4 out of 5
Directed by: Kirk Thatcher
Tonally pretty similar to the self-aware humor of the Disney+ Muppets Now – and presumably taking place in that same “universe” of Muppetdom – the Muppets’ 2021 Halloween outing, ‘Haunted Mansion’ smartly focuses on that show’s most consistently funny characters, Gonzo and Pepe, and effects a pleasingly kind of DIY shambles of musical and narrative. That shambles makes it so the visuals (a combination of lots of green screen and CG blending and puppet work) and the humor maybe never fully settle into a groove, but that’s also part of the charm – it really feels like director Kirk Thatcher and the writers (Thatcher, Bill Barretta, Kelly Younger) were open to trying whatever they could dream up, whether or not they could effectively pull it off. While such an approach definitely won’t always work, as led by our laid back leads, it does – it’s not as frantic as it might be with the full cast, and the haunted house theme gives leeway for the effects to be a little janky and goofy, which they are. Plus: the roster of usual guest stars, and a slew of Disney / Muppet nods along the way help give the whole thing even more of that all-hands-in vibe; if a particular scene or character isn’t working, just give it a moment and there will be something and someone else.
In Muppets Haunted Mansion, in lieu of joining his friends for a Halloween party, Gonzo is playing to spend the night in a mansion which served as the last known performing location of an idol of his, “The Great MacGuffin.” Pepe teams along, assuming any happening at a mansion = a party with famous people, and the two are subjected to being locked inside until sunrise and having to face their fears, which often come along with music. Worry not, musical-hesitant, the pieces are pretty short and non-noxious, and there’s a steady stream of yuks and light spooks to otherwise keep us thoroughly amused the whole way through.