Though a recent trailer for The Happytime Murders left plenty of people laughing, the makers of Sesame Street weren’t cracking a smile, and have filed a lawsuit over the film’s tagline. Just last week, STX Productions released the first, profanity-laced trailer for the upcoming R-rated comedy starring Melissa McCarthy opposite a bunch of foul-mouthed puppets. The result was instant notoriety, as watching approximations of characters normally associated with children’s programming swear and engage in all kinds of adult-oriented activities seemed to tickle the funny bones of most people. Unfortunately, the people at Sesame Workshop were not among them.
The organization filed suit a suit in federal court on Thursday, May 24, calling for STX Productions to cease and desist “trading upon the goodwill associated with Sesame Street in furtherance of box office receipts.” While the complaint appears directed at the film in general, primarily for its many characters who all bear a striking resemblance to the denizens of Sesame Street, it is primarily focused on the film’s tagline “No Sesame. All Street.”
The complaint states that “The promotion of The Happytime Murders should succeed or fail on its own merits, not on a cynical, unlawful attempt to deceive and confuse the public into associating it with the most celebrated children’s program in history.” It goes on to say that the film’s marketing poses a “threat of irreparable injury” to Sesame’s nearly 50-year brand and that it “deliberately confuses consumers into mistakenly believing that Sesame is associated with” The Happytime Murders.
The suit is asking that any allusion to Sesame Street be removed from the film’s promotion and is also seeking unspecified damages.
“Sesame has demanded that Defendants simply drop the references to Sesame Street from The Happytime Murders marketing materials – a relatively small burden compared to the devastating and irreparable injury Defendants are causing. But Defendants have refused, and the confusion and tarnishment are building, as evidenced in numerous social media postings.”
As reported by Deadline, STX Productions was unfazed by the suit, and issued its own statement that reads:
“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 and we’re incredibly pleased with the early reaction to the film and how well the trailer has been received by its intended audience. 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.”
The whole situation is made trickier by the fact that Brian Henson, son of the late Jim Henson and chairman of Jim Henson Studios, is the director of The Happytime Murders, which may well be another point of confusion for some. As the film prepares for its release later this year, it will be interesting to see how this lawsuit pans out, and whether or not Sesame Workshop’s demands will be met or if Big Bird has an uncomfortable talk with viewers in his future.