Firstly, it's not as good. Also, it has real actors. I was expecting "The Happytime Murders" to either be abysmal or brilliant, but as it turns out, it falls somewhere in between.
It's perfectly competently made. And it's short: just over 80 minutes plus the end credits. The main puppet character, P.I. Phil Philips, is very good and carries the movie through its more unsuccessful parts. The first part of the story - provided that you enjoy raunchy humour - is surprisingly entertaining (and good looking). Another surprise is the amount of improv: the puppeteers are so good at what they do, that they can ad-lib, which is impressive.
Unfortunately, the story lacks punch and freshness. The last 15 minutes really drops the rating. That, and the fact, that the movie is never as funny as you'd want it to be. So, there you have it. I still enjoyed it more than I expected.
What about Melissa McCarthy? Well, personally I find her to be very talented. In "The Happytime Murders" she's ok, she has great technique and a great sense of timing, but she relies too much on familiar tricks, and only shines on a couple of occasions.
The real scene stealer therefore is Maya Rudolph, who is very sweet and brings the movie a lot of heart all while being very funny. Maya and Phil the Puppet actually have chemistry. The other puppets are fine, a mixed bag of jokes that land and others that don't. "Meet the Feebles" is way better in this respect, as well.
Some musings on the origins of "The Happytime Murders". The humour in the movie is very crude. It feels like Brian Henson and co. threw up all the R-rated behind the scenes jokes of Sesame Street of the last 50 years into this 80-minute comedy. The roots of this type of comedy can be traced into mid-70's. Mel Brooks ("Blazing Saddles", 1974) was among the pioneers, soon followed by Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker ("Kentucky Fried Movie", 1977) and especially by the National Lampoon magazine, who inspired a slew of movies like "Animal House" (1978) and "Vacation" (1983). (Not to forget Steve Martin's unbelievable "The Jerk" (1979), still the greatest comedy of the sub-genre.)
There was a "slump" for these type of comedies in the late 80's and early 90's - excluding Peter Jackson with "Meet the Feebles" (1989) and "Braindead" (1992). Then came the Farrellys and their "Dumb and Dumber" (1994), which really made crude, scatological comedy mainstream in the U.S. and globally.
"The Happytime Murders" belongs to the most recent wave of outrageous comedy, which has the distinction of being female-driven: Kristen Wiig's "Bridesmaids" (2011) is a milestone, and it featured two women appearing in "The Happytime Murders", Rudolph and McCarthy. Their co-star, Elizabeth Banks, made a similar bad-taste-comedy in 2008, "Zack And Miri Make a Porno". The movies may not always be very successful as such, but the skills of these actresses are undeniable and bring a freshness to the proceedings.
Apart from the mentioned, "The Happytime Murders" is explained, apparently, by Brian Henson's side project, "Puppet Up!", an R-rated live show he's had going on for the past few years.
Summa summarum, I think - to my surprise - I'd like to see a sequel to THM. A sequel that improves on this one and fulfills the potential of the concept. The makers have the means and the talent to pull it off.
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