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Joseph Scarbrough launched what he called "The Scarblog" as a way of cataloging his work over the years, as well as going into greater detail of things on his mind (known as "Unfinished Thoughts").

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

My Unfinished Thoughts on HAPPYTIME MURDERS **UPDATE**

And for the first time ever, the term "Unfinished Thoughts" is taken to a literal level, as this movie has yet to be released, and I haven't seen it yet, so presently my unfinished thoughts are just that - they haven't been solidified as of yet.

There's already a lot of controversy surrounding the upcoming movie from The Jim Henson Company: HAPPYTIME MURDERS. And all of the controversy boils down to one aspect: it's an R-rated puppet movie. Now granted, this isn't the first time there's ever been an R-rated puppet movie . . . Matt Stone and Trey Parker did that over a decade ago, with their satirical action movie TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE, which featured a cast of marionettes, and the content included lewd humor, sexual situations, comic violence, and foul language. But then again, what would you expect from the creators of SOUTH PARK? That's probably why the thought of HAPPYTIME MURDERS being an R-rated puppet movie seems more shocking, because this isn't coming from the creators of an infamously lewd, raunchy, and vulgar animated franchise . . . it's coming from The Jim Henson Company - one of the leaders of family entertainment. Right?

That's where a lot of the controversy is being directed toward. The Jim Henson Company first announced they were making this movie about ten years ago, and at the time, it was a big deal: Disney still hadn't done much with the Muppets at this point since buying them in 2004, and it seemed like much of Henson's involvement in anything-puppetry related was through their Henson Alternative branch, which is responsible for the puppet improv showcases like Puppet Up! So, for Henson to be coming out with a puppet movie, that was certainly met with a lot of hype. From the get-go, it was announced that HAPPYTIME MURDERS was going to be an edgy noir-type movie, but that didn't seem to bother too many people - especially when you consider that Jim Henson himself always brought a certain level of edge and adult humor to the Muppets when he was alive, even if a lot of people tend to overlook it.

But things began to take a different direction with the public's perception when it was announced a few years back that Melissa McCarthy was being attached to the project, and that the movie was going to be a raunchy, vulgar, R-rated adult comedy; that's what seemed to suddenly set people off. It also didn't help that speculation was being circulated on the internet for titilation that Melissa McCarthy was not only starring in the movie, but was handling the screenplay and was responsible for the movie going into the raunchy and vulgar direction. That has been proven to be false, but it doesn't help that Melissa McCarthy is known for being among raunchy and vulgar R-rated comedy royalty in Hollywood. But this is a puppet movie, how can this be R-rated? That's the question people began asking after the announcement . . . and then, when the trailers were released, that just shocked people even more, seeing just how raunchy and vulgar the movie was going to be in terms of content . . . but then came the clincher: the movie's tagline, "No Sesame. All Street."

The controversy surrounding the movie just continued to snowball from there: upon the release of the trailers and other promotional material, Sesame Workshop filed a lawsuit against the company promoting the movie, STX Films, over the tagline they decided to use to promote the movie, on the grounds that it implies the adult movie is in somehow, someway, or some form, associated, affiliated, or connected with SESAME STREET.

HAPPYTIME MURDERS isn't set to hit theaters until this August, but already there's just so much buzz - both positive and negative - surrounding this movie before it's even released. Where do I even begin to weigh in on all of this? The idea of Henson doing something adult-related with puppetry really isn't anything new under the sun at all: Jim Henson himself spent a number of years trying to convince the mass public that the stimga that puppets are only for kids isn't true at all, and that puppets could be for adults as well - in fact, Jim tried so hard to demolish that stigma that, in desperation to sell THE MUPPET SHOW to networks, he titled the original pilot episode SEX AND VIOLENCE.
The main title for THE MUPPET SHOW pilot
Not to mention, as noted above, The Jim Henson Company's Henson Alternative division is dedicated specifically to adult puppetry; if you've ever seen any of the puppet improv they do, you'll see just how blue they can be. So, to reiterate, adult puppetry isn't anything new, and it's clear that the adult audience is what Henson is targeting with HAPPYTIME MURDERS. But is this a good or a bad thing for puppetry? That's the discussion that's fueling the controversy surrounding the movie. Puppetry in and of itself has historically been an underrated and underappreciated artform - particularly in America - and with the success of preschool shows that utilized it, such as SESAME STREET, WIMZIE'S HOUSE, BETWEEN THE LIONS, and countless others, that pretty much furthers the stigma that Jim tried to shake so hard, that puppets are for kids. Really, what Henson is doing is actually continuing to follow Jim's lead in showing the world puppets can be for more than just kids, and that puppets can be for adults as well . . . but, are they taking it too far? That seems to be a matter of debate. I've written on Scarblog before about my thoughts regarding the excessive amount of filth and inappropriate content that seems to pollute the entertainment industry in recent years - particularly unnecessary sexual content - should Henson really go that route? Is it really necessary? As noted above, the Muppets have always indulged in edgy, adult humor . . . but it was almost always on a subtle, sophisticated level, that it could appeal to adults without being inappropriate for kids watching. Is it possible HAPPYTIME MURDERS could have just gone that route instead? Because the biggest concern much of the public has with this movie is that parents and families might take their kids to see this, because of the automatic assumption that a puppet movie is bound to be lighthearted and family-friendly. This also brings us to the next subject. . . .

