Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021) — Better than the Eddie Murphy version, but not that much

“Welcome foolish Muppets!”

Justin’s rating: Maybe about 145 happy haunts out of 999

Justin’s review: Like many Haunted Mansion fans, I’ve often thought that Disney’s theme park ride is an ideal setting for a movie masterpiece that has yet to be made. We all know how lame the 2003 Eddie Murphy adaptation ended up being, but for a second attempt, I don’t think anyone really saw the Muppets taking a crack at it (even if they’re all part of the Disney family conglomerate). But hey, I was jazzed to see anyone doing Haunted Mansion anything, so why not? I’ll give it a shot.

For the Muppets’ very first Halloween TV special, Gonzo and Pepe head to the titular mansion to accept the challenge of staying a full night in its creepy halls. Inside, they kind of bounce from room to room, meet various Muppet characters in their ghostly state, and attempt to pad out the running time with a couple of truly forgettable musical numbers. Also, Gonzo has to face his greatest fears and Pepe must escape the clutches of the Mansion’s Bride (who wishes to marry the king prawn).

I mean, that’s pretty much it. This TV special is the definition of “filler.” Toss in a few celebs like John Stamos and Will Arnett who are game to act across from puppeteers, milk the Haunted Mansion’s cult popularity, and call it a day. There’s an expected veneer of laziness to this whole production that sums up the Muppets in general over the last decade or so. This franchise used to be really hilarious and heart-warming, and now it’s lowest common denominator puns and shrimp.

And really, they need to stop featuring Pepe as much as they do. As a puppet, he’s easily one of the least expressive from the Jim Henson workshops, and his whole bit of being Spanish and romantic doesn’t have the legs that the writers think it does.

Muppets Haunted Mansion isn’t a total bust, I want to be clear about that. There are some great jokes sprinkled in here and a few running gags that I enjoyed (such as the “dun dun DUN” mummy and skeleton that would show up from time to time), the sets feel exactly like the ride (especially the stretching room and ballroom), and there are a ton of callbacks to the ride itself. I did get a bit of a kick identifying all of the ride bits, from the weird goat muppet being the thing that screams in the stretching room to one point where the ride breaks down and we hear the same lines that you’d hear on the ride whenever they had to halt it.

But references only go so far if you don’t build on them, and that’s where this special falls apart. There’s no story here, no strong characters, and not nearly enough humor to cover the first two items on this list. I think we’d get pretty much the same experience if they filmed the Muppets going on the Haunted Mansion ride and providing color commentary. So unless you’re a die-hard Mansion fanatic, you’re not going to see this unless your kid accidentally clicks on it on Disney+. That’s the scariest thing about this all.

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