The Happytime Murders
|The Happytime Murders|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Brian Henson|
|Screenplay by||Todd Berger|
|Music by||Christopher Lennertz|
|Edited by||Brian Scott Olds|
|Distributed by||STX Entertainment|
|Box office||$25.1 million|
The Happytime Murders is a 2018 American black comedy crime film directed by Brian Henson and written by Todd Berger. The film stars Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Joel McHale, Elizabeth Banks, and Bill Barretta. The plot, set in a world where puppets and humans co-exist, follows a joint police force who must solve a recent murder spree of retired sitcom stars.
The film was first announced in 2008 by The Jim Henson Company, the production studio of Muppets creator Jim Henson. Various actors, including Cameron Diaz, Katherine Heigl, and Jamie Foxx, were approached to star before McCarthy signed on in May 2017. Filming began in Los Angeles that September, and involved the use of over 120 puppets. The release marks the film debut of Henson Alternative, a banner of The Jim Henson Company that specializes in adult content.
The Happytime Murders was released on August 24, 2018, by STXfilms. It received generally negative reviews from critics and has grossed $25.1 million worldwide.
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In a world where puppets coexist with humans, but are reviled by humans and considered inferior, Phil Phillips is a puppet who lives in Los Angeles, and was the first puppet cop on the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) before being fired. Now working as a private detective with his human secretary Bubbles, Phil is approached by puppet client Sandra, and is hired to find out who has been blackmailing her. While looking for a lead at a puppet owned porn-shop, Phil goes in the back to check the records. When Phil is gone, an unknown attacker comes in and kills everyone present, and it is revealed one of the customers, Bumblypants, is a cast member from “The Happytime Gang”, a popular puppet sitcom from the 90s that was due to go into syndication.
After the LAPD arrive at the crime scene, Phillips meets up with his former partner, Detective Connie Edwards, with whom he had a falling out. Twelve years ago, Edwards was being held at gunpoint by a puppet criminal, and Phil tried to shoot him, but he missed and hit an innocent puppet, killing him in front of his young daughter. The thug shot Edwards, but she killed him before he got away. The gunshot wound nearly proved fatal for Edwards, who was left with a puppet liver as a result of a transplant when a puppet clinic was the closest available medical treatment facility after she was shot. Left with an addiction to sugar which is essentially like heroin to puppets, Edwards later testified against Phil and he was thrown off the force with a law put in place to prevent puppets from being cops.
At present time, Edwards believes it was a robbery gone wrong, but Phil notes that it was just murder because the assailant didn't take anything. That night, Larry "Shenanigans" Phillips, former Happytime cast-member and Phil’s brother, is torn apart when someone lets a group of dogs into his house. Enraged, Phillips reluctantly teams up with Edwards at the request of Lt. Banning to find the killer.
Believing the killer may be targeting members of "The Happytime Gang", and discovering that the contract for syndication promises the royalty money to surviving family members, the two track down former cast member Lyle, who is now a drug lord, dealing in sugar only for him to be killed in a drive-by shooting in front of Phillips. The next day, Phillips goes to see Jenny, the only human member of "The Happytime Gang" and his former girlfriend, at a puppet strip club where she now works. However, Phillips is unable to protect her when her car explodes, seemingly killing her. The police arrive and see Phil leave the scene, believing him to be responsible for the murders.
Phil hides out at Edwards' apartment and the two discover that another former Happytime Gang member, Goofer, now a homeless sugar addict, has been found dead under a pier after supposedly overdosing and falling over into the ocean. The two head out of town to find the two remaining Happytime Gang members, Ezra and Cara, also known as the Kissing Cousins. Phil and Edwards head to their house and come across Ezra and Cara's mangled bodies inside. The killer gets away, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows up with other agents to capture Phil and Edwards.
Phil is shown Sandra in an interrogation room, who lies and says that Phil killed Jenny and the others, and was trying to keep Sandra for himself, also revealing that she was Jenny's wife. The FBI detains Philips afterward. After arguing with FBI agent Campbell, Edwards is suspended from duty. Edwards finds Bubbles in her apartment to ask for her help in proving Phil's innocence. She has Sandra's home address and they break into her place to find any info they can. They come across a hidden room with pictures and notes planning the deaths of the Happytime Gang as well as a whole conspiracy against Phil. Edwards then notices a picture of Jasper Jakoby, the puppet man who Phil accidentally shot years ago. Edwards realizes that Sandra is Jasper's daughter, and she has been planning revenge against Phil for her father's death. Bubbles sees a tape recorder and presses the play button, which ignites a fire that destroys all the evidence against Sandra. Edwards goes to tell Phil what she's learned, and she breaks Phil out of jail to stop Sandra.
