NO STRINGS ATTACHED
Muppet master gets racy in Happytime Murders
Puppets cursing, boozing, fornicating, using drugs and hitting every dive joint in Los Angeles. If it sounds like we’re a long way from Sesame Street, don’t worry, we are.
Brian Henson, son of Muppets creator Jim Henson, is giving the world of puppets a grown-up spin in The Happytime Murders. Plugged in ads since early summer with the tagline, “No Sesame, All Street,” Happytime follows puppet private eye Phil Philips (puppeteer Bill Barretta) as he teams up with his foul-mouthed ex-partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to track down a serial killer who is knocking off the stars of a 1980s puppet sitcom The Happytime Gang.
It’s comedically violent and full of F-bombs, so definitely not for kids.
“It’s a hard R, which I did on purpose because I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh well, I’ll bring the kids anyway,’” Henson said in a recent interview. “I don’t want the family that are big Muppet fans to come see this movie with their kids.”
Henson, who got his love for puppeteering from his dad, has made plenty of kids’ films. He’s directed Muppet Treasure Island and Muppet Christmas Carol, and he worked on The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan.
But the idea of taking puppets (not Muppets) into an adult storyline on the big screen intrigued him after the success of his Puppet Up! live show.
“In that show, I was developing a new tone of comedy for puppets and what we found was people responded to comedy that went in a very adult direction. So I decided to look for scripted material that could embody that type of comedy.… And throughout the movie, by being R-rated, we’re able to meet puppets who are really dark, flawed individuals and present them in ways that are believable.”
Henson was emboldened by the success of Ted — which features Mark Wahlberg paling around with a foul-mouthed plush bear. Then Deadpool came along.
“It’s an R-rated movie and certainly the superhero genre wasn’t R-rated before. It’s OK to make something that’s exclusively for adults.”
That includes having a puppet sex scene that comes up with some interesting uses for Silly String (let’s just say you’ll never look at the fun-in-a-can kids toy the same way again). It’s a buzzedabout scene, but Henson laughs at the suggestion that seeing puppets have orgasms is too taboo for adults who grew up on Sesame Street.
“Even though we’re the biggest pornography industry in the world, Americans are so weird about sexuality on screen. It makes no sense,” he says. “To me, going hard R with sexuality is a more innocent choice than trying to go hard R with psycho killers … You’ve seen puppets do stuff for kids and that was fun at that time, but now you’re grown out of that and this is kind of subversive and irreverent in a way that only works well for adults … This is a movie ( both) parents and kids can (enjoy) — but only if the kids are like 20 years old.”
We’re the biggest pornography industry in the world, (but) Americans are so weird about sexuality onscreen.
Maya Rudolph, left, and Melissa McCarthy star alongside puppet Phil Philips (puppeteer Bill Barretta) in The Happytime Murders.
Director Brian Henson prepares a puppet on the set of The Happytime Murders.