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The Happytime Murders follows in the footsteps of puppet greats like Labyrinth

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The history of actors interacting with animation and animatronics in film is almost as old as film history itself. If you go all the way back to 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, animators used the footage of a dancer to make Snow White’s movements more lifelike.

As technology has improved, filmmakers have only become more ambitious. To celebrate the upcoming release of The Happytime Murders (in cinemas 27th August), the new film by Brian Henson (son of Jim) and starring Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph as well as a host of puppets, we’re traveling back to look at some of the best films that showcase actors and animated characters. 

1. Mary Poppins (1964)

This film ranks as one of the classic film musicals for many reasons, but one of the most memorable scenes is when Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews), Burt (Dick Van Dyke), and the children take a journey into one of Burt’s chalk drawings and explore a charmingly animating meadow. This sequence shows some of Disney’s finest animation; every animal, despite being in the film for only a couple of frames has so much character and the musical number they share with Mary and Burt is timeless. 

2. Labyrinth (1986)

Arguably Jim Henson’s best non-Muppet film, this fantasy adventure stars a young Jennifer Connelly as a girl who must venture into a Labyrinth to save her baby brother from being turned into a Goblin, after he was kidnapped by The Goblin King (a terrific David Bowie). Henson’s puppetry as always is excellent, creating some truly memorable characters including Hoggle, Ludo and Sir Didymus and their unique design, combined with Bowie’s utterly bizarre wig helps to create a perfectly off-beat fantasy world. 

3. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

When you think of films that mix animation with live-action, Roger Rabbit is probably the one that comes to mind. Set in a high concept world where humans and ‘toons coexist, the film perfectly blends the cartoonish hilarity and Neo-Noir aesthetic, as the toon-hating private detective Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) must prove the hapless Roger Rabbit did not commit murder, while the merciless Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) threatens to destroy all of Toon Town. While the film is a technical mastermind, what sells it is that the cartoons genuinely feel like a part of the real world and the great work of the Disney animators and Hoskins, makes Eddie and Roger’s relationship compelling. 

4. Space Jam (1996)

The perfect film for lovers of Looney Toons and Basketball, when an alien amusement park owner is looking for new attractions he decides Bugs Bunny and co are the perfect fit. When his minions try to take them by force, Bugs tricks them into a game of basketball to decide their fate, only for the stumpy-legged aliens to steal the talent of human basketball players, transforming them into the Monstars. It’s impossible not to smile at Bugs and Michael Jordan joking around and Bill Murray’s cameo as himself is among his funniest moments. 

5. The Muppets (2011)

The Muppets finally returned to our screens in 2011 and definitely it was worth the wait. When three Muppet fans discover a billionaire wants to drill for oil under the old Muppet Theatre, they work to regroup the disbanded Muppets to put on one last show and save the theatre. While seeing Kermit and co together on screen is brilliant, what holds this film together is the heart-warming relationship between Muppet obsessed Walter and his human brother Gary (Jason Segal), which was put to excellent effect in the Oscar winning ‘Man or Muppet’ musical number.

6. The Happytime Murders (2018)

The Happytime Murders appears to have taken queues from the best of its predecessors; like Who Framed Roger Rabbit it has Neo-Noir elements and like Labyrinth, it will have fantastic puppetry work from Henson’s studio. What sets it apart is how risqué its subject matter is; in a recently released clip we see Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) snorting a strange powder that would ‘put a human in a diabetic coma for a month’. More vulgarity and hilarity are expected. 

The Happytime Murders is in UK cinemas August 27th.

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