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Disney+ Review: Muppets Haunted Mansion

October 4, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The first ever Halloween special featuring the Muppets, Muppets Haunted Mansion is a pretty irresistible crossover event that serves as both a return to form for Jim Henson’s creations, and also a fine tribute to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.

The special is set in a Muppet version of the Haunted Mansion, where The Great Gonzo has accepted a challenge to spend the entirety of Halloween night. Joined by Pepe the King Prawn, Gonzo is eager to show his friends that he is truly fearless by surviving the night amongst the “grim grinning ghosts” that inhabit the place.

This simple but enjoyable setup allows the special to pay tribute to the Haunted Mansion (and its different iterations at other Disney Parks outside of the original in California). The production design itself is pretty eye-catching, with Muppet characters replacing the busts and portraits of the iconic Disneyland location, and tons of little easter eggs for fans to spot. The special is at its best when Gonzo and Pepe are exploring the mansion’s different rooms (the stretching room, etc.), mirroring the experience of visitors touring the real life attraction.

While Gonzo and Pepe are very much the main characters here (there are a couple of meta jokes about some of the others not getting much screen time), we do get fun appearances from Kermit, Miss Piggy and Fozzie in different roles. They are joined by a human cast that includes Will Arnett serving as a tour guide and “Ghost Host,” Darren Criss as a singing groundskeeper tasked with engraving the tombstones, and Yvette Nicole Brown as the driver. There is also a plum role for Taraji P. Henson as the Bride, and a host of other celebrity cameos throughout.

The special is directed by Kirk R. Thatcher, who has a long history with the Muppets that includes co-writing the screenplay for Muppet Treasure Island, directing the TV movies It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, and helming the previous holiday special A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa. So it’s really no surprise that Muppets Haunted Mansion occupies classic Muppet territory.

The screenplay (which is credited to Thatcher alongside Pepe performer Bill Barretta and writer Kelly Younger) features all of the puns and plays on words that you would expect from the Muppets, with a story that also works in a moral or two about facing your fears. The special strikes a good balance between comedy and also some moments of spookiness that are befitting of the setting. It’s kept mostly humorous and family friendly, of course, but there is a definite Halloween vibe to it that I found quite appealing.

Thatcher packs a lot into the special’s fifty minute running time, keeping things moving at a good pace and always offering something to either catch our eye or tickle the funny bone. As is to be expected with a Muppets presentation, music also plays a key role in Muppets Haunted Mansion. We are treated to some lively musical numbers that will leave you humming along, including the three very enjoyable new songs “Rest In Peace,” “Life Hereafter” and “Tie The Knot Tango,” as well as a jaunty cover of old classic “Dancing in the Moonlight” that bookends the special.

This truly is a special made for fans of the Muppets, and as a lifelong fan, I found it to be a delight from start to finish. It does an excellent job of working in elements of the Disneyland attraction (the Haunted Mansion episode of the Disney+ series Behind the Attraction would be a good companion piece), while offering appearances from a variety of beloved Muppet characters. It also simply works on its own terms as a very entertaining Halloween special that can be enjoyed by viewers of all ages. Put simply, Muppets Haunted Mansion is a lot of fun.

Muppets Haunted Mansion will be available to stream exclusively on Disney+ as of October 8th.

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