October 8, 2021 Muppets Haunted Mansion (TV Special Review)
Certain pop culture institutions are universally adored: this includes everything from iconic performers such as Dolly Parton to cross-cultural educators in puppet form like Sesame Street. But when it comes to comedy troupes who can appease the entire family, The Muppets have entertained us for generations with their dynamite personalities. So get ready to ‘wocka wocka’ when the group gets spooky for their first-ever Halloween special, Muppets Haunted Mansion, which arrives to Disney+ on Friday, October 8, 2021.
While Kermit and the gang do not require an introduction, their latest TV special, Muppets Haunted Mansion, could definitely use a little explaining. Luckily, its plot is fairly simple: instead of attending Kermit and Piggy’s annual Halloween shindig, world famous daredevil The Great Gonzo, along with the immensely handsome king prawn Pepe, heads off to The Great MacGuffin’s mansion to complete a fear challenge. What’s this, you ask? The pair must last the entire night in the most haunted house in the world.
Throughout the special our puppet friends are in fine form; Gonzo’s beak is as regal as ever, while Pepe looks suave for the ladies in his black tuxedo. Although Kermit and his paramour Piggy are usually at the center of most of the mayhem, this time around it is the underdogs who possess the spotlight. But they are benevolent souls, so they happily share screen time with talented human guests such as Will Arnett (Arrested Development series, The Lego Batman Movie 2017), Yvette Nicole Brown (Community series, Avengers: Endgame 2019), Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 2008, Empire series), Darren Criss (Glee series, American Crime Story series), and more. (Shh, it’s a surprise.)
Directed by long-time Muppet collaborator and Emmy Award winner Kirk R. Thatcher (Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow TV movie 2015, Muppets Now series), the 50-minute special features all of the Muppet performers we know and love, including Dave Goelz (Gonzo), Bill Barretta (Pepe), Eric Jacobson (Miss Piggy), Matt Vogel (Kermit), Peter Linz (Walter), and David Rudman (Scooter).
It is a perfect fit for Jim Henson’s beloved characters and what a long-time fan would expect: light-hearted fun for the entire family. Careful attention is paid to creating a spooky, Halloween-worthy vibe that will not frighten young viewers, while there are plenty of quips aimed at adults. In fact, one of the show’s flaws, if you choose to consider it that, is that it leans more heavily toward an older audience who has already been raised on the Muppets. And despite being phenomenally talented actors who bring much to the table, the show’s guests are not likely to spark recognition with youngsters, while references to Henry the VIII and his many wives, Stephen King’s The Shining, and more will fly over children’s heads.
Certainly the special is succinct enough for mature attention spans, but it might lag for the little ones who have only the creatures to admire. So with the bulk of the ‘action’ occurring within the witty dialogue, this is a Halloween special that might not be able to hold onto the attention of your youngest family member for its entire duration. But the Muppets do try to keep everyone happy: donning amusing costumes; inserting a shrieking, well, just see the show; and offering up three new songs (“Rest In Peace,” “Life Hereafter,” and “Tie the Knot Tango”). And if that’s not enough, the Swedish Chef attempts to pull off a Billy Corgan.
You can’t help but smile when the Muppets are involved! Though Haunted Mansion is not apt to go down as their best holiday special to date, its exquisite costuming, for both the humans and the Muppets, and eye for even the smallest of details (particularly the craftsmanship of its set and props) show that this was a labor of love for the cast and crew.
That said, it is definitely no easy task to appeal to multiple generations—particularly to hold the spastic attention span of the youngsters—all while creating a cohesive tale that fits perfectly into an already beloved oeuvre of material. All things considered, Muppets Haunted Mansion is a fun respite from the anxiety of the daily drudge and one that is apt to inspire a few laughs. Definitely not a trick, but an entertaining treat, Cryptic Rock gives Muppets Haunted Mansion 3.5 of 5 stars.