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Muppets Haunted Mansion Review: Scared Silly

Kermit (Matt Vogel) and the gang are back in their latest holiday romp, Muppets Haunted Mansion.

Haunted Mansion is somehow the Muppets’ first-ever Halloween special. Director Kirk R. Thatcher makes up for lost time by packing the film with classic Muppets gags, spooky visuals, and a heavy helping of corporate tie-ins. In case you didn’t know, Disney’s four Haunted Mansion theme park adventures inspired the movie.

The film kicks off on the spookiest night of the year, with the Muppets throwing a Halloween bash. The crew’s resident daredevil, The Great Gonzo (Dave Goelz), has other plans, though.

Gonzo skips the party in favour of performing the greatest stunt of his life. A legendary magician called The Great Maguffin vanished one hundred years ago. Gonzo and his spunky pal Pepe (Bill Barretta) want to celebrate Maguffin’s anniversary by spending a night in the haunted mansion where he disappeared. But in true Muppets’ fashion, the duo soon lands in hot water when the mansion’s restless spirits refuse to let them go.

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Muppets Haunted Mansion goes to some dark places. At least, dark for kid-friendly programming. The film won’t rattle most kids older than seven.

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The story sees Gonzo and Pepe get seduced by spirits who want to trap their souls in the haunted mansion for eternity. The film also features plenty of morbid (though cutely realized) visuals; crooked gravestones, talking skeletons, and wailing spectres. One of the mansion’s resident fiends even has a reputation for lopping off her lovers’ heads. Despite the tongue-in-cheek tone, these elements may spook younger viewers.

A good Muppets movie requires three things: a heart-warming story, fun musical numbers, and loads of celebrity guest stars. Haunted Mansion checks all three boxes.

A heart-warming Tale

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Gonzo’s overnight challenge forces him to confront his greatest fear. And let me tell you, his harrowing existential journey wouldn’t feel out of place in an arthouse flick. Imagine Tree of Life but with Muppets.

The Muppets have remained popular for decades because people get a kick out of their silly antics and big, colourful personalities. But the reason we connect with these stitched together bundles of felt and plastic is that we see ourselves reflected in them. The Muppets’ larger-than-life personalities are rooted in relatable human hang-ups.

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Kermit is a pent-up ball of anxious tension. He may keep the show running on time, but he’s one bad day away from having a major breakdown. If I had to bet on one Muppet going postal, my money is on him.

Piggy is a raging narcissist, driven by her deep-rooted insecurities. What does society deem lower than a pig? Not much. Piggy overcompensates through her constant preening and diva antics.

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As for the cackling old men, Statler (Peter Linz) and Waldorf (Dave Goelz)? They’re bullies, compelled to put people down to make up for their own inadequacies. They’re two old white men who don’t like seeing a more inclusive world pass them by. They have nothing to contribute, so they perch in the rafters, bitter as hell. They may as well be Fox News hosts.

Gonzo isn’t driven by fear. Being fearless is his whole thing. He performs stunts as The Great Gonzo as a way to experience fear, an emotion that’s alien to him. Before skydiving without a parashoot or getting shot out of a cannon, I picture him, still and focused, with the same cold dead eyes as Christopher Walken playing roulette in The Deer Hunter.

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Gonzo’s hang-up is his individuality. He’s not a bear like Fozzie, or a dog like Rowlf, or even a monster like Sweetums. He’s just a weirdo who doesn’t know where he comes from. Gonzo spent his life looking for somewhere he fits, as we all do. When the film shows us Gonzo’s one true fear, the reveal is obvious, but also achingly tender.

Musical Numbers

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Haunted Mansion features three all-new musical numbers from the Muppets; In Peace, Life Hereafter, and Tie the Knot Tango. All three tracks are catchy and accompanied by colourful performances that look like psychedelic visions plucked from an ayahuasca trip. I got a kick out of watching a menacing lot of ghouls float through the air, belting out Halloween tunes. And as a feelgood palette cleanser, the final credits feature an upbeat closing number that I won’t spoil here.

Muppets Haunted Mansion is a two person Muppet show. Kermit, Piggy (Eric Jacobson), and Scooter (David Rudman) take a backseat while the story focuses on Gonzo and Pepe. However, these familiar characters do pop up throughout the film as the mansion’s fiendish residents. It’s like how Kermit played Bob Cratchit in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Here, we see Professor Bunsen (Dave Goelz) and Beaker (David Rudman) show up as a pair of talking/meeping statues. I prefer Muppet stories where the whole gang sticks together, but Haunted Mansion still quenched my thirst for more Muppet content.

Celebrity Guests

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Muppet movies are famously loaded with guest appearances, and Haunted Mansion doesn’t break from tradition. Will Arnett and Taraji P. Henson have the meatiest human roles. They don’t get a ton of screen time, but they leave strong impressions. You can tell they’re having a blast hamming it up. They have that same manic energy as SNL hosts who can’t get through their sketch without bursting into giggles.

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I lost track of all the celebrities who appeared in the movie. I’m not joking when I say blink and you’ll miss them. Still, it’s fun seeing a surly Danny Trejo show up in this cutesy family film. I won’t spoil all the surprises here, but keep your eyes peeled for Justina Machado, Alfonso Ribeiro and the late Ed Asner.

Muppets Haunted Mansion isn’t a top-tier Muppet movie, but it delivers more than enough family-friendly pleasures to deserve a spot on your Halloween watchlist. My only gripe with the film is its meagre running time – it clocks in at less than 50 minutes. But in the end, I can’t knock the Haunted Mansion for following showbusiness’ golden rule: always leave them wanting more.

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