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Things Only Adults Noticed In Muppets Haunted Mansion

The Muppets and Disney Parks' Haunted Mansion attraction is a match made in intellectual property heaven. After all, both the Muppets and Haunted Mansion feature an irreverent mix of knowing humor and silly fun that appeals to kids and adults alike. Although both properties have been around for decades, they remain as recognizable and beloved as ever. And the synergy between the two is on full display in Disney+'s spooky special "Muppets Haunted Mansion."

On Halloween night, the Great Gonzo and Pepe the King Prawn arrive at the Haunted Mansion to face a chilling challenge: make it through the night in the most haunted place in the world. While Pepe is expecting a party full of famous people, daredevil Gonzo believes this will be his greatest stunt ever, and fortunately he's not scared of anything — or is he? The special is full of horrifyingly hilarious references to both the Disney ride and the Muppets, with everyone from Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy to the Electric Mayhem and Fozzie Bear stopping by to help enliven the sinister space.

Yet, while the show is plenty of fun for kids, any monster mash-up of the Muppets and the Haunted Mansion is bound to have some elements adults alone will pick up on. Here are a few of the things only adults will notice in "Muppets Haunted Mansion."

The music that begins and ends the special is a famous song from 1972

"Muppets Haunted Mansion" begins and ends with the Muppets' resident band the Electric Mayhem performing the song "Dancing in the Moonlight," but what kids may not know — and many adults will — is that this version of the song is another in a long tradition of covers of the feel-good ditty. "Dancing in the Moonlight" was written by Sherman Kelly way back in 1969 and recorded by his band Boffalongo. However, it wasn't until King Harvest released it in 1972 that it became a hit. The song scaled the charts again in 2000 when the band Toploader recorded it, but since it initially gained attention in 1972, it's never completely gone away, with everyone from Liza Minelli to My Morning Jacket covering it.

Still, it wasn't until "Muppets Haunted Mansion"' that the song became a combination of breezy vibes and spine-tingling sounds. And the original inspiration for the song makes it a perfect pick for the peace and love-affirming Electric Mayhem. Kelly wrote "Dancing in the Moonlight" while recovering from an attack. He said he wanted to create a song that imagined a world where, instead of the horror he'd suffered, reality was a "joyful celebration of life." Not only is that a good description of "Dancing in the Moonlight," it's also a pretty good description for the experience we have watching the Muppets, even when they're making macabre jokes in "Muppets Haunted Mansion."

The name of Gonzo's favorite magician a very on-the-nose reference

The Great Gonzo loves a good stunt — the scarier the better — but what really draws him to the Haunted Mansion in the Disney+ special is that the "fear challenge" he's facing is happening on the hundredth anniversary of the disappearance of his favorite magician, the Great MacGuffin. While the Great MacGuffin was never heard from again after entering the Haunted Mansion a century ago, Gonzo is determined to survive the night and add another spectacular feat to his long list of accomplishments. That's the setup for the show, but adults familiar with movie-related terms will know that the Great MacGuffin is more than just a name, it's a reference to the function Gonzo's favorite magician plays in the plot of "Muppets Haunted Mansion."

In stories, especially nail-biting stories of suspense, the plot device that motivates the characters and catalyzes the narrative is referred to as a MacGuffin. And in "Muppets Haunted Mansion," the Great MacGuffin is the MacGuffin that motivates Gonzo (and his plus one Pepe) to go to the Haunted Mansion on Halloween, starting the story's plot rolling. Appropriately, it was Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense himself, who popularized the idea of the MacGuffin, and the term is now so well known that it serves as a sly reference in the Muppets special for adults who are in the know.

There are lots of celebrity cameos

Like pretty much every Muppets project, "Muppets Haunted Mansion" includes a remarkable number of celebrity appearances, both substantial and blink-and-you'll-miss-it quick. The most obvious famous faces to appear in the show are Will Arnett as the Host, Yvette Nicole Brown as the limo driver, Taraji P. Henson as the Bride, Darren Criss as the caretaker, and John Stamos as a famous person who turns out to be a monster. And if that weren't enough, big names like Alfonso Ribeiro, Chrissy Metz, Danny Trejo, Craig Robinson, and the late, great Ed Asner pop up as scary spooks that populate the Haunted Mansion's surprisingly lively graveyard.

Yet, kids are unlikely to recognize many of the celebrities haunting the halls of "Muppets Haunted Mansion" because the shows and movies many of them are best known for are not at all family-friendly. Take Arnett, who may serve as the voice of the animated Lego Batman, but in live action is best known for his depiction of Gob in the wacky, but adult-oriented, sitcom "Arrested Development." Similarly, Henson is best known for playing Cookie Lyon on "Empire" and Criss for his role on "Glee." Even though kids may not realize how frightfully famous these performers are, adults surely will, making the special even more exciting for them. Plus, all the celebrities who took part in the show seemed to have a blast, which is exactly what you'd expect it would be like to be a part of a Muppets project.

