Saturday, October 9, 2021

Sleepless Nights, Endless Laughter

Hi Ho and Welcome to the Afterlife!

It's October, the month of Halloween! You know, that one day at the end of October which dominates the tone and aesthetic of the entirety of the preceding thirty days plus itself. 

Don't get me wrong, I love Halloween...kinda sorta. OK, largely I do. I like the idea of it

A day that celebrates all things spooky and weird with candy and costumes definitely makes me smile. Unfortunately, as noted in the past, I am not exactly a Horror fan and I don't dress up any longer or go Trick or Treating so the practical applications of the holiday are a bit lost on me. 

I also miss Halloween being more silly and fun and less frightful and gorey. That said, when a rare attempt to combine these two takes on All Hallow's Eve comes around I am totally down for it. It just so happens that Disney Plus has done just that with Muppets Haunted Mansion

First, a little background...

Muppets Haunted Mansion is a project with a considerable history.

The Henson Company has been trying to develop a Halloween special featuring the Muppets for about 50 years. The first was The Muppets Halloween Show. Developed in 1970, the proposed special had a very strange premise and one that wasn't particularly 'Halloween' themed. Eventually the project was cancelled in favorite of other ideas that would become the pilots for The Muppet Show. 

A year after Jim Henson's passing in 1990, his son Brian sought to keep the Muppets in the public eye via a series of holiday specials beginning with a Halloween one. That concept was shelved and instead Henson Associates created the TV series Muppets Tonight. 

A third idea was proposed just after Walt Disney acquired the Muppet in 2009. This version met its end as focus changed to the production of a new film, The Muppets, which hit theatres in November of 2011. 

Now, in 2021, Disney has merged the Muppets franchise with their world famous Haunted Mansion theme park attraction for what I must say was an excellent outing.

Written and directed by Muppet production alumni Kirk Thatcher* (Kelly Younger and Bill Barretta also have Screenwriter credits) and featuring three new and original songs by Ed Mitchell and Steve Morrell, the streaming program features Gonzo the Great and Pepe the King Prawn being invited to spend the night at the famously haunted home of legendary stage magician The Great MacGuffin. This being the 100th Anniversary of MacGuffin's mysterious disappearance and him being something of a hero of Gonzo's, everyone's favorite blue-purple weirdo is just dying (get it?) to accept the challenge of staying over in the world's most spooky abode. 

I won't say more as not to spoil things but I will say, as I often do, what I liked and what could've been a bit better. I will avoid spoilers and discuss things more generally. May have to revisit this later. 

The Good

The special largely focuses on Gonzo and as he is my personal favorite of the Muppets, I was thrilled by the choice to make him [effectively] the star of the show. I also like Pepe and teaming them together is always a good idea.

The puppetry and effects were awesome if not ground breaking. Very impressive and well done to be sure. 

Numerous cameos by Muppets we haven't see in forever! I won't say who but if you are a fan of previous Muppet productions you will be pleasantly surprised to see old favorites and obscure notable revisited.

The integration of the Muppet with the Haunted Mansion lore, as well as the modifications to the latter to make it work better with the Muppets, really worked and I think it was excellent given the need to do so. 

It was funny. In some parts very funny, which is a big plus and something that was missing from much of the ABC TV series. The Muppet characters were also very much in character - more like in the Disney Plus Muppets Now episodes, although...see below.

The Bad

Not bad but there were things that could've been better. 

First and foremost, the special focuses so much on Gonzo (and to a lesser extent Pepe) that the other Muppets are really just there for elaborate to very minor cameos. We don't get to see the Muppets enough so it is a shame we only got to see them in brief glimpses in this show as the next time could be...who knows? Disney's track record with the Muppets is spotty at best. 

One character who doesn't get nearly enough screen time given this specific special is Uncle Deadly. The 'Phantom of the Muppet Show' and a break-out star of the Disney era of the Muppets gets waaay too little to do or say given the Haunted Mansion concept. 

The Creepy

I really liked the creepiness that was put in, elevating the special above the level of 'children's programming' while still keeping the Muppets the Muppets. With some very eerie effects and some mature through lines, this felt the closest to the Muppets of old we've seen in a long time. 

Well, that's it ghosts and ghouls! Muppets Haunted Mansion is on Disney+ now and I whole-heartedly recommend it. Why it's so's scary! Muhuwahahaha!

Until next time,

Barking Alien

For another take on the Muppets + Halloween + Another Disney Franchise, check out these posts on the second time I ran The Muppets RPG at RECESS:

*Kirk Thatcher is well remembered by Star Trek fans as well as Muppets ones. For a Barking Alien No-Prize can anyone point our Thatcher's contribution to Trek?


  1. He was hired by Leonard Nimoy to work in Star Trek IV (The Voyage Home). He did work on a song for a punk (I Hate You), and I think he was the one to play the punk (but I'm not sure, I'll have to watch the movie).

    1. You are indeed correct!

      Kirk Thatcher played the 'Punk on the Bus' in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, my favorite of all the Star Trek films. He wrote and performed the song heard on the radio he was carrying, 'I Hate You'.