Muppets Haunted Mansion on Disney-Plus is a nice, okay Halloween special but it does have some problems that does keep it from the highs of the Jim Henson era.
I’m just going to get this out of the way right now, because it seems to be a lot of the criticism I’m seeing. Matt Vogel is totally wrong as the voice of Kermit the Frog. I’ve never met Vogel. I don’t know anything bad said about him as a person. He’s ironically a puppet himself among Disney over changes in The Jim Henson Company. Following Henson’s death in 1990, Steve Whitmore took over duties for Kermit and could do it so well, that you could just tell yourself that Kermit is getting older and his voice is changing.
I don’t know what exactly happened with Whitmire’s dismissal four or five years ago, but I would wish they would bring him back. Vogel sounds like a voice actor who is not even trying. If you didn’t see Kermit on screen, you wouldn’t even notice it was him talking. I’ve seen videos of people on YouTube doing Kermit’s voice better. Vogel is doing Big Bird’s voice and while it’s tolerable, it doesn’t have the emotion Carroll Spinney brought.
I was actually glad that Kermit isn’t a major role in this special. No, it’s Gonzo The Great and Pepe the King Prawn who are invited to spend a night in the Haunted Mansion where there are ghosts living it up. I actually liked how they mixed this idea with having the ghosts do the dance in the ballroom as they crack jokes. It’s a throwback to a recurring bit on the original The Muppet Show.
And even though he doesn’t speak, I believe there’s a cameo of the Farmer’s Dog from the Easter 1986 HBO special The Tale of the Bunny Picnic. These throwbacks should make parents happy as they watch it with their kids. But one of the biggest problems I’ve had with some of the Muppet productions is a reliance too much on celebrity cameos.
The Great Muppet Caper was the best to utilize cameos in such a way they didn’t distract from the story. At about 50 minutes, there’s too many celebrities that I didn’t recognize them until the end credits, mainly because they’re covered in make-up. It’s nice to see Pat Sajak or Danny Trejo but you can tell their cameos were filmed on a green screen.
Part of the joy was watching the Muppets interact with the celebrities, which they do here. Will Arnett plays the Host to the party who may be more than what he seems. Yvette Nicole Brown plays a limo driver. Darren Criss is a gravedigger with the aforementioned dog. And Taraji P. Henson plays the Bride, a mysterious woman at the Mansion. Since they’ve used it in publicity materials, John Stamos appears as himself but he doesn’t.
The show does have its moments, but I feel some of the characters feel like they were added as an afterthought rather than from the start. The plot isn’t as good to keep it interesting. I think a lot of parents and even kids checking something on their phones. And worse, whenever they can’t do much with the plot, they’ll go to a song that isn’t memorable. Maybe it should’ve been 30 minutes or 40 minutes. But even at 50 with credits, it drags.
It looks like everyone had a great time, but great times on sets don’t always transfer to great finished productions. It’s nice seeing Dave Goelz and Bill Barretta voice Gonzo and Pepe respectively. Pepe has been one of those characters I felt they were trying to push on us but Barretta is a good voice actor and puppeteer. I think his role in The Happytime Murders would’ve been better if director Brian Henson and others hadn’t been too busy trying to see what they could get away with.
That being said, if you’re a Muppet fan, you’ll still enjoy it. It’s nowhere near the cheap-looking awfulness of Kermit’s Swamp Years. But 10 years ago, The Muppets proved there was a lot to enjoy for a new generation, but to be brutally honest, I didn’t care for the character of Walter and seeing how less he’s been used in other specials proves that maybe others didn’t like him either. Seeing him here briefly as a ghost seems to be a joke on those who didn’t like him.
I just hope Disney realizes that this isn’t like the MCU and people won’t eat it up regardless. The Muppets have been around as long as the Marvel comics. People are watching it with their grandkids. They can do better than something that looks like it was quickly put together in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic to capitalize on the Muppets brand.