Muppet Haunted Mansion premieres October 8 on Disney+.
Shocking as it may be, the Muppets as a performing troupe have never had their own Halloween special. Yes, it’s an entertainment tragedy, but thankfully one that is finally being remedied with the original Disney+, Muppets Haunted Mansion.
The hour-long special features all the familiar faces, from Kermit to Miss Piggy and everyone in between, but the story belongs to Gonzo the Great (Dave Goelz), with Pepe the King Prawn (Bill Barretta) taking on the crustacean’s side jobs. That dynamic is really the perfect alignment of crazy on vacation, giving the intrepid daredevil a tailored opportunity to show off his nerves of steel and reinforce some of Muppet’s core tenets about the importance of family, be it found or biological.
Set on Halloween night, Gonzo and Pepe skip Kermit (Matt Vogel) and Miss Piggy’s (Eric Jacobson) to take on the challenge of staying overnight in famed magician The Great MacGuffin’s spooky mansion on the 100th birthday of his disappearance. Since Gonzo has proven time and again that he has no fear, he thinks the night will be a lark. Pepe, not so much.
The mansion itself is modeled after the beloved theme park The Haunted Mansion, with The Muppets slipping into the iconic characters found inside and outside the ride. The swaps are quite inspired, from Fozzie as the Hatbox bear (including teeth!) to Piggy as Madame Pigota’s disembodied crystal ball head. Writers Kirk Thatcher, Kelly Younger and longtime Muppet artist Bill Barretta have created a framing device, and sequences in it, making the mash-up feel wonderfully natural and never forced. The Muppet’s humor is particularly funny and ranges from the extremely clever to the well-known, such as Waldorf and Statler as disturbing ghosts in the carts, to the incredibly silly; wait for the goat.
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There are also three new original songs that lend themselves well to the Mansion theme, with some gifted puns. They may not be instant classics on par with the recent efforts for the last two Muppet movies, but they are a lot of fun and use the depth and breadth of the Muppet couch to bring them to life, which is always a plus. A great Muppet special is one that honors all eras of the felt artists, and this special does that by including some deeply incised performances like the ghosts in the mansion (going back to The Muppet Show days) for newcomers like Walter and Joe the Weasel.
As for the folks, Will Arnett is so perfectly attuned to performing with the Muppets that I’m a little upset that he hasn’t been a fixture on these projects for years. Taraji P. Henson also has a great time as the resident black widow ghost, Constance Hatchaway. Her side story goes on for a little too long in parts, but her storyline will appeal to hardcore Haunted Mansion fans. The villain’s gallery of other human talent has basically been relegated to very minor cameos, but that means the focus can remain on Gonzo and the other Muppets, as it should be.
The Muppets have had some bumpy years under their Disney ownership, with the company trying to reinvent or modernize them for a contemporary audience. What they keep forgetting is that The Muppets are timeless at their best, and this special captures much of that spirit due to Goelz and Baretta’s performance and writing mix. The vintage cars of the current Muppet crew, they convey the right mix of Henson heart and folly that makes this offering worthy of an annual watch.