The song performed by Darren Criss is an expansion of the Disney Parks ride's theme song

If you haven't spent time on Disney Park's Haunted Mansion ride, you may not know that it has its very own theme song — but the folks who created "Muppets Haunted Mansion" surely do. And Haunted Mansion fans will be thrilled to hear part of that theme song, "Grim Grinning Ghosts," performed by Darren Criss and a bevy of celebrity spirits during the opening number of the special. However, Criss' beleaguered mansion caretaker doesn't just launch into the swinging number. He starts by singing a completely new song entitled "Rest in Peace," a plea to Gonzo and Pepe to let his ghoulish charges enjoy their eternal slumber undisturbed. The song also serves as an introduction to many of the restless residents of the graveyard, and once they're awake they can't be stopped from interrupting Criss with a rousing chorus of "Grim Grinning Ghosts," which Criss eventually joins them in.

While the song goes from slow and mournful to quick and jaunty in just a couple minutes, adults familiar with the Haunted Mansion will be thrilled by the inclusion of "Grim Grinning Ghosts," as well as its many references to the graveyard scene in the ride and the headstones that adorn the queue before it. It's a brief scene, but it's rich in Haunted Mansion history, and the inclusion of "Grim Grinning Ghosts" is a frighteningly festive way to bring it to a close.

There are many Muppified references to the ride

"Grim Grinning Ghosts" isn't the only nod to Disney's Haunted Mansion attraction in the Muppets' Halloween special. In fact, there are so many references to the ride, even the most attentive adults may need to watch it more than once to notice them all. From the gallery of stretching portraits to the staring busts that follow visitors' movements to the ghostly ballroom scene to the attic lair of the Black Widow Bride, "Muppets Haunted Mansion" takes full advantage of its scary setting. However, in each case the decor in the Haunted Mansion has been thoroughly Muppified.

And instead of the usual human spirits that occupy the infamous place, in the show the house is the residence of Muppety spooks, including Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his loyal sidekick Beaker, Ralph the piano-playing dog, and Fozzie Bear, who appears as the Muppets version of the Hat-Box Ghost, who carts his severed head around in ... a hat box. Perhaps best of all, though, is Miss Piggy — or at least her head — standing in for Madame Leota, the Haunted Mansion's iconic fortune teller, who floats around in a crystal ball chanting couplets to conjure the spirits. If that weren't enough, the instruments Miss Piggy summons from regions beyond appear with the Electric Mayhem, who are just as eager to keep things mellow in ghost form as they are when they're a live band.

Pepe's request that Gonzo peel him off a door he's stuck to is a cheeky joke

The Muppets are an eclectic group that's always open to new recruits, which is perhaps how Pepe came to join them. Yet, unlike many of the species who are part of the Muppets lineup, there are none quite as potentially delicious as the king prawn, something "Muppets Haunted Mansion" pokes fun at with creepy quips only adults are likely to notice.

In one scene, after Pepe flees from a monster, he ends up stuck to a nearby door. So when Gonzo finds him, Pepe naturally asks him to "peel him." Pepe means Gonzo should pull him off the door, but adults will also understand that, as a shrimp, Pepe is a crustacean with an exoskeleton that needs to be peeled off before he can be eaten. As a result, if taken the wrong way, his innocent request to Gonzo could turn deadly.

Similarly, during the Host's introduction to the Mansion, Gonzo notes that Hollywood-obsessed Pepe is an "acquired taste." However, the Host responds in Spanish that Pepe's accent reminds him of his youth in Málaga, Spain, the coastal city where Pepe is from. Málaga is an area known for its seafood, especially its shrimp, so the Host may have acquired a taste for more than just Pepe's accent while living there — in fact, at some point he may have enjoyed a meal that included a few of Pepe's relatives.

The Mansion Show is a ghost version of The Muppet Show

"Muppets Haunted Mansion" contains plenty of Muppet mayhem, but perhaps the most noteworthy reference to Muppets history comes in the scene in the ballroom where the ghosts put on a show called "The Mansion Show." Adults will quickly recognize this as a riff on "The Muppet Show," the Muppets' variety series that ran from 1976 to 1981. Not only are the proceedings introduced on a red-curtained stage by the spirited ghost of Kermit, it features a stand-up set by the perpetually unfunny Fozzie Bear, who can't help but bite the dust onstage. And that leads to him being heckled by the boo-happy old shades Statler and Waldorf, who mock him from their "doom" buggy ride vehicle instead of their usual position in the theater balcony.

And of course, the show wraps up with a soulful singalong, which includes a moment where the Muppets file along the upper story of the ballroom in a way that resembles their formation in the Muppet Show theme song. The song's grand finale even musically resembles "The Muppet Show" theme's ending.

If that weren't enough, before Kermit introduces "The Mansion Show," it's already clear this scene is all about "The Muppet Show" because the ballroom dancers who twirl around together cracking killer quips is a terrifying takeoff on a sketch from the older series. It even features one of the sketch's prominent Muppet couples, Wayne and Wanda.

