There is no doubt that “Sesame Street” is one of the most recognizable children’s programs worldwide that focuses on early education. Part of its long-running success was the presence of the Muppets, an ensemble of hand-operated puppets representing unique individual characters, the brainchild of Jim Henson and his wife and owned by his company before they were acquired by Disney. It could be said that the concept and design of the Muppets are iconic and therefore easily identifiable. This is why Sesame Workshop, which produces “Sesame Street”, is taking action at perceived irreverent references about them by an upcoming film.
Variety has it that Sesame Workshop has filed a lawsuit against production company STX Entertainment regarding their film “The Happytime Murders”, a satirical crime-comedy film starring Melissa McCarthy. This is due to the premise of the movie, set in a contemporary world where humans coexist with living humanoid puppets in the familiar mold of the “Sesame Street” Muppets. But the similarities end there, with “Happytime” being a violent and mature story with a potential R-rating. What upsets Sesame Workshop with the film was one of its promotional taglines taking a shot at “Sesame Street”, that is, “No Sesame, All Street”.
In the text of their lawsuit, Sesame Workshop points out the reference used about their own show, inadvertently tying it to a movie that, from its first trailer alone, has depicted “explicit, profane, drug-using, misogynistic, violent, copulating, and even ejaculating puppets” that superficially resemble the Muppet design. The argument goes that “Happytime Murders” and its “Sesame” tagline “deliberately confuses consumers into mistakenly believing that Sesame is associated with, has allowed, or has even endorsed or produced the movie and tarnishes Sesame’s brand.” The movie comes off as capitalizing on the wholesome kid-oriented reputation of “Sesame Street” according to Sesame Workshop.
In a twist of fate, “Happytime Murders” is being directed and produced by Brian Henson, son of Jim Henson himself and chairman of The Jim Henson Company, which is wholly involved in the film by creating the puppet characters therein. In response to the Sesame Workshop suit, STX Entertainment issued its own statement Friday, May 25, which underlined the Henson involvement. They added that while they are disappointed at the killjoy stance adopted by the creators of “Sesame Street”, they in turn feel secure with their legal position that their satire work will weather any litigation action from the complainants.
“The Happytime Murders” is about veteran detective Connie Edwards (McCarthy) who reunites with her former partner-turned private eye Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta) in investigating the murders of his brother and the puppet cast of a 1980s children’s show, “The Happytime Gang”. The movie is set to premiere on August 17.