The Muppet fan community is mostly in agreement: Muppets Haunted Mansion is a hit! The story brilliantly blends the Muppet world with the universe of The Haunted Mansion. But although everyone is intimately familiar with the Muppets, is the same true for a Disney theme park attraction?
To answer this question, ToughPigs writers Joe Hennes (who has been to several Disney theme parks) and Anthony Strand (who has never been to a Disney park) investigate!
JOE HENNES: So, Anthony! You were not chosen randomly to join me for this conversation about Muppets Haunted Mansion. You are, I believe, the only member of the main ToughPigs team who has never been on the original Haunted Mansion attraction at the Disney Parks. Is that true?
ANTHONY STRAND: Joe, I’ve never been anywhere near the Haunted Mansion. I’ve never even been to Florida or California (or Paris or Tokyo, for that matter).
JOE: No judgments! The Disney parks aren’t for everyone (despite what the Mickey Mouse commercials say). But after I watched Muppets Haunted Mansion and fell in love with all of the references to the park ride, I honestly wondered to myself if I liked it because I enjoyed those hyper-specific references so much or if it stands alone as a fun Muppet special, whether or not you’ve ever been to Orlando.
So my question to you is: Does this special work if you’ve never cared about the Haunted Mansion?
ANTHONY: Yeah, absolutely! I think it’s one of the best Muppet things in recent years. The jokes are mostly funny, and the characters feel like themselves. Also it ends with some ghosts I don’t recognize showing up in the back of a car, but that’s fine. I can handle that.
JOE: Well, that’s certainly good to hear! Aside from the hitchhiking ghosts, did you ever feel like you were missing out on a joke? Or that you knew this was SOME sort of reference, but you had to ignore it to move on with the story?
ANTHONY: Yeah, there’s clearly a lot of it. The gravedigger song is from the ride, right? Ed Asner and Sasheer Zamata and all of them are playing people from the ride?
JOE: Good questions! And the answer is: sort of? That scene is a mesh of a few different parts of the attraction, and it’s a little hard to carve out what’s a spoof, what’s a direct reference, and what’s expanding on the little details from the ride.
So for example, did you know there’s a queue to get into the Haunted Mansion that takes you through a graveyard outside the Manor?
ANTHONY: Heavens, no! Of course I didn’t know what the line to get into some ride looks like. Why on Earth would I know that?
JOE: You know a lot of things, Anthony! I don’t know what you don’t know! But yeah, there’s a bit where you walk through a graveyard and there are all these gravestones with little poems that explain how all these people died. So they expanded that into a song with Glee star Darren Criss. We never actually see Ed Asner or Danny Trejo or whoever.
BUT that’s not all: Later in the ride, you go through the graveyard after all the ghosts and ghouls have woken up. That’s when we see the Groundskeeper and his dog looking all shaken and scared, as well as the singing busts.
ANTHONY: So they combined those two things into a number? That’s fun!
JOE: I agree – and it makes sense that we wouldn’t see TWO different graveyards in this special. I never quite got how that worked on the ride.
Okay, so when we get into the Mansion, you may have picked up that Will Arnett has a few lines that are directly from the ride.
ANTHONY: I mean, I know that “Enter Foolish Mortals” is a thing, because the target audience of the ride are people who love the 1999 comedy film Foolish starring Eddie Griffin and Master P.
JOE: Naturally. This movie has layers!
What did you think of the Stretching Room scene?
ANTHONY: I figured that had to be from the ride, but also it feels like Alice in Wonderland. It’s not like the Haunted Mansion ride invented that idea, you know? It just feels like regular “We’re in a scary place” stuff. Also, my daughter Iris said “Whoa!” when that happened, so clearly it works without context.
JOE: Oh, good. It’s certainly a different experience being in the stretching room than seeing it happen to someone else.
ANTHONY: Yeah, I’m sure if you’re in the room, it’s a real trippy feeling. I didn’t even think of that.
JOE: And of course, it’s our first glimpse at any other Muppets (aside from Gonzo and Pepe) inside the Mansion.
ANTHONY: Yeah! I like those guys!
JOE: Were you aware that there’s supposed to be a fourth painting?
ANTHONY: Again, no. I don’t know the number of paintings in Disney Park rides.
JOE: So, who or what would you guess is in that fourth painting?
ANTHONY: These are the paintings where one of them is Crazy Harry, one is Janice, and one is the pigs?
JOE: Yep, that’s the chap.
ANTHONY: But in the original ride they’re just three random dead guys, right? So the fourth one is probably also a random dead guy, and I’m going to guess that it’s a caricature of Ub Iwerks as a headless horseman.
JOE: Good guess! But you’re 100% wrong. In the ride, the fourth painting is Constance Hatchaway, the bride played by Taraji P. Henson later in the special. She’s sitting on top of the grave of one of her dead husbands. I presume they didn’t include it because they wanted to keep the Taraji reveal until later, and they wouldn’t want to recast her just for this one moment. Still, it’s a shame that they didn’t get to finish the set.
ANTHONY: Can we talk about the fact that you just said Constance Hatchaway like it’s normal for this character to have a name? How long is this ride? 15 minutes or something?
