Developed by The Jim Henson Company, the legendary creator of ‘The Muppet Show’, ‘The Happytime Murders’ is the company’s first attempt to make an R-rated puppet movie. The film tells the story of human police detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and her former puppet partner Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) as they begin investigating a string of horrible murders.
Thematically, the film resides somewhere between a buddy-cop comedy and neo-noir fiction, paying homage to both. The chemistry between McCarthy and Barretta is one of the best things about the film, which uses the traditional private-eye monologue from Phillips’ perspective to push forward the story and interconnect scenes. SPOILERS AHEAD.
The Happytime Murders Plot Synopsis
The story is set in a parallel world where humans and puppets exist side by side but are not considered equal. The puppets face widespread and even systemic discrimination. Phillips was the first puppet police of all time, but after he allegedly refused to shoot a puppet who was holding Edwards hostage, he was suspended from the force. Since then, he has been earning his wages as a private detective. His and Edwards’ relationship has turned almost antagonistic.
After his suspension, the city introduced a new law, “The Phillips Law,” which prohibited other puppets from joining the force. Phillips’ brother, Larry “Shenanigans” Phillips (Victor Yerrid), used to star in a highly popular TV sitcom called ‘The Happytime Gang.’ When it originally came out, the series was regarded as revolutionary as it had all but one puppet cast. The sole human actress on the show, Jenny (Elizabeth Banks), is Phillips’ old flame.
When Larry, Jenny, and other cast members of ‘The Happytime Gang’ start getting horribly murdered one by one, and Lt. Banning (Leslie David Baker) orders Edwards to work on the case with Phillips serving as her consultant, old wounds resurface. In a flashback, it is revealed that when Phillips missed the shot at Edwards’ assailant, the bullet ricocheted off a pillar and hit an innocent puppet bystander, who died right before the eyes of his young daughter. The assailant then shot Edwards before trying to run away and was gunned down by her.
As Edwards was dying, Phillips took her to the nearest hospital, which was exclusively for the puppets. Having no other choice, the doctors there replaced her real liver with a puppet one. As he was present at the scenes at the time of all the murders, the police and the FBI soon suspect Phillips. Having nowhere else to turn to, he reaches out to Edwards. Together, they discover that this just might be an elaborate scheme to frame him.
The Happytime Murders Ending
The film attempts a commentary on real-world racism and xenophobia. Still, the main focus of the film remains humor, which is pursued through a combination of situational and slapstick comedy. Like any Muppets project, ‘The Happytime Murders’ is rife with homages and easter eggs. Sandra White’s (Dorien Davies) testimony scene is clearly a throwback to that famous leg-crossing scene from ‘Basic Instinct.’ Phillips’ hardboiled P.I. life is given a wholesome appearance with the addition of the fiercely loyal and blonde secretary, Bubbles (Maya Rudolph).
After being accused of being the murderer, Phillips tries to track down the real one with Edwards’ help. Goffer (Drew Massey), one of the former ‘The Happytime Gang’ cast member, tells Edwards that the killer is married. She and Phillips conclude that the real killers have to be the “kissing cousins,” Ezra and Cara. But when they arrive at the couple’s home, they find them dead as well. The police and the FBI arrive and apprehend both of them.
Who Is the Killer?
Following their arrest from the murder scene, Banning has no other choice but to take Edwards’ badge and place Phillips in custody. The biggest witness against Phillips turns out to be puppet Sandra White, one of his clients. She originally comes to him, claiming that she is getting blackmailed. While investigating her case, Phillips ends up at Vinny’s Puppet Pleasureland, where the first group of killings takes place. According to Sandra, Phillips killed Jenny, Larry, and others because she and he were having an affair, and he wanted them to run away together with Jenny’s money from the sitcom.
Phillips realizes two things here -first, Sandra is the real killer; second, she purposefully set him up. Her reasons, however, remain unclear to him. They become apparent when Bubbles and Edwards break into Sandra’s apartment and discover that she is actually the young girl from 12 years ago whose father was killed by Phillips’ ricocheting bullet. This is an act of revenge, and it clearly doesn’t matter to Sandra, whom she hurt along the way. She wants to humiliate Phillips and destroy whatever reputation he has left before putting him in jail for good. It seems like she has succeeded.
A Shot at Redemption
Edwards comes up with a desperate plan. She manages to break Phillips out of prison. With Bubbles’ help, they track Sandra at the airport, ready to leave the country. Phillips still feels guilty about nearly ruining Edwards’ life. He handcuffs her to the steering wheel of the ambulance they stole and goes to confront Sandra on his own. It is then that he learns that Jenny is still alive and was part of Sandra’s schemes. Phillips apologies for Sandra’s father’s death fall into deaf ears.
When she admits that she enjoyed the killings, he realizes that she is beyond saving. Edwards gets herself freed and saves Phillips from being thrown into a jet engine. Unfortunately, she herself gets caught by Sandra. The subsequent scene is starkly similar to what happened on that fateful day. However, this time, Phillips doesn’t miss and kills Sandra. This brings an emotional redemption to the main protagonist.
The one that will have practical implications comes later, with him learning from Banning that The Phillips Law has been revoked and getting his badge back. Over the years, Phillips has been his own greatest detractor. He was the first in the line of an extraordinary thing and could have served as an inspiration to thousands of young puppets. Instead, he became a cautionary tale in the discrimination propaganda. Now that the world has forgiven him, Phillips can start forgiving himself, and his decision to date Bubbles is a pretty good start to that.
Read More: Where Was The Happytime Murders Filmed?