George Ibarra/Contributing Writer
Rarely do audiences get to experience a film that’s escaped from development hell. Unfortunately, despite over a decade of waiting on Brian Henson’s dark comedy spin on a murder-mystery set in a puppet filled world, the new trailer for “The Happytime Murders” doesn’t sell a great image for a movie with such potential.
The film was originally announced in 2008 as being in development by the Jim Henson Company, with Brian Henson set to direct the picture. Having worked as a puppeteer and performer on films such as “Little Shop of Horrors (1986)” and “Labyrinth (1986),” in addition to directing many Muppet movies prior to Disney’s 2004 acquisition of the brand, Brian Henson held both the experience and the legacy built off of the art created by his late father Jim Henson to help spark interest in this film.
Though Brian Henson and the Jim Henson Company have always been attached to the project, over the course of the last decade both the rights to the film’s distribution as well as the stars set for the movie’s lead roles has bounced from place to place. It was only recently that the distribution rights were purchased by STXfilms, an entertainment company, with Melissa McCarthy set to star as human detective Connie Edwards, who works opposite to Bill Barretta’s puppet counterpart, private investigator Phil Phillips.
Previously released concept art for the film depicting the grizzled puppet detective Phil Phillips investigating a horrific crime scene of two animal puppets whose stuffing litters the room further emphasized that “The Happytime Murders” would be a dark comedy. Like others who took interest in this film’s development, I found myself drawn to the idea of a dark comedy neo-noir set in a puppet world akin to “Who Framed Rodger Rabbit (1988),” and hoped that someday the film might be completed.
Then the trailer dropped.
The redband trailer for “The Happytime Murders” is filled with ‘jokes’ focused on sex, drugs and profanity. While such subjects aren’t inherently bad to joke about, the execution of these jokes don’t escalate beyond “puppets having sex” and “puppets doing drugs,” painting the trailer with an incredibly juvenile sense of humor.
Such a misunderstanding on what makes risqué humor work is a direct result of living in a post-”South Park” world. Ever since Comedy Central’s mega-hit “South Park” turned the entertainment world on its head, every half-wit comedian believes that all it takes to make a decent adult comedy is to fill their art with copious amounts of sex, drugs and violence, all completely devoid of purpose or meaning beyond the initial surface-level shock of a hard cut into an aggressively raunchy boning session.
Additionally, though I will admit I’m not a fan of Melissa McCarthy’s work, I’m also a believer that any actor can subvert ones expectations to deliver a performance far beyond what one might expect. Unfortunately, the humor revolving around McCarthy in this trailer aren’t jokes with setups and punchlines, but rather a repetition of the objective statement that she identifies as a woman, which tries (and fails) to get passed off as a joke.
From what this redband trailer has shown me, my hopes for this film have faded completely. Despite the potential in its premise, I suspect that “The Happytime Murders” will sink into the unfortunate realm of adult humor sludge populated by works such as “Spring Breakers (2013),” “Sausage Party (2016),” and nearly every Seth Rogan film ever made.