Phil and Edwards make it to the airport, where Sandra is planning to depart with all the royalty money, due to her status as Jenny's spouse leaving her the sole surviving heir to the money. Phil runs up to her and tries to apologize for killing her father, saying it has haunted him all those years, but he asks why the Happytime Gang had to die because of it. Sandra says she wanted Phil to suffer as payback. It also turns out that Jenny is alive, having faked her death, and is in cahoots with Sandra, but Sandra instead knocks Jenny out to take the money for herself and get away after Philips reveals her true history. Edwards runs after Sandra and tries to get in her plane, but Sandra gets the drop on her first and holds her at gunpoint. She steps outside with Edwards, putting her and Phil in the same position as before. Phil takes his shot and doesn't miss this time, hitting Sandra in the head and killing her.
Banning arrives to congratulate Phil and Edwards on cracking the case. He restores Edwards to active duty and convinces the mayor to lift the ban on puppet cops, welcoming Phil back on the force. Phil also asks Bubbles out on a date, and she accepts.
- Melissa McCarthy as Detective Connie Edwards, Phil’s ex-partner.
- Maya Rudolph as Bubbles, Phil’s optimistic, upbeat secretary.
- Joel McHale as Special Agent Campbell, a stern, arrogant FBI agent.
- Elizabeth Banks as Jenny Peterson, a burlesque dancer and Phil's ex-girlfriend, who was the sole human cast member of The Happytime Gang.
- Leslie David Baker as Lt. Banning, a police lieutenant who is Edwards' superior.
- Michael McDonald as Ronovan Scargle, the CEO of the Puppet Television Network, which produced and aired The Happytime Gang.
- Cynthy Wu as Brittenie Marlowe, Larry "Shenanigans"' girlfriend.
- Mitch Silpa as Tommy, a criminal who sells puppet parts on the black market.
- Hemky Madera as Tito, a criminal who purchases puppet parts on the black market.
- Jimmy O. Yang as Officer Delancey, a police officer.
- Ryan Gaul as Officer Milligan, a police officer.
- Fortune Feimster as Robin, a weed dealer and a longtime fan of The Happytime Gang.
- Ben Falcone as Donny, an LAPD desk worker.
- Bill Barretta as Phil Phillips, a disgraced ex-cop who is now a private investigator. He was the first puppet to become a police officer, but was fired from the force.
- Barretta also performs Junkyard and Boar.
- Dorien Davies as Sandra White (née Jakoby), a puppet who asks Phil to investigate a case for her while having a secret motive.
- Kevin Clash as Lyle, an actor on The Happytime Gang who played a sports coach and is now a powerful drug lord.
- Clash also performs Mr. Bumblypants, a white rabbit actor on The Happytime Gang who played a mail carrier and now has a pornography addiction.
- Drew Massey as Goofer, an actor of indeterminate species on The Happytime Gang who played a handyman, and is now homeless and addicted to sugar, which is like heroin to puppets.
- Massey also performs Vinny, a vulture who works at a porn shop.
- Ted Michaels as Ezra, an actor on The Happytime Gang and Cara’s cousin.
- Michaels also performs a sexist thug.
- Colleen Smith as Cara, an actress on The Happytime Gang and Ezra’s cousin.
- Smith also performs a Dalmatian
- Smith also performs Carol
- Alice Dinnean and Donna Kimball as Sheila and Diane (the "Rotten Cotten Girls"), two puppet prostitutes.
- Kimball also performs an unnamed cow at a porn shop.
- Kimball also performs Roxy
- Brian Henson as an unnamed red crab in a beach trash can.
- Allan Trautman as an unnamed octopus at a porn shop who milks a cow.
- Trautman also performs the puppet doctor.
- Victor Yerrid as Larry "Shenanigans" Phillips, Phil's older brother and an actor on The Happytime Gang who played a police officer. In the present, he has since had his blue skin bleached and underwent a nose job.
- Yerrid also performs an Old Man.
