The puppet movie-loving public -- which we're certain includes almost everyone who reads Moviefone -- was thrilled to see the initial report that Brian Henson, scion to the house that Kermit built, would be returning to feature filmmaking for the first time since 1996's 'Muppet Treasure Island,' with the puppet noir film 'The Happytime Murders.'
The movie was picked up by Lionsgate and is slated to begin production in January -- and Vulture reports that Cameron Diaz has been offered a starring role. With the film making real progress toward leaving behind its "risky project" description and actually being made, there's also been a lot of speculation about the project based on its one-paragraph synopsis:
"Happytime" takes place in a world where humans and puppets coexist, with the puppets viewed as second-class citizens. When the puppet cast of 1980s children's TV show "The Happytime Gang" gets murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private-eye puppet -- with a drinking problem, no less -- takes the case with his former human partner.
The Internet has mischaracterized the film as a "Muppet noir" -- it isn't, as the Jim Henson Company sold the Muppets to Disney in 2004. Some have also compared the movie to 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' and the cult TV show 'Greg the Bunny.' To clarify what 'The Happytime Murders' is really about, Moviefone recently sat down with Dee Austin Robertson, the project's creator and executive producer.
Robertson conceived the script that would become 'The Happytime Murders' with screenwriter Todd Berger in 2000, when the two were undergraduates at the University of Texas. The initial concept sprang out of a short film the two made.
"It was called 'Manifest Destiny,' and it was about this guy who was an alcoholic, and the physical manifestation of his alcoholism was this cute little puppet telling him to drink and drink and drink," says Robertson, 32. "We started developing the idea around this little puppet to use him in a buddy cop film." From there, it exploded into a noir film, which Brian Henson took an interest in.
Despite the fact that the movie will likely be a "hard-R," Robertson says that it's not a huge departure for the Jim Henson Co. "They've been doing their 'Henson Alternative' brand, and started their 'Puppet Up!' show," he says, adding that they've been pursuing more adult-oriented material for a while. "You're not going to see Kermit the Frog in this."
But if they could drop Kermit in for a cameo -- if Henson called Disney to ask if they could borrow the puppet -- would it work in the world that the project takes place in?
"It would be a funny sight gag," says Robertson. "But to integrate it, there's a lot more 'Meet The Feebles' to this project than Muppets."
While it's true that the plot synopsis, on the surface, sounds similar to that of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit,' given that both mix detective noir with beloved children's icons, Robertson's not terribly defensive about that.
"There's the detective element, and the Toons are treated as unequals [in 'Roger Rabbit']," admits Robertson. "But ['Happytime'] is so far from that story and what that film is. While I can see how people would draw that inference, when the film is in the theaters, I don't think you'll hear people say that. And I'm not disappointed if people say that right now, because 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' is an amazing film."
So what sort of movies does Robertson think of as being the more active influences on 'The Happytime Murders'? "'Training Day' and 'L.A. Confidential'," he says.
And while Robertson is excited to see what Henson does with the script, he'll admit that when he and Berger were developing the project on their own, he did have his own concept for who should play the human lead. "You know McNulty on 'The Wire'?" he laughs. "That guy."