I, for one, was really excited to hear about this Muppets/Haunted Mansion Disney+ special. Disney really hasn’t had a strong idea of what to do with the Muppets since they bought them (except for their show in Liberty Square which was pitch perfect). They currently have a show called Muppets Now on Disney+ that is short bits of the characters doing things that could very well be better shot versions of social media video shorts. I saw someone say online that this Haunted Mansion show was the best thing the Muppets have put out in years and I think I agree. I can see this becoming for Disney/Muppet fans an every year special to watch like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
Before I dive in I want to point out that the recently passed Ed Asner had a small part in the special as one of the character ghosts in the haunted graveyard. Asner just recently passed, but it was fitting to have him here with his strong Disney connection in recent years.
(Also, have you seen the series of shorts called Dug Days? If you haven’t, you really need to hear Asner in Dug Days that also recently came out. It’s really great.)
There was a very short bit near the beginning of our Haunt Mansion visit – in the cemetery – that you could instantly tell was him and later in a practically perfect in every way moment, he lifted up a glass to toast the audience as part of the credits. What an amazing curtain call for a great actor. Goodbye Ed, you had spunk.
One of the things that makes a Muppet show a Muppet SHOW is their interaction with human characters. There have to be humans there to interact with and in Muppet style they often use stars. This goes back to the original Muppet Show TV show which was styled as a variety show with a different human special guest each week. For example, my favorite episode of the original show had Mark Hamill appearing both as himself and briefly as his “cousin” Luke Skywalker. It was SO great!
There are many stars, or at least very well known people, who did small bits of various sizes in this special. I want to specifically call out three. One was Pat Sajak who seems to be developing a bit of an overt Disney connection. Honestly he didn’t have much in common with the other people who did tombstones, but listening to a podcast just today he was mentioned as being part of 2 other recent Disney events so I think this might be becoming a thing.
The second one is John Stamos. Stamos is well known for his television acting career and is almost better known in the Disney fan community as a big Disney fan. He bought the original Disneyland sign among other amazing things. (The D of which is on display outside his house.) He has done a brilliant Disneybound as Prince Eric. He even asked his current wife to marry him at Disneyland and they honeymooned at Walt Disney World. So Stamos is well-known and well beloved of the Disney community. It would have been a shame if he hadn’t gotten a scene and one of decent length which he did. Although I didn’t really care for the payoff of it, it was great to have him there.
The third one is probably someone you wouldn’t know by sight even if they had given her more of her due screen time. Kim Irvine is the daughter of Imagineer and mystic seer model of the Haunted Mansion – with the best Haunted Mansion associated name ever – Leota Tombs. (No, seriously that was her real name.) Kim is now a major Imagineer herself and also has stepped into the crystal ball when new variation recordings of the séance scene were needed.
Plot – Spoiler Alert
So the plot of this special is that the Muppets are having a Halloween party, but Gonzo the Great and Pepe the King Prawn skip it. (Just pausing a minute to say HOW amazing were the Kermit as Piggy/Piggy as Kermit costumes? – So great.)
Gonzo because he has been issued one of those challenges – can you make it through the night at a haunted house – and Pepe….well Pepe seems to think that they are going to some kind of big swank party even though Gonzo repeatedly tells him they aren’t. They get there and pass through the cemetery – which is probably the best scene in the entire special. Loved the ghosts, SO well done.
- Good Old Fred
- Brother Claude
- Cousin Maude
- Cousin Huet
- Mary – “Wrote mysteries with masterful quill, not knowing the ink of words could kill” (Haunted Mansion Wiki’s list and links)
They get a musical number “Rest in Peace.” The Muppets always have the best music.
Gonzo and Pepe then proceed to the house where the host – the ghost host – invites them in and they explore many different rooms in the house. They drop in on various things you’d find around the Haunted Mansion and a few that never happened, but were planned. The second best scene involves the ballroom – because of course it does – that’s the best room in the attraction. It plays back to early Muppets where they did these scenes where the couples would be dancing and then take turns making jokes and it looked just like that. The ghosts then put on a variety show much like The Muppet Show and with our friends taking on dual rolls. Kermit is the MC with a mustache. Fozzie is the Hatbox Ghost (a big deal within Haunted Mansion fandom). Stanley and Waldorf appear IN A DOOM BUGGY. In a doom buggy THAT STOPS! (The Doom Buggies are a continuous ride system when there is some problem loading or unloading that takes extra time or if something breaks down the entire ride stops and it tells you to just sit there a minute just as they did here.) It’s all kinds of great. AND we get another song.
