Now, admittedly, I am a year late on this one. The special aired last October and I did watch it within a day or two of it going live, but I was in the middle of a month-long writing project, so I had decided to devote my energies to that.
Then, October ended and, although I did have the idea at the back of my mind, doing a recommendation for a Halloween special on, like, December 8th felt weird.
But, hey, it’s October again, it’s about a week until Halloween, so my chance has come around to do a write-up on Muppets Haunted Mansion and have it make sense.
Fundamentally, it delivers what is promises. There’s Muppets and a haunted mansion — though, strictly speaking, The Haunted Mansion; it’s based on the ride (more on that later).
Fair word of warning, the special is probably as genuinely scary as something Muppet-based can be and some of the scenes might be too much or either very young or very sensitive kids and are probably unsettling enough to get a reaction from the adults watching, too.
But it is the Muppets, and it is based on an actual Disneyland ride, so you should have a sense of what you’re getting into.
Now, let me set the stage by telling you something really scary: I’ve never been to Disneyland.
Yeah, yeah. Poor J.B. Norman.
I bring this up, not to whinge about my childhood, but to admit they I don’t really get the references to the actual Haunted Mansion, so if you’ve ever been, you’ll probably appreciate the Muppets special on a much deeper level than I do.
As it happens, Wikipedia and TV Tropes do both have pretty extensive write-ups about the Haunted Mansion, so I do have a vague sense of the what’s involved in the ride and the story it’s supposed to be telling.
But that’s like, well … the difference being reading about Disneyland and going to Disneyland.
Yeah, yeah. Poor J.B. Norman.
Fundamentally, Muppets Haunted Mansion is some brilliant brand synergy. Disney has owned the Muppets since 2004 and The Haunted Mansion, as we know, is a Disneyland ride — also a previous movie and a long-delayed forthcoming remake.
It’s really just some shameless self-promotion on Disney’s part.
But, 1) Is that really such a bad thing?
And, 2) It’s some brilliantly entertaining shameless-promotion.
While Muppets Haunted Mansion isn’t a 1:1 presentation of the ride, but with Muppets, I feel like it still strives to hit all the major marks of the ride to the point that it reasonably allows those of us who have never been to Disneyland to live vicariously through our favourite funny puppets.
It’s also very much a Muppets movie and includes everything that the audience will recognise as quintessentially Muppet: slapstick, shockingly catchy musical numbers, celebrity cameos, silly running gags, meta humour, jokes only the parents are going to get, the Swedish Chef trying to cook sentient vegetables.
Though I suppose pumpkins are actually fruit...
Sidebar: the current Muppets sound weird. Not shocking, of course, given that every Muppet has probably changed performers at least once by now — with the notable exception of Dave Goelz as Gonzo, the last remaining original performer.
Current Kermit is probably the most jarringly “This doesn’t sound like my childhood”, but the performance won me over. It doesn’t sound like my childhood, but the performance did win me over by doing a good job capturing the One Reasonable
Man Puppet Surrounded by Idiots that is Kermit the Frog.
It’s a fairly quick, easy watch. The special is only about an hour long. I guess there’s really only so much you can do to pad out a story based on a ride that lasts 9 minutes. Though, they did manage to get six movies out of Pirates of the Carribean…
Muppets Haunted Mansion is fairly high-concept, but Muppet-centric adaptations of pre-existing stories are pretty common, so it’s not necessarily high-concept in a way that’s alien to the Muppets.
In brief, our favourite Muppets Gonzo and Pepe the Prawn are challenged to spend a night in the titular Haunted Mansion for reasons that I don’t think are ever quite made clear and subsequently find out they must escape the Mansion before sunrise or be trapped there forever.
Hilarity, some terror ensue.
Despite being only an hour long and aired originally on Disney Plus rather than released in theatres or even aired on TV, Muppets Haunted Mansion is been widely well-received and frequently lauded as one of the best things the Muppets have done in years — admittedly, that’s not a terribly high bar.
I’m inclined to agree.
Even without any real nostalgia for or connection to the actual Haunted Mansion, on account of never having been to Disneyland —
— I enjoy the Muppets even if I don’t really get or appreciate the references.
I think being only an hour long helps. While the pacing isn’t perfect, it is pretty tight and quick and none of the scenes or gags really overstay their welcome and the script is overall economical and efficient with its time management.
And it comes to a conclusion that presents a shockingly profound and insightful thematic statement for an hour-long, Muppets Halloween special.
It’s not just one of the better Muppet works, it’s probably one of the better recent Halloween specials I can think of, at least off the top of my head.
And at least for the foreseeable future, it’s probably the closest I’m going to come to actually going to Disneyland…
Happy Halloween, everybody.
I’m hoping to have some more Halloween-centric posts going up between now and then, and I’m off to a good start so far.
So, stay tuned for that.
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