By Janie Walenda
The Muppets are back, or at least they are trying to be. There have been several attempts to relaunch the Muppet franchise, with varying degrees of success. So far, the movies “Muppets” and “Muppets: Most Wanted” have been the most successful, with the recent Disney Plus series “Muppets Now” receiving a lukewarm reception. On paper, “Muppets: Haunted Mansion” is a perfect fusion of Disney properties. For the most part, the newest Muppet holiday special is charming and hilarious, though it hits a few bumps along the way.
The humor in “Muppets: Haunted Mansion” is a mixed bag. Several moments made me laugh out loud, and there are plenty of clever puns and gags. However, the meta-humor and fourth wall breaking did not always land for me. Self-referential humor has always been a part of the Muppet brand, and it works a lot of the time. Some moments, however, came off as simply annoying.
Though hilarious at points, “Muppet: Haunted Mansion” is sometimes dragged down by its overuse of self-referential humor
Early in the special, a ghost breaks the fourth wall to reassure the audience that they won’t be explaining all the jokes. “Muppets: Haunted Mansion” then proceeds to explain all of its jokes. The instance that annoyed me the most regards the song “Life Hereafter.” This song is a parody of “Be Our Guest,” and the opening verse makes that clear. However, mid-way through the song, the Muppets take a second to remind the audience that this is, indeed, a “Be Our Guest” parody. This is a recurring problem for most of the special, and a lot of great jokes are undercut by this overdone sense of irony.
Something that “Muppets: Haunted Mansion” does not lack is a quality production design. With any Muppet production, it’s a given that the puppetry will be amazing, but “Muppets: Haunted Mansion” kicks it up a notch with some interesting variations on traditional Muppet designs. Fozzie Bear as the Hatbox Ghost is a real treat to look at, as well as my favorite, an elderly version of Gonzo. The costumes for the non-Muppet characters and the set designs are also stunning and create a suitably spooky atmosphere.
The non-Muppet characters and cameos are fairly entertaining but a little bit underwhelming. While the cameos are fun, very few of them land. Regardless, the roles of the Ghost Host, Constance Hatchaway and the Groundskeeper are strong homages to the characters from the ride, and solid performances by Will Arnett, Taraji P. Henson, and Darren Criss, respectively.
The quality production design and on-point cameos help create a fun, spooky atmosphere
Overall, the strongest appeal of “Muppets: Haunted Mansion” is found in the title: the Muppets are always a joy to watch, and “Life Hereafter” is the strongest song in the film because it features the most Muppets. The special also succeeds in capturing the spirit of the Haunted Mansion ride. It features all of the hallmark characters and experiences of the ride while incorporating the Muppet’s trademark spirit and and sense of humor.
“Muppets: Haunted Mansion” is overall an enjoyable special, and at just fifty minutes, even its flaws are tolerable. The real test of a holiday movie is whether it will become a holiday tradition. I make a point of watching “The Muppet Christmas Carol” every Christmas, and I believe that “Muppets: Haunted Mansion” will become a yearly tradition as well.
“Muppets: Haunted Manson” is now available to stream on Disney Plus.
Janie Walenda is a freshman Global Business major and an A&E writer for Cedars. She enjoys watching musicals and movies as well as rereading the same books ten times.