Saturday, October 23, 2021

Family Fun Saturday - Muppets Haunted Mansion

Disney, 2021
Starring The Muppets, Will Arnett, Darren Criss, and Tarji P. Henson
Directed by Kirk Thatcher
Music by Ed Mitchell & Steve Morell; Lyrics by Kirk Thatcher, Bill Baretta, and Kelly Younger

The idea of the Muppets doing a Halloween special goes back a long way. It was originally announced in the early 90's as the first in a series of holiday TV specials. That eventually evolved into the short-lived show Muppets Tonight in 1996. There was a second attempt in 2009, but it was ultimately scrapped to focus on the 2011 movie. Disney finally found a way to get the Muppets into horror around 2020 - corporate synergy. How well do the Muppets combine with the "Grim Grinning Ghosts" of one of the most venerable dark rides at the Disney Parks, the Haunted Mansion? Let's start on a dark and stormy road as Gonzo and Pepe the Prawn take a ride to one of the spookiest houses ever and find out...

The Story: Gonzo (Dave Goelz) and Pepe the Prawn (Bill Baretta) duck out of the Muppets' annual Halloween party in order to spend a night facing their fears in a mansion once owned by Gonzo's idol, The Great MacGuffin. The caretaker (Criss) they meet in the cemetery outside the mansion's gates insists they won't make the night. Pepe, who is terrified of all the ghosts, singing pig-faced crystal balls, and staring busts they encounter, wonders if he's right. He feels a lot better when he encounters the beautiful bride Constance Hatchaway (Henson) and immediately falls for her...but there's six ghosts in the room with a warning about her sudden odd attraction to crustaceans. Gonzo, however, is determined to follow the Ghost Host (Arnett) and find out just what there is to be afraid of in Room 999.

The Song and Dance: If you know anything about the Muppets' recent endeavors or the ride this is based on, you'll have a scary good time with this one. Baretta and Henson are especially funny in their big tango number as Constance desperately attempts to make Pepe her next victim, and Arnett's having a blast as the mysterious man who knows more about the Mansion and its occupants than he'll admit. There's some decent special effects, too, especially with Piggy in the crystal ball and at the dinner with all of the Muppets as "Happy Ghosts." Look for cameos by not only various Muppets, but some of those "grim grinning ghosts" from the theme park ride, too. 

Favorite Number:  Criss and several Muppet ghosts and busts perform "Rest In Peace" (and part of the original theme "Grim Grinning Ghosts") as they introduce Gonzo and Pepe to the Mansion and try to warn them away. Constance lures Pepe in with the "Tie the Knot Tango" as her previous husbands (including Walter from the Disney Muppets films) remember how she did the same to them, then did them in. The Electric Mayhem begin and end the film with the 70's rock hit "Dancing In the Moonlight," the latter version with the cast and Muppets joining in. 

Trivia: One of Ed Asner's last appearances before his death in August 2021. The special is dedicated to him.

What I Don't Like: First of all, there's a lot of complaints out there - as there are about any Muppet project made after Jim Henson's death in 1989 - about the current Muppet voices not sounding like or being as good as the originals. I'm more concerned with message about facing your fears being pushed a bit too hard. It comes off as overdone and cliched, especially in the second half after Gonzo and Pepe separate. 

The Big Finale: The complaints about the voices aside, if you or your kids love mildly spooky horror or are fans of the more recent Muppet ventures, you'll want to jump in a car with Staler and Waldorf and enjoy the ride. 

Home Media: Currently a Disney Plus exclusive.

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