Gonzo is told to find room 999, which resembles another, more terrifying number

When the Host realizes that Gonzo has yet to be scared by a single unnerving sight in the Haunted Mansion, he decides to send him to the one room he claims no one has ever dared to enter: Room 999. Of course, adults will know that if the number 999 is flipped over, it becomes 666, which is considered the number of the devil and has, therefore, become associated with evil.

And just in case there was any doubt that the Host is sending Gonzo to a room where terrible things are likely to happen, after he enters and the door closes, the number plate flips over to confirm what many will already have suspected, this is actually Room 666 — and Gonzo is in big trouble. Fortunately, although his fears are few and far between, Gonzo proves to be especially good at facing them, which is what Room 999 forces him to do. 

Interestingly, the number 999 has another meaning specific to the Haunted Mansion too, as it's the number of happy haunts that occupy the house. By sending Gonzo to Room 999, the Host is clearly hoping Gonzo won't survive the its frights, therefore ensuring he can bring the Mansion's resident count up to an even 1000.

The ghostly bride's list of items for her wedding are a variation on traditional bridal requirements

If there's one thing almost all adults can recite, it's the list of traditional good luck charms brides are supposed to have on their wedding day: Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. So when the Black Widow Bride, Constance Hatchaway, seduces Pepe into marrying her in the latter half of "Muppets Haunted Mansion," it's perhaps no surprise that she has a list of things she wants to gather for her latest nuptials that reference the well-known tradition. However, adults who closely listen to her requirements will realize her desires are actually far more fearsome. Constance quickly observes that she'll need "something buried, something boo, something moldy and someone new."

Of course, that someone new is Pepe and if he weren't so enchanted by the Bride — and listened to her five dearly departed former husbands — he might not be so eager to walk down the aisle. Nonetheless, since all of Constance's ghostly exes attend her wedding to Pepe, it seems that, through them, she checks the boxes to have something buried, boo, and moldy.

When Gonzo faces himself in the mirror it leads to a moment of existential observation

While kids and adults may both enjoy the playful scares and goosebump-inducing frights in "Muppets Haunted Mansion," adults will know that true fear isn't the result of ghosts or goblins. This is something the special plays on with the final challenge Gonzo faces when he enters Room 999. He doesn't discover any of the terrifying things he was expecting there, such as sharks, lava, or critics. Instead, all he finds is a mirror that reflects an image of himself back at him because, as adults can attest and Gonzo's reflection observes, "sometimes facing yourself is the scariest thing in the world."

It's an existential moment that contains none of the death-defying dynamism of the challenges Gonzo's used to tackling. But despite the lack of wraiths or revenants, the mirror in Room 999 is the one obstacle in the Haunted Mansion that truly scares Gonzo, and forces him to admit that deep inside what he really worries about is that his friends won't love and appreciate him anymore if he's no longer a daredevil. For adults, the fear of losing the people they care about because they aren't enough for them will strike a familiar chord, making the usually wacky Gonzo suddenly all too relatable.

There is a reference to the creepy twins from The Shining

Stanley Kubrick's 1980 movie adaptation of Stephen King's novel "The Shining" continues to be a touchstone for horror fans, and one of the most famous parts of the movie is the scene of young Danny Torrance encountering the Grady twins as he rides his tricycle through the halls of the Overlook Hotel. In the climax of "Muppets Haunted Mansion," Gonzo runs through the hall of the Mansion in a mad dash to rescue Pepe, and along the way, several ghostly Muppets attempt to stop him. The most noteworthy of these are Andy and Randy Pig, who aren't seen all that often in Muppets projects but have the distinction of being the only twins in the canon. In the context of the Halloween special, it makes perfect sense that they would stand in for the Grady girls for a quick spoof of "The Shining" that's sure to make adults chuckle knowingly.

And just like those unlucky sisters, the Pig brothers ask Gonzo to "come play with us, forever and ever." In "The Shining" this is a terrifying moment for young Danny, but Gonzo simply runs past the pig pair, causing them to add "...or not" after he so rudely ignores their invitation.

The headstone made for Pepe misidentifies him in more ways than one

After Gonzo and Pepe escape the Haunted Mansion at the end of the Disney+ special, they run into the caretaker who's spent the night carving their headstones in anticipation of the news that they haven't managed to make it out alive. But eagle-eyed adults will notice that, although the caretaker managed to get Gonzo's headstone correct, he made two glaring mistakes on Pepe's. For one, he carved Pepe's name as Pepper. Something that seems like it would annoy the proud crustacean. However, it's the caretaker's second mistake that gets Pepe's (screaming) goat: the headstone identifies Pepe as a shrimp instead of a king prawn.

If there's one thing that's especially important to Pepe, it's that the world acknowledge him as a king prawn, presumably because simply being a shrimp would make him seem way too ... shrimpy. It's an obsession that the Bride plays on earlier in the show to win Pepe's affections, and perhaps if Pepe had faced his fears the way Gonzo had, he would have had to acknowledge just how much his shrimpy status scares him. That said, the headstone's declaration that Pepe's "prawn but not forgotten" is a hauntingly humorous acknowledgement that the terms "shrimp" and "prawn" are often used as synonyms.