I liked a lot of dumb comedies when I was a kid. In fact, it was probably my favorite genre. Even in my simple kid-brain I don’t think I would’ve said they were great movies, but they were the movies I liked. Sometimes you just want to not think too much and occasionally hear the word “titties.” I didn’t want to believe I’d outgrown these simple pleasures, but for a while I did wonder; it’s been a long time since I enjoyed something in that way. The Happytime Murders takes me back to those simpler days, of nacho cheese and dumb giggles. It helps me believe that it really was the movies that changed and not me.
The Happytime Murders is, of course, an R-rated muppet movie directed by Brian Henson and written by Todd Berger, a Ray Chandler-esque tale of a hard-drinking puppet private detective set in a world where puppets are second class citizens. Its fictionalized LA is a place where, as our hard-boiled protagonist, Phil Phillips (voiced by Bill Barretta doing a Deniro impression) tells us, “the greatest crime is to be warm and fuzzy.”
There are other race parable elements, like puppets bleaching their skin or trying to change their “puppet nose,” but The Happytime Murders isn’t Bright; it isn’t a satire, and very few of the jokes could be described as “incisive.” To me, this is a blessing. We’ve had so many years of comedy as protest and venerating the comedian as the ultimate truth teller and late night hosts DESTROYING some low-hanging sacred cow in YouTube videos that I’ve come to yearn for the whoopie cushion. When Donald Trump got elected there was some talk about it potentially producing some amazing protest art. A year and a half in, that promise has largely failed to materialize (Sorry To Bother You being a notable exception), but if it manages to bring about a renaissance in dopey fart comedy it won’t have been a total loss. The Happytime Murders gives me that hope.