Muppets Haunted Mansion TV Review

Plot: The Muppets’ first-ever Halloween special “Muppets Haunted Mansion” will feature a star-studded Muppets cast, celebrity cameos, all-new music and spooky fun for families to enjoy together. “Muppets Haunted Mansion” takes place on Halloween night, when Gonzo is challenged to spend one very daring night in the most grim grinning place on Earth …The Haunted Mansion.  

Review: Full disclosure: If you don’t love The Muppets, this special isn’t going to change your mind. As iconic as these characters are, their specific brand of humor is not for everyone (meaning those who have no hearts or souls). But, since the Disney acquisition of Jim Henson’s iconic repertoire, only The Muppets starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams has managed to do justice to the franchise. A short-lived ABC sitcom and Disney+ series have felt neutered compared to the edgier big-screen movies and the classic variety show. Now, in their first Halloween special, The Muppets harken back to their celebrity-centric roots with a special that blends everything you love about the characters with a heavy dose of Disney brand synergy. Despite recent announcements of a new big-screen take on the Haunted Mansion theme park ride, this special revisits all of the elements of the Disney World attraction with all the hallmarks of Muppets programming.

Believing he has been invited to an exclusive party at the mansion of missing magician MacGuffin the Magnificent, Gonzo and his pal Pepe are whisked away to the Haunted Mansion. On the way, they meet a hearse driver (Yvette Nicole Brown), The Caretaker (Darren Criss), and the Ghost Host (Will Arnett). Within the first minutes of the special, we see cameos from Jeannie Mai, Chrissy Metz, Alfonso Ribeiro, Danny Trejo, Sasheer Zamata, and the late Ed Asner. All of these, along with a musical number, are trademark Muppets moments, but something immediately feels off.

Aside from a phone call to a Halloween party with the rest of the Muppets, we barely see the main ensemble characters. This is definitely focused on Gonzo and Pepe more than anyone else. While Kermit and Miss Piggy do put in appearances at the mansion, Piggy as classic Haunted Mansion character Madame Leota (renamed Pigota here), the rest of your favorites including Rowlf, Dr. Teeth, Fozzie, Beaker, and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew are all seen only fleetingly. Don’t get me wrong, I love Gonzo and Pepe, but it feels like even the main Muppet characters couldn’t be bothered to show up for this special. WIth everyone reduced to bit parts, we end up seeing more of Will Arnett and Taraji P. Henson than we do Kermit or Piggy.

The majority of this special splits up Gonzo and Pepe as they go on their own adventures in the Haunted Mansion which features appearances from many trademark rooms and ghosts from the Disney attraction. Theme park die-hards will recognize a lot of attention to evoking the ride including the stretching room, the ballroom, and the punny gravestones in front of the mansion. I would expect all of these same moments will be captured, again, in the upcoming Haunted Mansion movie, which makes this special feel somewhat out of place. Almost all of the celebrity cameos here are brief aside from Henson, Stamos, and Arnett who seem to be having a lot of fun chewing the scenery opposite the iconic Muppets.

Muppets Haunted Mansion does manage to cram a lot of story into just under an hour. From beginning to end, I was fully engaged in watching this story unfold, but virtually nothing felt new. This special rehashes a lot of familiar jokes and beats from Muppets history, but that may have been intentional. Disney is clearly aiming this special at younger kids and their parents. I have always loved finding the hidden adult humor in Muppets specials and there are a handful of moments like that here, but Muppets Haunted Mansion feels more aimed squarely at younger kids than any other Muppets production in recent memory. Grown-ups will appreciate the celebrities and ride references, but aside from that, there isn’t much subtext here to unpack.

As far as Muppet specials go, Muppets Haunted Mansion is the best TV offering featuring Jim Henson’s characters. Compared to their overall filmography, it is better than Muppets from Space but that isn’t saying much. A brisk watch with some fun pop culture references, this is a diversion that markets Disney’s classic theme park ride and that is about it. You can usually judge where The Muppets fall in the pop culture zeitgeist by the fame level of the celebrity cameos they are able to land. Muppets Haunted Mansion is fun but squanders the potential to have been really good. As it is, Muppets fans will enjoy it but wonder where the edge is that used to make these characters destination viewing.

Muppets Haunted Mansion premieres on October 8th on Disney+.

Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.