Muppets Haunted Mansion is a quirky and enjoyable ride that is sure to be a treat for franchise fans, even if there aren’t many surprises to be had along the way.
You know, it’s nice to crawl out of my little horror dungeon and do something lighthearted and playful once in a while. And I’ll tell you, it’s hard to get more lighthearted than the Muppets. I absolutely loved the 2011 movie, and I’ve noticed an uptick in the Muppet crew’s relevance and popularity since then, with the past decade giving us another movie as well as multiple television shows and specials. I’m not saying that Kermit and the gang haven’t been around and active since their 70s heyday and their 90s resurgence, I’m just saying that the 2000s seemed a rough time for the franchise; I don’t see a whole lot of people these days talking about Kermit’s Swamp Years or The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz. But I’m not here to talk about all of that, I’m here to review the Muppets’ newest television special, Muppets Haunted Mansion.
Muppets Haunted Mansion sets its focus on Gonzo (Dave Goelz), who is accompanied by his friend Pepe (Bill Barretta), a king prawn. Gonzo is challenged to spend a night in a haunted mansion where one of his idols, a magician named the Great McGuffin, disappeared over 100 years prior. Goofy and musical mischief ensue.
If you’ve seen any sort of Muppets media, you probably already have an idea of what you’ll be getting in a Muppets TV special: goofy humor with songs and celebrity cameos sprinkled in. If you think that’s the kind of thing you’ll get from Muppets Haunted Mansion, then you’re absolutely right, because all of those things are here. The humor, by and large, is pretty good: there were a couple of quick gags that made me chuckle out loud, and this particular special focuses heavily on visual humor and wordplay. I did think, however, it leaned a little too hard into the meta humor, punctuated with fourth wall breaks and characters lamenting that their parts aren’t bigger. I get that meta humor is big in some corners of children’s media, and that the Muppets have plenty of such humor in their catalogue, I’ve just personally never been a huge fan of playing out to the audience within a film context.
The original songs are, I would say, good but not great. You’ll enjoy them in the moment, but they’ll leave your head pretty quickly: I’m struggling to recall any of their melodies right now. But still, the people brought in to help perform the songs are clearly having a lot of fun, and you’ll have fun with them: Darren Criss plays a caretaker who gets to sing a little ditty with Alfonso Ribeiro, Danny Treijo, and Craig Robinson, among others. Later, Will Arnett, as a spooky spectral host, joins in a song sung by ghosts about the joys of being ghosts. Even if there isn’t a “Rainbow Connection” or a “Man or Muppet” in the bunch, the music is still fun and serves its purpose well.
Muppets Haunted Mansion’s craft is a bit uneven, as you can tell this was done without a large budget. Some of the set pieces look cool and impressive, while others are clearly a greenscreen. It’s not something that will bother you too much, however, since it adds to the special’s particular style of cartoonish camp, but it can be a distracting and sudden shift in visual quality. There are also a few new puppets at play here, and they honestly look pretty good. Without spoiling anything, the best one comes near the end in the closest thing the special gets to a dark moment when Gonzo has to actually confront his greatest fear. I’m not going to give it away, but I found it to be just the right amount of jarring to add a bit of depth to the narrative while still being appropriate and consistent with the special’s tone.
All in all, if you’re a fan of the Muppets, then Muppets Haunted Mansion is an easy recommendation. You get to see the characters and humor you know and love, all bound together in another wacky and very short adventure. If you’re not a fan of these particular puppet pals, then this probably won’t do anything to change your mind, and if you’ve never seen anything with the Muppets, then boy oh boy you picked a weird place to start. Muppets Haunted Mansion is a solid and fun romp with your favorite characters, even if it’s not exactly groundbreaking.
Muppets Haunted Mansion is now available to watch on Disney Plus.
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