Welcome, World Travelers! Muppets Haunted Mansion is a Ghoulish Delight
by James Coulter
Ever since it acquired the Muppets in 2004, Disney has struggled to make good use of them. Disney attempted to reboot the characters for the big screen with a series of theatrical films, and while 2011’s The Muppets proved popular, its 2014 sequel, Muppets Most Wanted, didn’t do well enough at the box office to warrant a third movie.
ABC attempted to reboot the Muppets for the small screen with the titular 2015 television series, but it only lasted one season. Disney Junior is currently airing the 2018 Muppet Babies reboot, which seems to be faring well, while Disney Plus is currently streaming its exclusive series, Muppets Now, which has received middling reception.
So it says quite a lot that an hour-long Halloween special on Disney Plus with gratuitous fan service to Disney’s most popular attraction is one of the best things Disney has done with the Muppets in the past decade. Muppets Haunted Mansion may not be perfect, but true to Muppet fashion, it glosses over its own imperfections with enough sharp wit and meta commentary to keep you entertainingly distracted.
Muppets Haunted Mansion has a very basic premise: Gonzo accepts a challenge to stay overnight on Halloween at the Haunted Mansion. If he survives the night, he wins. If he doesn’t, he’s doomed to become the 1,000th resident in the house of 999 happy haunts. Accompanying him is Pepe, who unwittingly finds romance with the mansion’s ax-wielding bride. Will the two make it through the night in one piece? (Well, it’s a children’s special, so you know they will!)
True to its name, Muppets Haunted Mansion is a loving spoof of the titular Disney attraction, with a Muppet-y twist on every aspect of the ride, from the stretching room to the hitchhiking ghosts. Many Muppets happily play the roles of the Mansion’s Happy Haunts. Miss Piggy is Madame Leota, Fozzie Bear is the Hatbox Ghost, and many of the others appear in a hilarious tribute to both the ride’s ballroom scene and the Muppet Show’s “At The Dance” sketch.
My favorite joke comes in the middle of the rousing musical number, “Life Hereafter”, when the performance come to an abrupt stop (along with Stanler and Waldorf’s doom buggy) and the ride breakdown spiel from the attraction plays: “Your attention please: playful spooks have interrupted our tour.”
True to Muppet fashion, this special has plenty of big-name celebrities using their big-name talent in small yet clever cameos. Will Arnett takes on the mantle of the Ghost Host, but there are plenty of other celebrities in blink-and-you’ll-miss roles, from Yvette Nicole Brown as the limo driver, to Pat Sajak and John Stamos as the singing busts, to even the late Ed Asner in his last role as a ghost before he inevitably gave up the ghost earlier this year.
Despite this special being inspired by the most popular haunted house attraction, there aren’t that many frights that would keep the little kiddies away. Most of the overall tone remains more “spoopy” than scary. The closest thing to a creepy scene is when Gonzo has to face his fear in
Room 999, and—well, let’s just say it has the creepiest looking Muppet character since the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal.
My biggest complaint is that the movie makes gratuitous use of obviously computer-generated effects. Many times, it’s quite visually apparent that scenes were shot in front of a green screen. Obviously, an hour-long special isn’t going to warrant a feature-length budget, but it’s quite disappointing that puppet characters renowned for starring in movies that pushed the boundaries of practical effects are relegated to cheap computer tricks.
Overall, Muppets Haunted Mansion is neither the best nor the worst thing starring the Muppets. It’s not as great as any of the classic Muppet movies, nor is it as bad as their made-for-television failures. (The less we say about It’s A Very Muppet Christmas Movie, the better!) Like Miss Piggy playing Madame Leota, this special is a very happy medium.
If you’re an adult fan of the Muppets or Haunted Mansion or both, you’re sure to get a few chuckles. And as a Halloween special for children, it offers enough spoopy fun to entertain kids not quite old enough to watch the grown-up Halloween classics. If you own Disney Plus, you’ve probably already watched this special, but if you haven’t, give it a watch. And if you already have, watch it again. Perhaps if enough people watch it, Disney will make more Muppet spoofs of its classic attractions, and that’s certainly not a bad thing.