Disney+ UK TV review: Muppets Haunted Mansion
Ivan Radford | On 31, Oct 2021
Muppets Haunted Mansion. Those three words are enough to conjure up fears of The Muppets selling out, as they debut their first horror special on Disney+ – a pastiche not of a classic literary work but a popular theme park ride. But from the opening gag – Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem covering Dancing in the Moonlight – this is a enjoyable, if unambitious, showcase for Jim Henson’s creations.
It helps that the focus isn’t on Kermit and Miss Piggy but pivots to fan favourites Gonzo (Dave Goelz) and Pepe the King Prawn (Bill Barretta) – the same kind of approach that made 2011’s The Muppets a refreshing change of pace. We join the duo as they decide to skip the annual Muppets Halloween party in favour of visiting a haunted house on the 100th anniversary of the disappearance of the Great MacGuffin, a magical hero of Gonzo. Once there, they’re told that they must survive the night if they want to make it out alive.
That’s essentially all the plot that we get, as Gonzo and Pepe are guided through the haunted mansion effectively on rails, with scenes that recall moments from the theme park attraction. The special is at its best when those are tailored to fit The Muppets, rather than the other way round, and the standout moments see Fozzie naturally becoming the “Hatbox Ghost” – including a stand-up set with lots of gravely bad puns – and the Ballroom becoming the dancing segment that used to be in the original Muppet Show. Even Statler and Waldorf’s usual role of commenting spectators transposes easily into onlookers sat in the the ride’s carts.
But the rest of the time, writers Kirk Thatcher, Kelly Younger and Bill Barretta struggle to find more for The Muppets to do than go through the theme park motions and use that to shape the chaos – and, crucially, the chaos isn’t quite as chaotic as fans might hope. There’s an inspired joke early on about Kermit and Miss Piggy’s Halloween costumes and a giggle-inducing gag involving some singing penguins, but the chuckles don’t consistently live up to those high points, and the original songs (Rest in Peace, Life Hereafter and Tie the Knot Tango) are likeable but not as memorable as, say, Scrooge or Professional Pirate.
Unexpectedly, it’s the humans who keep things entertaining, from Taraji P Henson as a bride trying to marry Pepe (the closest thing the special has to a narrative) to Yvette Nicole Brown as the hearse driver and cameos from Darren Criss, Alfonso Ribeiro and (yes) Danny Trejo. The real star of the show, though, is Will Arnett as the Ghost Host, who moves from gravelly voiced tour guide to musical compere with confident ease. Arnett and The Muppets such a good fit that it’s enough to make you want a full-on film reuniting them. If that’s the main achievement of Muppets Haunted Mansion, it’s no bad thing. Otherwise, it’s comfortable to coast along on Barretta and Goelz’s energetic charm, and that’s enough to make this family-friendly spook-fest a fun ride.
Muppets Haunted Mansion is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.