WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Disney has had a long and tense relationship with The Muppets. Since acquiring them in 2004, they have often neglected the property, scarcely throwing them bones.
“Muppets Haunted Mansion” is a solid step forward in terms of Disney’s attention to the quality of the franchise, but a very tiny one at that.
“Muppets Haunted Mansion” follows Gonzo and Pepe as they attempt to spend Halloween night in a haunted mansion. Pepe has seemingly replaced Gonzo’s longtime sidekick Rizzo, who is nowhere to be seen.
The Muppet gang at large actually seems to be more of an afterthought.
In this movie, Kermit is portrayed by Matt Vogel, a man whose Kermit voice can be outdone by just about any person you pull off the street and beg to do a Kermit impression. However, Kermit’s character only makes a few small appearances anyways.
Miss Piggy has a scene as the mansion’s crystal ball psychic, where she tells a few wildly outdated jokes about wifi and pumpkin spice lattes. Fozzie Bear also gets a few jokes in, but the ensemble of classic characters as a whole feels disregarded.
A joke like Dr Honeydew and Beaker only having tiny cameos due to “budget cuts” is far less funny when you are watching a production from the Walt Disney company.
The “budget cuts” joke is especially unfunny considering this is the company paying for random celebrities to essentially just run around. The said random celebrities include Yvette Nicole Brown, who plays a taxi driver, Darren Criss, who is a singing cemetery caretaker, John Stamos, acting as a very brief jumpscare cameo and Taraji P. Henson and Will Arnett, who act as the story’s central humans.
Will Arnett is the host for the night, and while at first a foe, he eventually helps lead Gonzo to discover his friends love him, even when he isn’t the daring “Gonzo The Great.” This storyline ultimately just becomes a poor redressing of the plot of 1999’s “Muppets From Space”.
The real highlight of the special comes from Pepe’s plotline, where he becomes smitten with the murderous bride from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride.
Many of the jokes in “Muppets Haunted Mansion” fall fairly flat and have a strong air of being written by someone’s grandfather. The scenes of a madly in love Pepe and Henson planning to get married result in Henson eating him, which was genuinely funny and entertaining to watch, though rejection on multiple occasions during the film before his entanglement with The Bride is antithetical to his status as a ladies’ prawn.
The film at large, coming in at just under 50 minutes, doesn’t seem to grasp what makes The Muppets funny or joyful to watch. It feels rushed and thrown together, acting as just another addition to Disney’s half-hearted stabs at The Muppets.
Disney does know how to get the Muppets right and has done it before.
For example, 2011’s wildly successful “The Muppets” is a touching reboot of sorts, and 2014’s still fairly successful “Muppets Most Wanted” is hilarious and has a better balance of Muppets to human celebrities. Even when it comes to pre-Disney Muppets, the Vincent Price episode of “The Muppets Show” proves just how much better the Muppets can play out Halloween.
“Muppets Haunted Mansion” isn’t terrible, and is a good sign Disney may finally be willing to do something big with The Muppets again; but it is confusing knowing the Disney company could be doing so many better things with the franchise.
One can only hope Disney decides to give the felt friends time out in the spotlight again soon.
Natalie Katsaros can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.