Then Constance Hatchaway (who will later show a red glowing heart) lures Pepe away and they have a great subplot spinning her plotline out, including ghosts of her dead husbands. The only real problem with it is that for her to be going to the trouble they should have established that she thought Pepe was rich – that was the point of her murder spree after all.
Gonzo meanwhile is sent to face his greatest fear which is apparently being left old and alone if he stops doing dangerous gags (which he has basically stopped doing before this special). Apparently Gonzo is SO afraid of being left alone (.~ that’s a sarcasm mark) that he totally doesn’t notice when Pepe wanders off and only remembers he was there at the last minute – see let’s have some consistency people. Gonzo faces his greatest fear and survives and is free to go as the sun is rising. BUT WHAT ABOUT PEPE?!!? Gonzo races through the Mansion and finds Pepe about to marry Constance, pushes Pepe out of the window and so they do the bit when the doom buggy falls in the Haunted Mansion. They land fine and so were both free. The cemetery watchman had dug their graves is a bit disappointed and the limo driver shows up to take them home instead. At the gate the Ghost Host shows up and reveals he was Gonzo’s hero – MacGuffin (wink, wink) – who had challenged him to spend the night in the house in disguise. He gives Gonzo a card with his autograph saying he hadn’t ever been able to face his fear and so is trapped in the Mansion forever – but it was over 100 years he disappeared- that’s just the 1920s seriously it blows my mind – so he’d be dead by now anyway. The limo driver also was really very good, even if she was outside the Haunted Mansion.
What Could Have Been Better
First thing I’d have done was axe Pepe. I’ve never really liked him. I kind of class him as talking food and he’s really unpleasant. I’d really preferred even one of the talking cabbages they sometimes have. (I have warm memories of past song numbers with them singing.) Who should fill that sidekick role in the script instead? Why Rizzo the Rat of course! As they showed in The Muppet Christmas Carol (best Muppet movie ever – best Christmas Carol movie ever – best Christmas movie ever??? well at least top 10) Gonzo and Rizzo have killer chemistry and witty banter. (Plus, the added benefit that Rizzo does NOT say “OK, man” like every 5 seconds.) Rizzo would have been perfect in this role AND I’d have believed it a lot more when Gonzo risked his life to go back in to save his friend. Also more that Constance would have been taken with him even if he wasn’t rich. (I just really love Rizzo the Rat. Give me more Rizzo the Rat, especially with Gonzo.)
Next, I’d make the scenes a little longer. I know, I know everybody is all about the fast scenes now. Has anyone tried long scenes about things people cared about in the last 10 years or so to see how they fared? Either way make the scenes just slightly longer. I don’t need long, lingering shots, but I’d like a chance to actually see the face of the human character before the scene cuts off whether I actually know them either by place I’d seen them before or name or not.
I’d re-do the bit about Gonzo being able to just be himself. I mean sure, look at the character bio and the plotline makes sense, but Gonzo has developed a lot since then. Heck he had an entire movie (Muppets From Space – true it wasn’t a very good movie, but still) that was basically about him figuring out who he was and where he belonged. So the idea that he’d suddenly feel only wanted because of his stunts is bizarrely out of place – unless you’re not a Muppets person to know that and who do they think is going to be watching this? Plus they spend quite a bit of time on it. I wouldn’t mind it quite so much if it had been shorter and the time cut used for those longer who is who shots. Still it’s a terrible plot point. Maybe have Gonzo looking to find Rizzo after they were separated instead? I mean it’s a nice plot point to have him be free and clear and go back for Pepe, but I don’t need it.
Finally, I think I’d have made John Stamos the graveyard guard/digger/watchman/whatever? instead. It was just a longer role. I don’t think the guy doing it for real was bad. He was really good, but it would have been a better fit for the kind of nod having him in the show came from to have Stamos take it.
Will I Watch It Again?
You bet! I may even watch it again before Halloween. It’s fun. It has some great stuff. I love the Constance Hatchaway storyline even if it’s with Pepe. There is lots of great fun stuff to spot. If you like Muppets, if you like the Haunted Mansion or even if you only like one or the other like my mom (who loves the Haunted Mansion and hates the Muppets) you’ll really enjoy it. And Constance Hatchway takes Little Loleta’s line urging us to “Hurry back!” So I will. After all the hitch-hiking ghost Muppets followed me home.
Easter Eggs List
Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.