Sesame Workshop's lawsuit is being met with all kinds of criticism. Again, Sesame Workshop is suing STX Films over the "No Sesame. All Street." tagline being used to promote the movie, on the grounds that it might lead unsuspecting moviegoers - with kids - to think this movie is in someway connected to SESAME STREET, when it isn't. And again, the concern is being risen that people may think with this being a puppet movie, that it's sure to be family-friendly. However, Sesame Workshop is being criticized for this move . . . I can understand their motive to initiate some damage control as they see fit, but many people feel as though this lawsuit is going to have the opposite effect: that it's not only going to do more damage to Sesame Workshop's image for filing such a lawsuit, but that the lawsuit itself is only going to drum up even more interest and intigue in the movie, and unintentionally promote it even more. That, I can also understand: this is exactly how Billy Graham unintentionally turned Sid & Marty Kroffts' marionette burlesque LE POUPEE DE PARIS into an overnight sensation, by telling the public not to see the show because of the topless women in it (without specifying the women were actually marionettes).

Finally, this is just my opinion, but I'm going to be blunt and honest here: I am not a fan of Melissa McCarthy. I do not like her at all. I don't find her funny, I don't find her entertaining, I don't find her likable, and as an overweight man, her frequently being typecasted as a revolting fat slob and/or a fat comic relief character doesn't do anything to help the image of plus-sized people like us, especially women, who clearly struggle with body image issues far more than men do. And, if you ask me, Melissa McCarthy seems very much like a "flavor-of-the-month" celebrity . . . and for Henson to go with her to star in this movie of theirs seems very ironic: when working on LABYRINTH back in the 80s, Jim was initially wanting to cast Sting as Jareth the Goblin King, but his sons Brian (who's producing and directing HAPPYTIME MURDERS) and John insisted David Bowie was who he wanted, because Sting is "now," but David Bowie is "forever." Melissa McCarthy is definitely "now," and with Hollywood having a pool of many other funnier, more talented, and certainly more likable actresses with broader appeal, surely there was someone better out there they could have attached to the movie. But, at the same time, that's just it: Melissa McCarthy is now, and in order to lure the public into seeing the movie, Henson was clearly going to need a currently relevant and prominent Hollywood celebrity who contemporary audiences would want to see.

So the bottom line is this: HAPPYTIME MURDERS certainly has a lot going on for it, even before it's released. The movie is clearly an attempt to prove to the world that a movie with puppets could work, and that puppetry has a place in the entertainment industry - not to mention this movie gave work for so many different puppeteers out there (including Kevin Clash, whom we haven't seen much since his unfortunate scandal). Plus, the movie is further proving to the world that puppets aren't just for kids, which is a good thing since that stimga doesn't seem to ever die . . . but does the adult humor of this movie have to be so raunchy, vulgar, and filthy? I can tolerate adult humor when it's sly, subtle, sophisticated, and tongue-in-cheek . . . when it's blunt, forced, and in-your-face, not so much. And again . . . not a fan of Melissa McCarthy.

So, would I, personally, go out and see this movie for myself? I'm currently still undecided. On the one hand, as a puppeteer, there's a sense of wanting to see the movie as a means of showing support for the artform, and the puppeteers who got steady work because of it; on the other hand, because I hate Melissa McCarthy, and not a fan of raunchy and vulgar humor, I feel as though seeing this movie would be more of an obligation and that doing so would be doing so begrudgingly and out of reluctance.

We'll see.

Update: August 22, 2018

Alright. I've made my mind up, and here on my finished thoughts on HAPPYTIME MURDERS: I will not see this movie. There are too many factors at play that are weighing in over any mild interest I may have in seeing it. The R-rated (and even X-rated) content, the inclusion of not only Melissa McCarthy, but also Maya Rudolph and Joel McHale (I have nothing against either of them, but I find them to be incredibly overrated), and the movie reportedly relying too heavily on shock value than storytelling are overshadowing my only reason for being interested in seeing it: it's a puppetry movie. So, that's it.


  1. Really enjoyed reading this one, Big Daddy--I am with you (in general) on crass humor and its prevalence in contemporary TV. But I wasn't aware of the more adultish humor in The Muppet Show, nor did I know much about Les Poupees de Paris (beyond the fact that it was a hit at the Seattle World's Fair and that it was a puppet show of sorts). You've provided some good context here.

  2. Hey!
    Have you checked out the all puppet horror/comedy flick "HEAD" yet?
    I think you'd like it!