Muppets Haunted Mansion, co-directed and written by Kirk Thatcher, continues Disney+’s streak of Halloween-themed specials. The special finds Gonzo (Dave Goelz) and Pepe the Prawn (Bill Barretta) opting to skip Kermit the Frog’s annual Halloween party to spend a night in an abandoned mansion. Gonzo is hoping to visit the mansion to pay homage to a magician he idolizes, while Pepe is more interested in potential celebrity meet-and-greets and romantic avenues. However, the host of the mansion (Will Arnett) informs them that they must face their greatest fears before the sun rises or they’ll join the spirits that live there.
The Haunted Mansion is perhaps one of the most popular rides in Disneyland’s history, yet previous attempts to adapt it have fared about as well as the ride’s ghostly inhabitants. A 2003 adaptation starring Eddie Murphy was critically panned, while Guillermo del Toro’s version never got off the ground. The Muppets version works because it contains more than a few clever nods to the ride’s backstory; for instance, there are 999 rooms in the mansion, with each room corresponding to one of the Mansion’s undead inhabitants. The Muppets themselves also take the form of the ride’s most famous ghosts: Fozzie Bear is the Hatbox Ghost, while Miss Piggy takes on the role of Madame Leota. Even the cantankerous Waldorf and Statler appear as ghosts, heckling Fozzie during his performance.
The ghostly guests don’t stop at the Muppets. Various celebrities step in to take the form of the Mansion’s ghosts, and there are some surprising faces in the cast. Taraji P. Henson plays Constance Hatchaway, intending to add Pepe to her list of dead husbands. Darren Criss slips into the role of the mansion’s caretaker, and true to form breaks into a song describing the various ways the mansion’s inhabitants died. Aid ghosts include Danny Trejo and Alfonso Ribeiro. John Stamos even makes an appearance as himself. And I’m not ashamed to say a tear came to my eye watching the late Ed Asner make an appearance; he even gets a dedication in the credits.
Thatcher and Barretta, along with co-writer Kelly Younger, also make the choice to focus on Gonzo and Pepe as the protagonists. This choice helps set up some humorous moments, along with heartfelt ones. Most of the humor comes from the pair’s interaction with Arnett’s host. When Pepe asks him if he speaks Spanish, the host replies “No” in Spanish. The fourth wall isn’t safe either, as Miss Piggy complains about her screentime and a bird ghost is admonished for saying something that apparently isn’t family-friendly. It’s the heartfelt moments, especially with Gonzo, that make the special worth a watch; he realizes that his daredevil performances as Gonzo the Great aren’t as important as his bonds with his friends. It’s a well-worn road, but an important one.
For as much as I enjoyed Muppets Haunted Mansion, I have to recommend watching it with the lights off. Cinematographer Craig Kief films the majority of the special in darkly lit rooms, leading to my squinting at pivotal scenes. I understand that it’s a Halloween special and that Kief has done camera work for previous Muppets projects including the previous Disney+ series Muppets Now, but it helps to actually see what’s on the screen from time to time.
Muppets Haunted Mansion is a wonderful homage to the ride it’s inspired by, featuring a star-studded cast and the offbeat humor the Muppets are known for. Between this and Star Wars: Terrifying Tales, Disney+ has crafted some extremely charming holiday specials. I hope that the streamer continues this trend for Christmas, as the world is sorely missing another Muppets-themed Christmas special.
Muppets Haunted Mansion is currently available to stream on Disney+.
Muppets Haunted Mansion
- Rating - 8/108/10
Muppets Haunted Mansion is a wonderful homage to the ride it’s inspired by, featuring a star-studded cast and the offbeat humor the Muppets are known for.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.