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The Happytime Murders

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The Happytime Murders
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBrian Henson
Screenplay byTodd Berger
Story by
  • Todd Berger
  • Dee Austin Robertson
Produced by
CinematographyMitchell Amundsen
Edited byBrian Olds
Music byChristopher Lennertz
Distributed bySTX Entertainment
Release date
  • August 24, 2018 (2018-08-24) (United States)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$40–47 million[1]
Box office$27.5 million[2]

The Happytime Murders is a 2018 American adult puppet buddy cop crime comedy film directed by Brian Henson and written by Todd Berger from a story by Berger and Dee Austin Robertson. The film stars Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Joel McHale, Maya Rudolph, Leslie David Baker, and Elizabeth Banks. Set in a world where humans and living puppets co-exist, the film follows a puppet private investigator and a human police detective who must solve a 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 Happytime Murders was the first film released by Henson Alternative, a banner of The Jim Henson Company aimed toward adult audiences.

The Happytime Murders was released on August 24, 2018, by STXfilms. It received mostly negative reviews from critics for its humor, performances and story, though the puppetry received praise. The film was a box-office bomb, grossing $27.5 million worldwide against a $40–47 million budget. The film received six nominations at the 39th Golden Raspberry Awards, including Worst Picture, with McCarthy winning Worst Actress.



In a world where living puppets coexist with humans but are treated as second-class citizens, Phil Phillips was the first puppet cop on the LAPD before being fired. Now a private investigator with a human secretary named Bubbles, he is hired by puppet client Sandra White to discover the identity of her blackmailer. Phil investigates a lead at a puppet-owned porn shop. While he checks their records in a back room, an attacker kills everyone else present including Mr. Bumblypants, a former cast member of the beloved sitcom The Happytime Gang.

The LAPD arrives and Phil meets with his former partner Detective Connie Edwards. Twelve years prior, Edwards was being held at gunpoint by a puppet perpetrator. Phil tried to shoot him, but missed and hit an innocent puppet, killing him in front of his young daughter. Edwards testified against Phil and a law was enacted preventing puppets from becoming police officers. In the present, Edwards believes it was a robbery gone wrong. Phil believes it was murder, since no money was taken. That night, Phil's brother Larry, another former Happytime cast member, is torn apart when someone lets dogs onto his property. Afterwards, Phil reluctantly joins forces with Edwards to find the killer.

Suspecting someone is killing the Happytime Gang cast to receive a larger share of the royalty money when the show becomes syndicated, the two track down former Happytime cast-member Lyle in a puppet drug-den, where it is revealed that Phil saved Edwards by getting her an emergency puppet liver transplant. Lyle is killed in a drive-by shooting in front of Phil. After having sexual intercourse with Sandra and escaping the FBI, Phil goes to see Jenny, the only human Happytime cast-member and his former girlfriend, at a puppet strip club where she works. Phil is unable to protect her when her car explodes. The police see Phil leaving the scene and believe him to be responsible for the murders.

Phil hides at Edwards's apartment and they discover that former Happytime cast-member Goofer has apparently overdosed and drowned. They go to the house of the two remaining Happytime cast-members Ezra and Cara only to find their mangled bodies. The FBI arrives and detains Phil and Edwards. Phil is shown Sandra in an interrogation room. She reveals that she and Jenny are married and claims that Phil killed Jenny and the others to keep Sandra for himself.

Edwards is suspended from duty and enlists Bubbles for help exonerating Phil. They break into Sandra's home and discover a hidden room containing plans for the deaths of the Happytime Gang stars and a frameup of Phil. Edwards notices a picture of the puppet Phil accidentally shot years ago, and realizes that Sandra is the daughter of the man he accidentally shot and is seeking revenge against Phil. Bubbles triggers a booby trap, which ignites a fire destroying all the evidence. Afterwards, Edwards breaks Phil out of jail so they can stop Sandra.

Phil and Edwards race to the airport, where Sandra is planning to escape with the sitcom's royalty money. Phil apologizes for killing her father, saying it has haunted him all the years since and asks why the Happytime Gang stars had to die when the blame was his alone. Sandra says she wanted Phil to suffer as payback. It is revealed that Jenny is alive, having faked her death, and is in cahoots with Sandra. After Phil reveals Sandra's true history, Sandra knocks Jenny out to take the money for herself. Sandra holds Edwards at gunpoint, putting Edwards and Phil in the same position as twelve years before. Phil takes his shot, doesn't miss this time, and kills Sandra.

