citizens and there is a noir feel, go dust off your VHS copy of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and watch that. The Happytime Murders is painfully unfunny and has almost no creativity to speak of. This is a stupid comedy without any of the comedy. This is a foul comedy without earning its foulness. This is just a really bad movie.