Muppets Haunted Mansion Review
Written by Ethan Aaron Banks on 8th November 2021
They’ve hosted their own TV show. They’ve taken on the city of Manhattan. They’ve been to 19th century London where they pumped Christmas spirit into the streets and into a certain miserable old Scrooge. They’ve fought against pirates in the quest to rescue treasure on a remote island. They’ve even discovered that one of their friends is, in fact, an alien from outer space! What’s next for the famous Muppet troupe? Well, Disney has given one of their famous, rather haunting theme park attraction some Muppet treatment with Muppets Haunted Mansion.
Exclusive to Disney+, Muppets Haunted Mansion, directed by Kirk R. Thatcher, is a spooky, wacky, musical-like Halloween special, which brings together The Haunted Mansion and The Muppets.
Set on Halloween night, the special’s narrative is led by two members of The Muppets cast, The Great Gonzo (Dave Goelz) and Pepé the King Prawn (Bill Barretta). Gonzo and Pepé are skipping Kermit the Frog (Matt Vogel) and Miss Piggy’s (Eric Jacobson) Halloween party because they’ve accepted a Halloween fear challenge – to stay overnight in the mansion where famed magician The Great MacGuffin disappeared 100 years ago.
The special’s plot follows the progression of the real-life attraction. This is where writers Barretta, Thatcher, and Kelly Younger begin limiting the enjoyment of the special to an unfamiliar audience. Even though they’re successful in bringing a comedic element with the endless gags and puns made by the other Muppets, who play the roles of the various characters that you see in the attraction, for some, a knowledge of the ride is useful. One example can be seen in the ballroom scene. While some of the Muppet characters are performing an original number (Life Hereafter), the song stops briefly for a quick series of jokes about the ride breaking down. The informed audience is going to love this reference and find it amusing. The unknowledgeable audience, not so much. They’ll just be left puzzled.
Casting director Tony Shepherd couldn’t have picked anyone better than Will Arnett to play the mansion’s mysterious Ghost Host. Arnett probably landed the role with his voice alone, made famous by voicing Bruce Wayne and Batman in The Lego Batman Movie. The way he uses his voice in a deep, gravelly way, especially in the scene when the Ghost Host greets Gonzo and Pepé to the mansion, really pumps the terror into the special.
But it’s Taraji P. Henson who excels as the homicidal bride. Initially, Henson tricks the audience into thinking that her character is nothing but a sweet, innocent soul through her elegant body language. Later, while telling Pepé how much she loves him, she begins each sentence by hinting about what she really wants to do to him in an angry tone before quickly ending with something romantic in a light, sweet tone of voice so Pepé doesn’t suspect anything. With Henson switching tones, she clearly shows a nice difference in her characters’ traits, which makes the special even more gripping.
The special could’ve been frightful. Instead, it’s a winner because it cleverly combines Halloween through the two properties. From outstanding performances to never-ending jokes, Muppets Haunted Mansion is a real treat.