Watch: Go BTS with the Dirty Puppets of Brian Henson's 'The Happytime Murders'
This is about as far from Kermit the Frog as one could possibly get.
Less an exercise in bad taste than a full five-mile marathon, Brian Henson's The Happytime Murders is a puppet-starring R-rated comedy that's foul-mouthed and raunchy, blunt and crass. The brainchild of Jim Henson's son, the film takes the father's felt-stitched character designs (although no official, nostalgia-laced Muppets make an appearance) and drops them into a noirish murder mystery that aims to shock via a combination of dirty jokes and gross-out visuals.
Pulling off a world in which puppets and humans cohabitate is no easy task, but Henson, providing a number of wide shots that show puppets walking and talking with no human arms up their back, pulls the stunt off. As seen in the behind-the-scenes video below, this was a result of green screen effects, clever production design, playful framing, and tireless puppeteers.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=2URQWPFZsP8
The plot, following two former police partners (one a puppet, one a human played by Melissa McCarthy) who re-team to investigate a string of puppet-television-star-murders, is secondary to the sexually-charged hijinx on display here. "Come for the story, stay for the full-frontal genitalia," would be an appropriate pull-quote for the movie's marketing materials, and the sights, including yes, a riff on that famous interrogation scene from Basic Instinct and a scene of an octopus "servicing" a cow's lactating utters as a kind of puppet-compromise of a "happy ending," aren't for the weak of heart.
This is, of course, to say nothing of our lead character's silly-string crafted ejaculate and a scene in which rabbits attend a strip club, getting turned on by actress Elizabeth Banks' biting off the tip of a carrot. This isn't officially Puppetry of the Penis, but perhaps it's pretty close. The puppet murders are also graphic, but only to the extent that a corpse made up completely of cloth can be considered stomach-churning (one character gets ripped to shreds by a pack of hungry dogs and another gets his head shot clean off, white fuzz flying everywhere).
Regardless of your feelings toward the final product, the BTS video makes clear that the production was a labor of love, and it's inspiring to see such a meticulous approach still being applied to a fabric-infested world such as Henson's. While many puppet-starring properties have gone digital (or from 2D to 3D animation, as was the case with the epochal 1980s animation classic, Muppet Babies), it's appropriate to take a moment to appreciate those who still believe in getting drug-addicted puppets done right.
Have you seen The Happytime Murders? Are you pushing for a "practical form of puppeteering" renaissance in the near future? Let us know in the comments below.