In addition, Henson makes an on-screen cameo in a photograph in Connie's apartment.
Announced in 2008 as being in development at The Jim Henson Company, the film was picked up two years later by Lionsgate with a targeted January 2011 start date. At the time, Cameron Diaz had been offered a lead role in the film. Diaz dropped out and Katherine Heigl entered into talks to replace her.
In July 2015, it was announced that STX Entertainment had picked up the film rights to The Happytime Murders (Lionsgate having lost them) and put the film in active development, with script revisions by Erich and Jon Hoeber. In April 2016, Jamie Foxx entered negotiations to star in the film. In May 2017, it was revealed that Melissa McCarthy had signed on to star in the film instead, as well as to contribute minor, uncredited rewrites to the film's screenplay. This was followed by Maya Rudolph being added in August, and in September, Elizabeth Banks, puppeteer Bill Barretta, and Joel McHale all officially joined the cast.
Principal photography on the film began in Los Angeles, California on September 11, 2017. The film had a production budget in the range of $40–47 million, with McCarthy getting paid between $10–17.5 million.
There are a total of 125 puppets in the film, with 40 created specifically for it. To accommodate the puppeteers, all of the sets were built up so that the puppeteers could stand on the floor, since their optimum way to operate the puppets is if they are standing with straight arms. Because the floor of the sets came up in pieces, the human actors had a two-foot margin to stay on their path. Visual effects supervisor Sam Nicholson said the film had many VFX challenges, specifiyng, "It’s some of the most complex work that we’ve ever done because, in one shot you could have a combination of principal photography done at 8K and then puppets on greenscreen being puppeteered by four puppeteers for each puppet. So if you have, say, six puppets in a scene, you’ve got 24 puppeteers operating them, and these are all people dressed in green suits. And then you have all the rod removal of those puppets, and then you have avatars or CG puppets that are standing right next to the real puppets."
As of September 23, 2018, The Happytime Murders has grossed $20.7 million in the United States and Canada, and $4.4 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $25.1 million, against a production budget of around $40 million.
In the United States and Canada, The Happytime Murders was released alongside A.X.L., and was projected to gross $13–15 million from 3,225 theaters in its opening weekend. The film grossed $950,000 from Thursday night previews, better than the $700,000 made by McCarthy's Life of the Party three months prior. It went on to debut to $9.5 million, marking the lowest opening of McCarthy's career as a lead. It fell 54% in its second weekend to $4.4 million, finishing eighth.
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On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 22% based on 200 reviews, with an average rating of 3.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The Happytime Murders wastes its intriguingly transgressive premise on a witless comedy that blindly pushes buttons instead of attempting to tell an entertaining story." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 27 out of 100, based on 47 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C–" on an A+ to F scale, the lowest of McCarthy's career as a lead, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it an "awful" 58% overall positive score.
Sarah Melton from Exclaim! gave the film a rating of 2/10, saying, "The Happytime Murders hardly feels like a fitting extension of Henson's muppet legacy. Not because it's thoroughly vulgar and dirty, but because that's all it is." Jess Fenton for Switch wrote "...I adored the concept, I loved the cast, the fact that this was directed by Jim Henson’s son made me giddy, and yet... I did not like this movie. Hate is too strong a word, however I was deeply disappointed, underwhelmed, my sides were left unsplit."
In May 2018, Sesame Workshop, the organization behind the production of the television series Sesame Street, filed a lawsuit against STX Productions for using their trademark in a film they have no involvement with, including the tagline "No Sesame, all Street". They alleged that associating a children’s program with an adult comedy would smear the former's reputation as well as confuse individuals. In response, STX issued a statement indicating their persistence to keep the marketing for the film unchanged. On May 30, 2018, the lawsuit was rejected by the presiding judge for the case, with STX issuing a brief statement soon thereafter:
“We fluffing love Sesame Street and we're obviously very pleased that the ruling reinforced what STX's intention was from the very beginning — to honor the heritage of The Jim Henson Company's previous award-winning creations while drawing a clear distinction between any Muppets or Sesame Street characters and the new world Brian Henson and team created. We believe we accomplished that with the very straightforward NO SESAME, ALL STREET tagline. We look forward to continued happytimes as we prepare to release Happytime Murders this summer.”
Some subsequent television spots for the film made references to the lawsuit by starting the ads with "From the studio that was sued by Sesame Street...".
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