In the era of internet memes, anyone creeping towards their forties or into middle age needs to accept that whatever entertainment they held dear as a child (Thomas the Train, Teletubbies, Spongebob…) will be subverted and perverted for laughs. Mostly, the beautiful minds of Reddit and the less-than-beautiful minds of 4Chan will be responsible for these defacements, but even Hollywood movie studios get in on the act from time to time. And that’s precisely what’s going on with The Happytime Murders, an R-rated cop film that takes place in the land of the muppets and, much to the ire of children’s entertainers, bills itself as “No Sesame, All Street.”
That tagline, clever as it may be, has invited not only criticism but legal action. Sesame Workshop, the folks who produce Sesame Street, is threatening to sue STX Productions, the company making The Happytime Murders for attempting to confuse the two brands. The reason for the Workshop’s concern seems to be a scene from the movie’s trailer that shows a muppet engaging in intercourse then ejaculation silly string all over his office. This is apparently not in keeping with Sesame Street values.
While Sesame Workshop claimed to have “no issue with the creative freedom of the filmmakers and their right to make and promote this movie,” they did reach out to STX Productions and demand that their name is removed from all marketing for the movie. This is understandable given that it has long been the case that Jim Henson affiliated puppetry projects are made for both children and adults. The marketing of these products has never been connected (David Bowie’s codpiece from Labyrinth didn’t show up on Sesame Street). However, STX does not seem to be taking the legal threat seriously. In response to Sesame Workshop’s concerns, the company released a statement from a puppet lawyer character name Fred, Esq.
“STX loved the idea of working closely with Brian Henson and the Jim Henson Company to tell the untold story of the active lives of Henson puppets when they’re not performing in front of children. Happytime Murders is the happy result of that collaboration…,” Fred said in the statement. “While we’re disappointed that Sesame Street does not share in the fun, we are confident in our legal position. We look forward to introducing adult moviegoers to our adorably unapologetic characters this summer.”
A puppet-centric legal showdown remains in the offing but is possible. Sesame Workshop has spent the last several years rallying behind the idea of inclusivity, introducing viewers to autistic puppets and puppets with imprisoned parents. The workshop has yet to introduce characters suffering from sexual dysfunction. Apparently, STX is on the case.