Sunday, October 31, 2021

Muppets Haunted Mansion

Premiered October 8, 2021.

One hundred years ago, on All Hallows' Eve, the a magician known as the Great MacGuffin disappeared in a haunted mansion.  In the present day, on Halloween night, Gonzo The Great (Dave Goelz) and his friend Pepe the King Prawn (Bill Barretta) are participating in a fear challenge in the very same mansion, which is believed to be the most haunted mansion in the world.  Gonzo is especially excited about this, since MacGuffin is his favorite magician.  Pepe is along for the ride because he believes the mansion will be filled with partying celebrities.

At the same time, their friends Kermit the frog (Matt Vogel) and Miss Piggy (Eric Jacobson) are hosting the Muppets' annual costume party.  They're disappointed Gonzo and Pepe won't be attending. 

Upon arrival at the mansion, Pepe and Gonzo are greeted by the caretaker (Darren Criss) and several ghosts. 

Inside, they meet their "Ghost Host" (Will Arnett), who gives them a tour of the mansion and explains the terms of the challenge: Inside the mansion's walls, they must face all their fears bravely.  Pepe and Gonzo must stay in the mansion all night but if they fail to do so, they will be trapped inside forever!  The host says the house is filled with spirits that will respond to their "sympathetic vibrations."  

Throughout the evening, they will encounter lots of interesting characters, including:

Madam Pigota, the spirit of a psychic medium who speaks in rhymes.  She gives clues to Gonzo and Pepe that may help them find a way out of the mansion.

Gauzey the Hat Box Bear (Eric Jacobson), a comedian who performs at the mansion's vaudeville show.

Constance Hathaway (Taraji P. Henson), who tells Pepe she wants to marry him. 

And John Stamos

Unbeknownst to Pepe, Constance has killed all five of her previous husbands and their ghosts are now stuck in the mansion.  She plans to kill Pepe after marrying him.  Gonzo figures this out and tries to intervene.

However, Gonzo has his own problems.  The ghost host informs him that if he wants to survive the night, he must go to room 999.  Inside that room, Gonzo must face his greatest fear.

Will Gonzo and Pepe make it through the night?  Or will they be trapped in the Haunted Mansion forever?

J.A. Morris says: 

Since the Jim Henson's death, the Muppets haven't always been handled well.  Muppet movies and TV have been very inconsistent in recent decades.  What Henson and his collaborators understood was that Muppets programming needed a combination of child-like sentiment and a little bit of edgy humor.  I'm happy to report that Muppets Haunted Mansion reminds me a lot of the humor of The Muppet Show and the early Muppets films.  

Gonzo and Pepe get the spotlight here, instead of usual "leads" like Kermit or Miss Piggy.  Dave Goelz (of the the original Muppeteers) and Bill Barretta do a nice job carrying the special.  All the other Muppet performs are good as well, especially puppeteers who play the Electric Mayhem band.  Their performance of "Dancing In The Moonlight" is a nice moment.  

The human actors in Muppets Haunted Mansion are also entertaining.  Will Arnett brings just enough spookiness and mystery as the mansion's ghost host.  Taraji P. Henson is great as the murderous Constance Hathaway.  Most of Henson's scenes feature her interacting with Pepe.  It takes a lot of talent to believably interact with a king prawn.  

Lots of famous actors make cameo appearances as ghosts.  I don't have the time or space here to name of all of them, but it's worth noting that the late Ed Asner plays one of the ghosts.  It's one of his final roles and it was nice to see him here

The only problem I had with Muppets Haunted Mansion was the performance of the song "Grim, Grinning Ghosts," a song that originated at Disney's Haunted Mansion theme park attraction.  It's one of the best original songs written for their parks. 

I didn't have a problem with Darren Criss' performance of the song, I just thought "Grim, Grinning Ghosts" deserved a bigger number than what we get here.  The special's major production number is reserved for the original song "Life Hereafter," which I also enjoyed.  

I enjoyed Muppets Haunted Mansion more than any recent Muppet production and I hope it's the start of a new "golden age" of Muppets film and TV.  It's highly recommended to fans of Muppets fans of every age and it's something I figure I'll watch often around Halloween in the future.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 jack o'lanterns!

RigbyMel says:

Having a nostalgic affection for both the Muppets AND Disney's celebrated Haunted Mansion dark ride, I was quite intrigued when this Muppets special was announced for Disney+.   I was also a little bit nervous about it because, as J.A. Morris points out above, post-Henson Muppets output has been on the uneven side.  

It turns out that this new special contains enough Muppet mayhem and Haunted Mansion spookiness to make my nostalgic heart very happy indeed. 

Not only was the story fun, but there were all kinds of cool little Easter eggs (Halloween treats?) sprinkled throughout.   

For instance, we see Mah Na Mah Na candelabra in the stretching room near the beginning of Gonzo and Pepe's adventure. 

When Statler and Waldorf show up, they heckle the proceedings from a "Doom Buggy" - the mode of transit park guests take during the actual Haunted Mansion dark ride

There are also appearances by some pretty old school Muppets like Wayne and Wanda.   

Plus the "casting" of the Muppets in various ghostly Haunted Mansion roles was pretty darned inspired -- and we even get non-sequitur screaming goats thrown into the mix for good measure!

It is quite evident from all the clever meta-humor and an optimal balance of spooky and funny that the writers (Bill Barretta, Kirk R. Thatcher, and Kelly Younger) love the Muppets and the Haunted Mansion and they've done a great job of bringing the spirit of Jim Henson and his creations to the screen in this special. 

Muppets Haunted Mansion is the Muppets/Halloween/Haunted Mansion (monster?) mash-up we didn't know we needed and is recommended viewing for Muppet fans and Haunted Mansion fans of all ages. 

RigbyMel's rating: 

4 jack o'lanterns! 

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