When people think of the puppets Jim Henson created, they tend to think of the Sesame Street version: the exhaustingly saccharine Elmo, the binge eating Cookie Monster, the slightly neurotic Big Bird. Or, they think of Muppets Take Manhattan or A Muppet Christmas Carol (sadly, no one thinks of A Christmas Toy—a superior Toy Story in my opinion). They equate Muppets with childhood, with children. But the simple fact is the Muppets at their roots were thematically adult, no matter how cute Michael Caine would try to make them. On The Muppet Show, Raquel Welch does indeed prance around in her skivvies. Animal was constantly chasing after attractive ladies, screaming “Wo-man! Wo-man!” The Electric Mayhem definitely had the best hallucinogens in Hollywood. School aged kids probably didn’t care too much about Alice Cooper.
Which brings me to this: The Happytime Murders is not the first dirty, raunchy, puppet-oriented movie. At our set visit, a few people implied that it was the first of its ilk; in my head I was screaming Meet The Feebles! Meet The Feebles! but was too shy to bring it up. Indeed, it was six hours into the visit when Brian Henson himself responded to the suggestion that The HappyTime Murders was breaking new ground, reminding us of Meet The Feebles and Team America: World Police.
I believe, apropos of nothing but my own anecdotal evidence, that Meet The Feebles is the adult puppet movie that comes to mind for most people. Structured much like The Muppet Show, the Feebles—a theatre troupe—are trying to make their variety show a hit, but can’t seem to stop fucking each other, pissing on things, or demanding paternity tests. Each character is a nightmare: Harry, a rabbit, is riddled with venereal diseases; Wynyard, the frog, is battling PTSD and drug addiction stemming from his days in Vietnam; Heidi, the hippo, is devastated that her boss and lover Bletch, a walrus, is having an affair with Samantha, a cat.
If you have never seen Meet The Feebles, l’ll warn you that it plays out like a 13-year-old who has just discovered 4chan and is trying to be as edgy as possible. The film horrifies me; it’s a movie that I have to be in a specific mood for, and that mood happens for about fifteen minutes every seven years. Perhaps the reason it unsettles me so much is because of these specific puppets, because of the similarities to my beloved Muppet Show.
A more recent foray into adult puppetry is Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s 2004 film, Team America: World Police. Inspired by the 1960’s show Thunderbirds, the satirical film parodies ultra-patriotism, blockbuster action movies, and politics, which, in our naivete, seemed pretty dire in 2004. Easily its most memorable part is its sex scene, overly raunchy in a way meant to distract the MPAA from the rest of the movie (it was edited almost ten times before they reached an R rating; the uncensored scene is available on the unrated release). Team America now seems to serve only to mock people Stone and Parker had issues with at the time, and while hysteria over terrorism is unfortunately not very dated, the movie itself is. Still, who doesn’t think “America, Fuck Yeah!” at least once a month?
Now, if The Happytime Murders wants to claim that they’re innovating puppet on human sex, I have to gently chide them, because there’s a little 1976 film they’re forgetting called Let My Puppets Come. Look: Let My PuppetsCome is a porno. It’s nothing else but that. Boasting two voice actors from Bloodsucking Freaks, Louis De Jesus and Viju Krim, this 45-minute nightmare has everything: castration, transphobia, bestiality, puppet on puppet sex, puppet on human sex… what a rush! The title is a play on Let My People Come, and it premiered the same year as The Muppet Show.
I am looking forward to The Happytime Murders; obviously, I love anything the Henson team does, even if involves puppets ejaculating silly-string and getting strung out on sugar while banging the hell out of each other. With any luck, it will be good enough to become the go-to movie for people to reference when the conversation inevitably turns to “films with deviant puppet activity”. Here’s hoping.