Edwards's police superior Banning arrives to congratulate Phil and Edwards on solving 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 asks Bubbles on a date, which she accepts.


  • Melissa McCarthy as Detective Connie Edwards, Phil's ex-partner.
  • Maya Rudolph as Bubbles, Phil's optimistic, upbeat and kind secretary.
  • Joel McHale as Special Agent Campbell, a stern and arrogant FBI agent.
  • Elizabeth Banks as Jenny Peterson, a burlesque dancer and Phil's ex-girlfriend, who was the sole human member of The Happytime Gang.
  • Leslie David Baker as Lt. Banning, Edwards's police superior.
  • Michael McDonald as Ronovan Scargle, the CEO of the Puppet Television Network which produced The Happytime Gang.
  • Cynthy Wu as Brittany Marlowe, Larry Phillips's 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.
  • Barry Rothbart as Fireman
  • Damon Jones as the voice of the reluctant puppet doctor who operates on Edwards


  • 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 after accidentally killing Sandra's father.
    • Junkyard, a member of Lyle's drug gang.
    • Boar, a common warthog who works on the beach boardwalk.
  • Dorien Davies as Sandra White (née Jacoby), a puppet who hires Phil to investigate a case for her while having a secret vengeful motive against him.
  • Kevin Clash as:
    • Lyle, an actor on The Happytime Gang who played a sports coach and is now a drug lord.
    • Augustus Bumblypants, a rabbit actor who played a mail carrier on The Happytime Gang and now has a pornography addiction.
  • Drew Massey as:
    • Goofer, an actor on The Happytime Gang who played a handyman and is now homeless and addicted to sugar, which is like heroin to puppets.
    • Vinny, a vulture who works at the local porn shop.
  • Ted Michaels as:
    • Ezra, an actor on The Happytime Gang and Cara's cousin.
    • A sexist thug that works for Lyle.
  • Colleen Smith as:
    • Cara, an actress on The Happytime Gang and Ezra's cousin.
    • A Dalmatian dog at Vinny's porn shop.
    • Carol
  • Alice Dinnean and Donna Kimball as Sheila and Diane (the "Rotten Cotton Girls"), a duo of puppet strippers.
    • Kimball also performs an unnamed cow at Vinny's porn shop.
    • Kimball also performs Roxy.
  • Brian Henson as a crab who lives in a trash can.
  • Allan Trautman as:
    • An unnamed blue octopus at Vinny's porn shop.
    • The reluctant puppet doctor that operated on Edwards.
  • Victor Yerrid as:
    • Larry "Shenanigans" Phillips, Phil's older brother and an actor on The Happytime Gang who played a police officer, and who has since had his blue skin bleached and underwent a nose job.
    • An old man outside of Phil's private office, who loves singing and dancing.

In addition, Brian Henson makes an on-screen cameo in a photograph in Edwards's apartment.




Concept art depicting Phil, the grizzled central puppet character

Announced in 2008 as being in development at The Jim Henson Company, serving as the company's first film to receive an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America,[3] the film was picked up two years later by Lionsgate with a targeted January 2011 start date.[4] At the time, Cameron Diaz had been offered a lead role in the film.[5] Diaz dropped out and Katherine Heigl entered into talks to replace her.[6]

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.[7] In April 2016, Jamie Foxx entered negotiations to star in the film.[8] 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.[9] This was followed by Maya Rudolph being added in August,[9] and in September, Elizabeth Banks,[10] puppeteer Bill Barretta[11] and Joel McHale[12] all officially joined the cast.



