2018 Awards Profile: Brian Henson’s ‘The Happytime Murders’ from STX Entertainment

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Welcome to the 2018 Awards Profile series, where we talk about films coming to a theater near you at some point this year (at least at this time of writing). We will analyze the potential for these films to be players for the Academy Awards, and while many of these have the potential to be recognized, many will not, either by quality or being pushed back to the following year. For the next few weeks, we will bring you a film every Monday through Friday to talk about their awards hopes and analyze the film’s chances for success. If you have a suggestion, please include it in the comments below. If you missed a film, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.

FILM: “The Happytime Murders”
PRODUCERS: Melissa McCarthy, Brian Henson, Ben Falcone, Jeffrey Hayes, Jason Lust
DIRECTOR: Brian Henson
DISTRIBUTOR: STX Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: August 17, 2018
WRITERS: Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robertson (story)
CAST: Bill Barretta,  Elizabeth Banks, Melissa McCarthy, Joel McHale,  Maya Rudolph
SYNOPSIS: In a world where puppets co-exist with humans as second class citizens, Phil Phillips (Barretta), puppet private eye and disgraced ex-cop, is hot on the trail of the serial killer who murdered his brother and is now targeting the cast members of the 1980s television series The Happytime Gang. As the killings continue, Jenny (Banks), Phil’s former flame, is next on the list. It’s up to Phil and Detective Edwards (McCarthy), his ex-partner, to find the culprit, but as bad blood and old resentments resurface, the clues start pointing to the only viable suspect: Phil himself. Now he’s on the run with only his wits and hard-headed determination as he and his partner attempt to solve the Happytime Murders. (Wikipedia)

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Sometimes being an apple in a barrel full of oranges is a good thing.  Sure, no puppet-driven film has performed very well at the Oscars in the past, but how many post-Apocalyptic racing films had done that before 2015?  Could “The Happytime Murders” be different enough to land a punch?

The big draw here will be director Brian Henson, son of the famous Jim Henson.  While Henson did not write the script, he does serve as director and producer.  The story of Henson returning to the big screen with puppets is a big one, with or without Piggy and Kermit.

Screen Shot 2018 04 19 at 11.37.03 AMOriginality.  The film screams originality, in many ways.  It looks to be a smart spin on the noir genre while injecting the classic comedy gold of Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy and Elizabeth Banks (who play humans, not puppets).  In recent years, we’ve seen originality win out in many screenplay races, from “Get Out” to “Her,” this is the area where a puppet comedy could show strength, if only for a mere nomination.  While less famous than Henson cohort Frank Oz, the film’s puppeteer star, Bill Barretta shouldn’t be discounted.  Baretta has been with the Muppets since the early 90s and currently performs as Rowlf the Dog, Dr. Teeth, Pepe the King Prawn, The Swedish Chef, Big Mean Carl, and Bobo, the Bear in Muppet productions.  He also played Earl Sinclair on the TV show, “Dinosaurs.”

Finally, the film could play decently in tech categories.  Whether or not the film has any original songs is not yet disclosed, but it is a solid bet to assume a puppet film from the mind of Henson has a diddly or two.  Secondly, an Original Score from “Wonder Woman” composer Rupert Gregson-Williams aims to aid in the blending of noir and comedy and would be a nice makeup nomination for last year’s snub.  Finally, much like the Amphibian Man from last year’s Best Picture winner, it is unclear at this stage where the design of the puppets will fall–costumes (“The Shape of Water“), production design (“Mad Max: Fury Road“), or visual effects (“Alien“).



No seriously; puppets.  The Muppets have had an uneven history with the Oscars, landing a few nominations from the music branch, but getting blanked by every other department for most of their now-iconic films.  Additionally, while the AMPAS is clear on the eligibility of voice performers in animated films, the official qualification of someone who puppets or “AndySerkises” a part is still unresolved.

Simply, it’s just difficult to imagine a comedy with puppets as having much of an impact at the Oscars, especially with an August 2018 release.  Perhaps a screenplay or a song nomination is the best case scenario.


  • Actress in a Leading Role – Melissa McCarthy
  • Actress in a Supporting Role – Elizabeth Banks
  • Writing (Original Screenplay) – Todd Berger and Dee Austin Robertson (story)
  • Production Design – Chris L. Spellman, Kelly Berry
  • Costume Design – Arjun Bhasin
  • Original Score – Rupert Gregson-Williams
  • Visual Effects



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Written by Sam Coffey

Attorney-at-law, Oscaroligist, coffee lover, Fantasy Football silver medalist, soccer fan (Orlando City SC), Geoffrey Rush enthusiast, and Time's 2006 Person of the Year.

Sam joined The Awards Circuit in January 2014, predicting all award shows with 100% accuracy ever since. A.K.A. "the stat guy."


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