In a way, I was predisposed to hate Muppets Haunted Mansion. I’ve loved the Muppets since I was a kid, and it’s no exaggeration to say that our mutual appreciation for them is one of the reasons my wife and I fell in love. I was a bit of a latecomer to Disney parks, since theme parks were very much not my parents’ thing, so I never went to Walt Disney World until I was 37, in 2010. However, my family has been there many times since, Haunted Mansion is one of our favorite rides, and we never leave the Magic Kingdom without going on it at least once. So you can see how it wouldn’t have been hard at all for Muppets Haunted Mansion to disappoint me. Indeed, most of the Disney-produced Muppets media that’s come out since they bought the property in 2004 has been somewhat to very disappointing.
I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed it a great deal. It tells the story of Gonzo and Pepé the King Prawn visiting a haunted mansion in an attempt to win a prize by surviving the night. What follows are a series of bizarre adventures, mostly-pointless cameos, and many, many in-jokes. It’s hard to write about much of it without spoiling the fun surprises, but I will say that it’s possible you will enjoy it even if you have never seen The Muppet Show or been on any of the various Haunted Mansions at Disney parks around the world, but you will certainly enjoy it a great deal more if you know them both well.
Notice that I mentioned The Muppet Show specifically. I’m almost certain that Muppets Haunted Mansion had more callbacks to the original TV series than anything that’s been produced in decades, and it was absolutely delightful for my family to catch every one of them… again, I’m afraid I’ll spoil the pleasure for you if I say more. People who know the ride well will notice references all over the place, starting with “Grim Grinning Ghosts” and tombstones with punny epitaphs and ending with… well, you can probably guess, but you’ll be grinning even if you do see them coming. Keep an eye out for Kim Irvine, a well-known imagineer and daughter of Disney Legend Leota Toombs Thomas, the original face and voice of the American Haunted Mansions’ Madame Leota.
That being said, it is not without its problems. I have never been the biggest fan of Pepé since Muppets Tonight premiered 25 years ago (whoa, do I feel old), so I would’ve preferred another Muppet to have accompanied Gonzo (I have no problem with Gonzo; Gonzo is awesome). It would’ve been nice for Kermit, Piggy, and Fozzie to have had more to do, though their brief appearances are definitely memorable; although Kermit hasn’t sounded quite right to me since Steve Whitmire stopped performing him five years ago, so more of him might not have been better. And, while some of the humans are great in their roles, I thought Will Arnett hammed it up a bit more than was necessary as the Ghost Host; I would’ve loved to have seen Uncle Deadly in the part instead, or, if it had to be a human, possibly Willem Dafoe.
But none of the bad things about it were enough to outweigh the fun I had watching most of it, and it even has an unexpectedly deep and not too in-your-face message. I’m going to be watching it again at least once before Halloween, and I could definitely see this becoming something to watch every Halloween, like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, only much weirder.
Muppets Haunted Mansion premieres today, October 8, 2021, only on Disney+ (no premium fee required). It’s 52 minutes long, and is rated TV-PG. If your kids can handle the ride, they can handle this.