Principal photography on the film began in Los Angeles, California, on September 11, 2017.[10] The film had a production budget in the range of $40–47 million, with McCarthy paid between $10 and 17.5 million.[1]

There were a total of 125 puppets in the film with 40 created specifically for it.[13] 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 (61 cm) margin to stay on their path.[13] Visual effects supervisor Sam Nicholson said the film had many VFX challenges, specifying, "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, 15 voice actors voicing 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."[14]



The Happytime Murders was released to cinemas by STX Entertainment on August 24, 2018.[15] The film was originally scheduled for August 17, 2018, but was pushed back a week.[16]

The first official red-band trailer was released on May 18, 2018, with select screenings of Deadpool 2.[17][18]

Home media


The Happytime Murders was released on Digital HD on November 20, 2018, and on DVD and Blu-ray on December 4, 2018,[19] by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.



Box office


The Happytime Murders has grossed $20.7 million in the United States and Canada, and $6.8 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $27.5 million, against a production budget of around $40 million.[2]

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.[20] 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.[1] It fell 54% in its second weekend to $4.4 million, finishing eighth.[21]

Critical response


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 23% based on 248 reviews, with an average rating of 4/10. 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."[22] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 27 out of 100, based on 48 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews".[23] 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.[1]

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.[24]

Andrew Barker of Variety magazine wrote:

It should come as no surprise that Happytime comes up farcically short as a metaphor for racism. But its most fatal miscalculation is the decision to frontload so many of its crassest setpieces into the first 15 or 20 minutes, depriving the rest of the film of the shock value that is its entire raison d'etre.[25]

The film received a positive review from William Bibbiani at IGN, who wrote:

The Happytime Murders may not be a timeless classic on par with Roger Rabbit, but it's more interesting and nuanced than its raunchy, violent humor suggests. The puppeteering is fantastic, the characters are interesting, and although the story isn't ingenious the jokes are usually funny.[26]

Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty gave the film a C+, stating that "the cognitive dissonance of kiddie characters dropped into extremely adult situations should set off taboo sparks like they did in Team America: World Police ... but mostly it feels like a promising idea poorly executed."[27] Rolling Stone's reviewer said "A few critics are calling it the worst movie of the year. Unfair! The Happytime Murders, the R-rated look at a serial killer running wild in a puppet-populated L.A., has what it takes to be a contender for worst of the decade."[28]


Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
St. Louis Film Critics Association Worst Film of the Year The Happytime Murders Nominated [29]
Houston Film Critics Society Best Worst Film Won [30]
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Hall of Shame Nominated [31]
Actress Most in Need of a New Agent Melissa McCarthy Nominated
Golden Raspberry Awards Worst Picture Brian Henson, Jeffrey Hayes, Melissa McCarthy & Ben Falcone Nominated [32]
Worst Director Brian Henson Nominated
Worst Actress Melissa McCarthy Won
Worst Supporting Actor Joel McHale Nominated
Worst Screen Combo Any two actors or puppets Nominated
Worst Screenplay Todd Berger & Dee Austin Robertson Nominated



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.[33][34] 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.[35]

