One thing that many people do not know (mostly because of the failed advertising campaign), is that the latest unofficially official Muppet-centric film, The Happytime Murders, is written, directed, and produced by Jim Henson’s third and youngest child, Brian Henson. Despite this lack of clarification, the film still opened in the number three spot at the box office, with just over $9.5M domestically, behind The Meg and Crazy Rich Asians.

Who doesn’t have some sort of attachment to Jim Henson’s surreal world of The Muppets? From the classic children’s television show Sesame Street, the 1980’s classics like Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth (starring David Bowie), and the legendary comedy series The Muppet Show, there is no doubt that The Jim Henson Company, in one way or another, has left a lasting impression on not only all of our upbringings, but Hollywood as we know it. From Bert and Ernie to Kermit and Miss Piggy, Muppets Inc. has been a cherished institution of family fun for generations.

From very early on, Brian was his father’s puppeteering muse. He was surrounded by his father’s world of Muppets, even appearing in several episodes of Sesame Street as a child. When Brian got older, he built the very first “Muppet Penguin” puppet for an episode of The Muppet Show, and later, Brian helped create and operate a special rigging device allowing the Muppets to ride bicycles. He then operated a marionette named Scooter riding a bicycle in 1984’s The Muppets Take Manhattan.

Sesame Street

Fraggle Rock

In the mid to late 80’s, as The Jim Henson Company (aka Muppets Inc.) propelled to household-name status, Brian Henson found himself wanting to take ownership of his own career. He began working on other major motion pictures, as Jack Pumpkinhead in Return to Oz opposite Fairuza Balk (The Craft), as the special effects operator in Santa Claus: The Movie, and even performed in Little Shop of Horrors as the principle puppet named Audrey II. Brian’s contributions were now individually recognized, but his successful breakaway from Muppets Inc. was cut short when his father died in 1990.

Nearly a year later, in January of 1991, Brian Henson was named President, Chairman, and CEO of The Jim Henson Company at just 27 years old, and while Brian managed to fight off Disney executives looking to buy the company, he still lent his artistry to some non-Muppet projects like TV’s Dinosaurs, Sid the Science Kid and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge. But Brian’s legacy, like his father’s, is and always will be within the family-friendly Muppets. That is, until now. 

Produced by the original Jim Henson Company, and (what seems to be a new sub-company) HA! Henson Alternative, Brian presents a new kind of “muppetry” in 2018 – The Happytime Murders.

Perhaps Brian Henson always wondered what an adult comedy starring his father’s children’s puppets would look like… Or maybe he just wanted a much-needed change of direction after spending decades in PG television and movies. Whatever the reason, Brian Henson’s latest Muppet film – in which his involvement is almost as hidden as the strings on a puppet – does not hold back whatsoever. A new breed of Muppets has arrived with The Happytime Murders and you can be sure they will slap any innocent memories you have of Jim Henson’s Muppets right out of your head and into the nearest gutter. It’s that raunchy! Somewhere, right now, Miss Piggy is having a conniption fit.

Audiences have expressed their confusion with what The Happytime Murders is actually about since the promotional campaign was vague and next to non-existent. Set in downtown Los Angeles, The Happytime Murders plays out like a modern-day New York City detective film (the one where a disgruntled and often alcoholic detective narrates a series of events in a thick, but smooth NYC accent). Crime scene after crime scene ensues (without any leads) until the suspense climaxes, the plot thickens, and the audience begs to find out whodunnit?! Throw a whole bunch of puppet sex, profanity, and violence in the mix and you have yourself The Happytime Murders. Buckle up!

Centering on a pair of detectives (one human, one puppet) with a colourful history and savage banter, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy, Life of the Party), and PI Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta, voice of the Swedish Chef in multiple Muppets projects), must come together to solve the brutal yet comical serial murders of celebrity puppets who all starred in a beloved television series years earlier. Big name comedians like Maya Rudolph and Elizabeth Banks add their flair to an already over-the-top list of characters, but this film is all about the puppets! They steal – if not command – the show.  They’re the real stars of The Happytime Murders, and the cruder the scene, the more surprised you’ll be to be enjoying it. And while Melissa McCarthy and Bill Barretta carry the entire plot of the movie, it’s the gaggle of unlawful, crude, vulgar, and extremely NSFW puppets that make this movie what it is – a light-hearted, hard-headed adult comedy not to be taken too seriously.

Just know what you’re getting into. “No Sesame. All Street.”

TIP: See this movie at a matinée or half-price Tuesday showing. You’ll want to save the $25+ it costs for a regular movie ticket for something a bit more “big-screen worthy.” And if you partake in extracurricular activities, roll one up before the show! You’ll thank me later. Also, stay during the end credits for a behind-the-scenes look at how they got the puppets to walk, talk, and have sex! Yup, you read that right.

3 Popcorn Kernels / 5

Director Brian Henson

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About the Author

Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.