Sesame Workshop, the non-profit that produces Sesame Street, filed a lawsuit in federal court on Thursday against STX Productions over the way they’ve been marketing The Happytime Murders, Variety reports. That’s the upcoming Melissa McCarthy film whose spectacularly unfunny red band trailer—watch above if you dare—features a puppet ejaculating about five cans of silly string in a 20 second money shot. While Sesame Workshop acknowledges STX has the right to make a feature film about puppets that ejaculate silly string if they want to, they take issue with the film’s tagline, “No Sesame. All Street.” Sesame Workshop alleges viewers are “confused and appalled” by the trailer, which they mistakenly believe has some connection with Sesame Street.
As it happens, there is a connection, although it’s a few degrees removed: The Happytime Murders was directed by Brian Henson, Jim Henson’s son and the chairman of the Jim Henson Company. (The company sold the rights to the Muppets featured on Sesame Street to Sesame Workshop in 2001.) For viewers who haven’t been keeping up with the complicated web of intellectual property rights surrounding Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, some confusion is understandable, especially given the way the trailer plays up the Muppet-related items on Henson’s résumé:
After 35 years of entertaining children, the director of The Muppet Christmas Carol, the director of Muppet Treasure Island, the director of Muppets Tonight, is finally ready to reveal what goes down when kids aren’t around.
Brian Henson and the Jim Henson Company seem to be caught in the middle between Sesame Workshop and STX, according to an email from CEO Lisa Henson to Sesame Workshop that is quoted in the filing:
We wholeheartedly disagree with their direction of referencing Muppets and Sesame, and Brian has taken as hard a position as he could, but contractually we don’t have the right to change it. … Throughout the development of The Happytime Murders, Brian has conscientiously pushed the creative direction and design of the new characters away from Muppets (both Muppet Show and Sesame Street) because he never saw it as a parody of the Muppets. … We resisted creative suggestions to make some characters look more like Anything Muppets or Muppet monsters, because that was exactly wrong for the movie. Therefore, trading off the famous Muppets to sell the film is exactly what we did not want to have happen.
STX, meanwhile, released a statement ostensibly from one of the film’s puppets, a lawyer called Fred, Esq.:
… 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.
But the real importance of The Happytime Murders lawsuit has nothing to do with intellectual property and everything to do with watching lawyers use extremely formal language to describe a trailer in which, again, a puppet ejaculates silly string all over the place in a sequence that lasts for twenty very, very long seconds. Here are a few choice passages:
Defendants’ widely-distributed marketing campaign features a just-released trailer with explicit, profane, drug-using, misogynistic, violent, copulating, and even ejaculating puppets, along with the tagline “NO SESAME. ALL STREET.” … As evidenced by a parade of social media posts, emails, and public comments, the “NO SESAME. ALL STREET.” tagline has confused and appalled viewers because of what they believe to be a serious breach of trust by Sesame by supporting this movie.
The trailer is “Restricted”—meaning that the Motion Picture Association of America has not deemed it suitable for all audiences. And it is easy to see why: scenes from the movie shown in the trailer depict repeated foul language by humans and puppets; drug use by humans and puppets; puppet prostitutes offering sexual favors to a human; gun and other types of violence; and puppet sex that culminates in a scene where a puppet is depicted copiously ejaculating for an extended period. The leading online movie ticket-seller, Fandango, referred to it as “filthy” and “depraved” and repeated the “NO SESAME. ALL STREET.” tagline, in a tweet that the Defendants retweeted.
As Defendants intended, the audience for their marketing campaign is reading the “NO SESAME. ALL STREET.” tagline as an indication that the movie will show the more salacious—or, colloquially, “street”—side of characters associated with (even if not starring on) Sesame Street.
Slate salutes the attorneys at Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman for translating the more salacious—or, colloquially, “street”—aspects of the trailer for Melissa McCarthy’s ejaculating puppet movie into the records of the federal court system.