JOE: I honestly have no idea how well-known her name is. I’d always just called her “The Bride”. They don’t say it in the ride, only in some of the supplemental materials (which, for me, was Wikipedia). But Uncle Deadly does say her name later in the special, during the wedding vows.
ANTHONY: Ah, right. It makes more sense to me that it would be supplemental stuff, like all of the background characters in Star Wars. A real Bossk situation.
JOE: I mean, we’re ones to talk. We know every Frackle and Koozebanian by their first, middle, and last names.
ANTHONY: Bro, I was so excited to see Mo Frackle in this thing, I can’t even tell you.
JOE: Because you’re such a Family Feud fan!
ANTHONY: Bruce Lanoil performed him here, just like on Family Feud! Now that’s an Easter Egg!
JOE: Moving on, what did you think was going on in Miss Piggy’s Madame Leota scene?
ANTHONY: Well, Piggy is playing a woman whose head is in a crystal ball. That’s all. That seemed liked the whole joke.
JOE: Yeah, I guess that’s about it. But how about the Electric Mayhem being there? What do you think the reference to Haunted Mansion was?
ANTHONY: Was that a reference to something? I assumed it was just a chance to squeeze in more Muppets. It certainly played fine without knowing the reference.
JOE: Yeah, that’s good! Always nice to find a way to squeeze Lips into a Muppet scene. So, in the ride, you sort of circle around Madame Leota as she’s chanting some stuff, and she’s conjuring musical instruments that are floating in mid-air and playing music. I’m sure it was surreal for 1960s parkgoers to wonder how they were playing flute or harp music from every angle, but it’s a little less-than-scary.
ANTHONY: Can I be honest? All of this crap sounds terrible. I gotta pay $109 a day for floating musical instruments?
JOE: I mean, you get more than that for your money. There’s certainly a charm to the old attractions beyond just “nostalgia”. The same can probably be said for the Muppets.
ANTHONY: Sure, but I can watch that for free without going to Florida. Anyway, what else?
JOE: I don’t even want to go into the ride-specific references in the ballroom scene, because there’s just so much in there. I imagine the references fly by fast enough and are crowded enough with Muppet silliness that you’d barely notice if you missed anything. Accurate or nah?
ANTHONY: Right, all of that just played like regular Muppet silliness. And extremely good Muppet silliness. If it takes “The Haunted Mansion ride has a ballroom scene” for them to just do At the Dance, I’m all for it!
JOE: And that’s exactly it! There are ghosts doing some ballroom dancing in that part of the ride, as if they knew the Muppets would want to spoof it 50 years later.
What did you think of the whole sequence with the Bride? What was from the ride and what was original for this special?
ANTHONY: I assume the general shape of it is from the ride, because why else would Walter be playing a dead husband? You don’t just wake up and think “What if Walter was a dead husband?” unless you already have a list of dead husbands you need to cast.
JOE: Yeah, that’s pretty much right. She had five dead husbands, and we see them in the photographs in her room, just like we do in the special before their ghosts pop out. Funny, I never took Walter for the marrying type.
ANTHONY: Are they made up to resemble the original husbands? Is that why Beauregard has those sweet mutton chops?
JOE: Yup, exactly! The costume choices in this special are all so interesting. Some characters, like the dead husbands, are dressed like their Haunted Mansion counterparts. Some, like Robin and the Electric Mayhem, are wearing their costumes from Muppet Christmas Carol, presumably because they’re “old timey” and have probably been sitting in a drawer for the past 30 years. And others seem completely random, like Bobo wearing a top hat and cape.
ANTHONY: But all the jokes in the dead husbands scenes are new? Or are some of those references to whatever Paul Frees or Corey Burton says about them?
JOE: I think the expanded content covers more of their stories (like how they died), but we don’t get anything else from the ride about them aside from their appearances.
ANTHONY: That’s fascinating, because I would have guessed a lot of that stuff was directly lifted.
JOE: I mean, maybe some of it is? I have no idea what all those ghosts in the ballroom are wearing. But it seems more likely that they just did a really good job merging the worlds of the Muppets and the Haunted Mansion so we don’t see the dividing line very clearly at all.
ANTHONY: Yeah, I think you’re right. Before I watched the special, I was a little worried I would spend the whole thing bored at all the references I didn’t really get. But they do such a good job of making it feel like an old-fashioned Muppet special that it didn’t happen.
JOE: That’s exactly what I was hoping you’d say, and exactly why I wanted to do this weird conversation piece. There were so many times this special could’ve gone the other way and alienated everyone who can’t or won’t go to the Disney parks, but they managed to make something that satisfies both camps.
ANTHONY: That’s a good note to end on, but can I end on complaining instead?
JOE: Look, it wouldn’t be a ToughPigs article if we didn’t fill our regular quota of complaining.
ANTHONY: I’m the only staff writer who hasn’t been on this ride? Really?! Does everyone but me have unlimited resources and a need to sit in uncomfortable chairs?!
JOE: Yes! And don’t forget the long lines. We love those.
ANTHONY: Man. Now *that’s* scary.
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by Joe Hennes and Anthony Strand