‘Muppets Haunted Mansion’ Review: Destined to be a Halloween Classic

muppets haunted mansion

Welcome, foolish Muppets fans. There has never been a Muppet movie that was this good. Never. Nevermore. Forever into the depths of all eternity and beyond. Movies with The Muppets are always good fun, but sometimes they get dated. The Muppets Haunted Mansion will resonate for decades as not just one of their classics but one of the classics.

The Muppets were made for the Halloween season, so in this “I could have had a V8” moment, one can only wonder how a Muppets Halloween movie has never been done before. Writer-director Kirk R. Thatcher, along with writers Bill Barretta and Kelly Younger, nailed this 47-minute movie (if you don’t count the credits, but I will always recommend credits scouring). They nailed it to the wall like that lenticular portrait of a lady who screams when you look at her just right, so you decided to keep it up year-round to remind yourself that macabre can be fun every day.

Bill Barretta has a long history of acting, writing, voicing, and producing with The Muppets and puppets in general. In The Happytime Murders (2018), he delivered the memorable line, “I never knocked a guy out with his own balls before.” He has no writing credit to that line, but that sort of signature delivery is all over Muppets Haunted Mansion.

Kelly Younger is a veteran writer with a resume spanning Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks. With his experience writing for animation and live-action in a multitude of G-and-PG-rated blockbusters, he likely knew the boundaries which Muppets Haunted Mansion threatened. Several one-liners in three-quarters of an hour poked the edges of where stick-in-the-mud audience disapproval could bubble up. There’s nothing there that anyone with a life would complain about, and that’s what brings this new level of Muppet writing to current standards of entertainment.

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The writing alone is on par with modern animation classics enjoyed by adults. Kirk R. Thatcher is the ringleader of this team. He brings a rich history of working in creature effects and co-writing several Muppets films. He also directed four Muppets-based TV projects. If Hollywood had its own version of fantasy football, this is the team you want to draft.

With the short run time, you’re hooked from the opening moments. A rendition of “Dancing in the Moonlight” covered by Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem plays on the radio in a limousine as the premise is laid out in exposition through dialogue between Gonzo and his King Prawn pal, Pepé. It’s instant chemistry and character-building. The first laugh comes in the very first minute. Not a moment is wasted.

Kermit is hosting a costume party he hopes Gonzo will attend, but Gonzo has opted to accept a mysterious invitation to spend a night in the “most haunted mansion in the world,” the one where his favorite magician, The Great MacGuffin (played expertly by Will Arnett), disappeared 100 years ago. That’s a spoiler for kids who can’t read between the lines of dialogue that give it away when they first meet. Arnett starts out as the butler who hosts the night in the Mansion. Except for a few cutaways to Kermit’s party, the mansion is practically the only location. And a beautifully crafted location it is!

The team of writers gave Muppets Haunted Mansion its quality cake, but the icing on the tiered masterpiece is in the visuals. The sets, props, and costumes (on the live actors — some playing dead) were outstanding. The visual effects were the kind of cutting edge you rarely expect from Muppets films. And the character designs, new and old Muppets alike, were fantastic.

The entire experience looked inspired by the best Broadway sets and was executed with what looks like the biggest budget art department you can imagine. Horror film camera movement and black light atmosphere kept the experience dynamic, while subtle and light genre references mixed with a spectrum of good and bad puns kept you fixed. No worries there, though. Even the bad puns were delivered.

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In certain humor, namely Airplane (1980), the groaners are what you’re looking for. When a movie acknowledges the groaners, you kind of enjoy them more, which is precisely why a cleverly designed ghost pops up, breaking the fourth wall to tell the audience, “Don’t worry, folks. We’re not going to be explaining all the jokes!” He quickly floats away, ho-ho-ing like he’s just become aware of how silly he is. He’s reminiscent of the guy in Airplane who, after being asked, “Johnny, what do you make of this?” decides you can make a hat, or a broach, or a pterodactyl.

The Muppets Haunted Mansion is not just littered with fun horror bits like a chainsaw-wielding chef, a carnivorous plant, and ghostly twins in a long, stretchy hallway (heck, there’s even at least one satisfying jump scare!), it’s also got a few songs that should make it into your Halloween playlist. The songs do a nice job of lightening the mood for younger children in case anything gets too scary. In one tune, the ghost bride serial killer (Taraji P. Henson) sings a salsa of spooky seduction with Pepé (Bill Barretta) that softens the notion that she just wants to kill him and possibly eat him.

Predictably, Gonzo makes it out alive (but does Pepé? You’ll have to watch to find out) and heads off to join Kermit’s party for breakfast. You know what that means, right? Muppets party all night long! Kermit threw a party to the break-o-break-o’ dawn!

Muppets Haunted Mansion is now streaming on Disney+.


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