Sex, Death, and Muppets: “The Happytime Murders”

R-Rated Kids’ Movies? Kids’ Movies for Grown-ups?

There seems to be a trend towards melding horror with kid-friendly visual mediums. We recently told you about deviant artist DrFaustusAU who reimagines horror movies as Dr. Seuss stories, as well as Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk’s latest work: Fight Club 4 Kids. And for kicks, check out this hysterical (and extremely dark) animated short: R-Rated Harry Potter.

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Even The Jim Henson Company, the creative minds behind the Muppets, will be taking their kid-friendly brand of entertainment in a bold new direction. Last Tuesday, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Brian Henson will helm the long-gestating project, The Happytime Murders. This script’s synopsis, as well as early concept art, makes it clear: This won’t be your typical Sesame Street affair. Clearly more noir than horror, this is nonetheless intriguing and dangerous territory for puppets.

Official Synopsis: Happytime takes place in a world where humans and puppets coexist, with the puppets viewed as second-class citizens. When the puppet cast members of 1980s children’s TV show The Happytime Gang begin turning up dead, a disgraced LAPD detective turned private eye puppet — with a drinking problem, no less — takes the case with his former human partner. The tone was originally envisioned as Avenue Q meets L.A. Confidential.

Todd Berger and Dee Robertson wrote the initial drafts, but the latest script is by Erich and Jon Hoeber, the brothers who wrote Red and Red 2.

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The concept art above portrays a crime scene investigation of a murdered puppet in a sex shop, as well as an off-the-record interview with a well-endowed vamp in a strip club. These are not the kind of settings and situations self-respecting Muppets are normally found in! And while this isn’t the first time Jim Henson’s creations have ventured into ominous territory (The Dark Crystal, for example, was aesthetically and thematically very “adult”) Happytime seems to be venturing someplace else entirely, an extremely small subgenre that can best be described as Kid’s Movies for Grown-Ups or R-Rated Kids’ Movies.

There’s not trailer as yet, but I dug up this video by Beyond the Trailer from 2012 that discusses the next Muppet Movie sequel—and Brian Henson’s intension to produce The Happytime Murders (proving that this concept has been brewing for quite some time). Check it out:

The inherent irony of R-Rated Kid’s Movies is a big part of what makes this as yet unnamed subgenre so entertaining: A style used to captivate young minds and teach basic situational awareness is being use to communicate very complex stories and subtexts. It also presents great opportunities for those of us who don’t have kids to revisit the mindless eye-candy of our youths, while still satisfying our grown-up entertainment desires. The concept of terrifying horror being filtered through a kid-friendly lens is deceptively complex. While the outcome may be visually childish, the ideas being communicated are anything but.

I’m reminded of Peter Jackson’s extreme perversion of puppet-themed entertainment, his early film Meet the Feebles. Years before The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies, even before his 1992 splatter-epic Dead Alive, a young Jackson released a skewering reimagining of The Muppet Show. Meet the Feebles, released during the drug fueled, AIDS-panicked peak of the 1980’s, hides blistering social commentary among a puppet cast that fights, fucks, and murders one another. The film is also notable for the way it transforms cute faux-fur creatures into disturbingly disgusting fiends that bleed, shit, and puke buckets. Horror historians looking to unearth something uniquely twisted are encouraged to dig up Meet the Feebles. Check out the film’s trailer below.

Whether or not The Happytime Murders ushers in a wave of R-Rated Kid’s Movies, making this a certifiable subgenre, remains to be seen. We’ll keep you posted as the project progresses.

What’s your first impression of The Happytime Murders? Have you seen Peter Jackson’s early film Meet the Feebles? Sound off in the Comments sections!

Follow me on Twitter @josh_millican

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