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..."[36]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d D'Alessandro, Anthony (August 26, 2018). "'Why 'Happytime Murders' Reps A Solo Career B.O. Low For Melissa McCarthy In A 'Crazy Rich' Weekend – Update". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "The Happytime Murders (2018)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 19, 2018.
  3. ^ Sciretta, Peter (October 15, 2008). "Happytime Murders - A Muppet Noir". /Film. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  4. ^ Graham, Bill (October 12, 2010). "Lionsgate Picks Up Dark Jim Henson Co. Puppet Film HAPPYTIME MURDERS". Collider. Complex Media. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  5. ^ Graham, Bill (November 9, 2010). "Cameron Diaz Offered Role in Dark Henson Puppet Film THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS". Collider. Complex Media. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  6. ^ Chitwood, Adam (February 3, 2012). "Katherine Heigl Up for Film Noir Puppet Comedy THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS; Al Pacino Set as Villain in DESPICABLE ME 2". Collider. Complex Media. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  7. ^ Kit, Borys (July 7, 2015). "Jim Henson's Crime Puppet Movie Finds New Home at STX". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  8. ^ Busch, Anita (April 27, 2016). "Jamie Foxx Negotiating To Star In 'The Happytime Murders' At STX". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved April 28, 2016.
  9. ^ a b McNary, Dave (August 23, 2017). "Maya Rudolph to Reunite With Melissa McCarthy in 'Happytime Murders'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  10. ^ a b Hipes, Patrick (September 13, 2017). "Elizabeth Banks Joins Gang For 'The Happytime Murders'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  11. ^ Lee, Ashley (September 13, 2017). "Elizabeth Banks Joins STX's Puppet Comedy 'Happytime Murders'". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  12. ^ Kit, Borys (September 15, 2017). "Joel McHale Joins Melissa McCarthy in Puppet Comedy 'Happytime Murders' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved February 26, 2018.
  13. ^ a b Radish, Christina (July 12, 2018). "'The Happytime Murders': 25 Things to Know about the Long-Developing R-Rated Puppet Movie". Collider. Complex Media. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  14. ^ Failes, Ian (September 4, 2018). "The Puppet Masters Behind THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS". VFXVoice.com. Retrieved September 4, 2018.
  15. ^ Goldberg, Matt (June 22, 2018). "STX Films Shifts 'Mile 22' and 'The Happytime Murders' Release Dates". Collider. Complex Media. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  16. ^ Knapp, JD (July 1, 2017). "STX Sets Dates for 'Molly's Game' and 'Happytime Murders'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  17. ^ Schaefer, Sandy (May 18, 2018). "Happytime Murders Trailer: Melissa McCarthy's Filthy Puppet Noir". Screen Rant. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  18. ^ Foutch, Haleigh (May 18, 2018). "Melissa McCarthy Snorts Ecstasy and Punches Puppets in NSFW 'The Happytime Murders' Trailer". Collider. Complex Media. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  19. ^ "The Happytime Murders DVD Release Date December 4, 2018". DVDs Release Dates. Retrieved 2018-11-28.
  20. ^ Faughnder, Ryan (August 22, 2018). "Filthy puppet movie 'Happytime Murders' to battle 'Crazy Rich Asians' at the box office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 22, 2018./
  21. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (September 2, 2018). "'Crazy Rich Asians' Accumulates Wealth Over Labor Day With $116M+ Total; Bigger Than 'The Help' & 'The Butler'". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved September 2, 2018.
  22. ^ "The Happytime Murders (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 9, 2021.
  23. ^ "The Happytime Murders Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
  24. ^ Fenton, Jess (August 23, 2018). "Film review: The Happytime Murders - Filthy felt". SWITCH. Midnight Productions. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
  25. ^ Barker, Andrew (August 22, 2018). "Film Review: 'The Happytime Murders'". Variety magazine. Retrieved August 15, 2019.
  26. ^ Bibbiani, William (Aug 22, 2018). "The Happytime Murders Review". IGN.
  27. ^ Chris Nashawaty. "Something is missing in the raunchy muppet noir 'The Happytime Murders': EW review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2019-10-16.
  28. ^ Travers, Peter (24 August 2018). "'The Happytime Murders' Review: Puppet Raunchfest Is Dead on Arrival". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 21 February 2024.
  29. ^ "The 2018 St. Louis Film Critics Association (StLFCA) Nominations". Next Best Picture. December 9, 2018. Retrieved March 7, 2023.
  30. ^ "'The Favourite' Wins Big at 12th Annual Houston Film Critics Society Awards". Glide Magazine. 4 January 2019.
  31. ^ "2018 EDA Award Nominees". Alliance of Women Film Journalists.
  32. ^ 39TH Razzie Awards Announcement! (video). YouTube: Razzie Channel – via YouTube.
  33. ^ Lopez, Ricardo (May 25, 2018). "'Sesame Street' Creators Sue STX Entertainment Over Marketing for 'The Happytime Murders'". Variety. Penske Business Media. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  34. ^ "Sesame Street sues over violent, puppet-based Happytime Murders film". BBC News. BBC. May 26, 2018. Retrieved May 27, 2018.
  35. ^ Patten, Dominic; Pedersen, Erik (May 30, 2018). "'Happytime Murders' Lawsuit: Judge Kicks 'Sesame Street' Bosses' Grouchy Case To The Curb". Deadline Hollywood. Penske Business Media. Retrieved May 30, 2018.
  36. ^ Burwick, Kevin (August 13, 2018). "NSFW Happytime Murders Trailer Gets Dirty and Depraved with Puppets". MovieWeb. Watchr Media. Retrieved August 23, 2018.