This year’s Silver Screen Self Care Halloween selection is most sensational, inspirational, celebrational… Muppetational! If you were able to name the last word of the lyric, you most likely caught on to our destination: Muppets Haunted Mansion.
DUN DUN DUNNNNNN (dun dun)!!
This is the first ever spooky holiday special of the classic Jim Henson creations. Is it laugh-out-loud funny or dead on arrival? Let’s see if we can put some fears to rest and, of course, learn some lessons along the way.
New Holiday, Same Muppety Traditions
As the story goes, Gonzo and Pepe the King Prawn are skipping the annual Muppets Halloween party this year to take on a challenge – spending the night, and surviving, THE Haunted Mansion. Yes, we are talking the familiar one of theme park variety (don’t be surprised, it’s Disney after all), except in this universe, these aren’t animatronics and flashy tricks!
Gonzo is inspired to go there because it is the anniversary of the disappearance of his favorite magician, the Great MacGuffin. He’s Gonzo the Great, after all! Ignoring Kermit’s reminders that he is great simply by being himself, he forges on.
Pepe, in contrast, is just along for the party, hoping to meet celebrities. And why not? He may be one of the newer Muppet creations relative to the others, having only burst onto the scene in Muppets Tonight in 1996, but was still obviously well versed in the lore of his brethren. Celeb cameos has long been intrinsic to the Muppets experience and with appearances from Will Arnett, Darren Criss, Danny Trejo, Ed Asner (RIP), Yvette Nicole Brown, Taraji P Henson, and more, this installment is no different!
The Muppets Go Dark
Gonzo, a performer and stunt-muppet by trade, boasts that he has no fears. The ghost host (Arnett) he meets upon arrival through the doors is out to prove him wrong, despite a duo of inept sidekicks who can’t quite nail the DUN DUNs.
“Sometimes facing yourself is the scariest thing in the world,” chides Gonzo’s reflection in an enchanted mirror. These prophetic words lead Gonzo down a path that proves surprisingly introspective for a property aimed at children.
Meanwhile, Pepe is being seduced by the specter Constance Hatchaway (Henson), despite warnings from her ghostly victims in a musical number describing their grisly deaths at her hands. No, really.
Along the way, the other Muppets we know and love make their own paranormal appearances. “How’d you die? On stage?” Pepe asks, mercilessly roasting the ghost of Fozzie.
Your enjoyment of the special may come down to how much mileage you get out of the characters of Gonzo and Pepe, who are easily afforded the most screen time. Being a fellow weirdo, myself, I found no problem loving Gonzo!
It’s dark, but mostly on brand with the silliness we have come to expect with Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang. Fans of Disney World (and Land and Euro for that matter) will have fun picking out the many Easter eggs and homages to the classic ride.
It wouldn’t be in the Halloween spirit if we didn’t explore fear a little bit.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Franklin D. Roosevelt said. Yoda memorably warned of it in The Empire Strikes Back: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
It naturally begs the question, is fear a bad thing?
Well, yes and no.
Fear is something built in us for a reason. Some innate response meant to protect us. We would do well to listen to our fears. Like in any good horror movie, it (hopefully) keeps us alive! No, really, because science.
Muppet Haunted Mansion teaches us there are benefits to facing our fears. For in it, we learn about ourselves. By naming them and speaking them aloud, Gonzo was able to reinforce his values. For him, it was his need of community. This value of togetherness should come as no spoiler. We watch these Muppet movies and take comfort in that familiarity.
Likewise, what might we learn about ourselves and our own values as we seek to deconstruct our own fears? How might we turn those fears around and grow from them?
Now that’s the SPIRIT!
What About Anxiety?
Fear and Anxiety.
The two almost seem married to each other, but they aren’t the same. Understanding these differences is crucial to our mental health.
According to NAMI, fear is something that can be released and dissipated through more natural means like deep breathing and natural sensations. Anxiety, however, absolutely must be calmed, not just to feel better, but to get a hold of the core emotions underneath it.
Take some deep breaths. Then NAMI suggests we ask the following questions: “Is anything scary or dangerous happening to me right now?” If the answer is yes, then it is fear. But if the answer is no, it is likely anxiety.
Your boss asks you do a task? It’s a source of anxiety as work tasks don’t place you in any immediate danger. But there is almost certainly something from the past informing that anxiety. An effective therapist can help us figure these things out.
Where to Watch
Muppets Haunted Mansion is currently streaming on Disney+.
What fears do you have? Have they taught you anything about yourself? Would you spend the night in a haunted mansion? Share in the comments below!
Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021)
Director: Kirk R. Thatcher
Screenwriter: Bill Barretta, Kirk R. Thatcher, Kelly Younger
Cast: Will Arnett, Taraji P. Hensen, Darren Criss, Yvette Nicole Brown, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, Eric Jacobson
Runtime: 50 min
Scott is a movie lover who brings over 20 years experience in mental health, journalism and vocational ministry. He has a Masters of Divinity degree, which is not nearly as amazing sounding as Masters of the Universe, but it is what it is. It is here at Movies That Move Us where his powers combine! It is not uncommon to find him pretending to open automatic doors using The Force.