Why ‘The Muppets’ Team Wanted First Halloween Special to Be in the Vein of ‘Hocus Pocus’

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The Muppets have taken on Christmas, space and even Treasure Island, but until now they’ve never tackled Halloween. When “Muppets Haunted Mansion” hits Disney Plus on Oct. 8, it becomes the first feature film from the franchise that celebrates the spooky holiday.

“The Muppets have always wanted to do a Halloween special and honestly, this time the stars just aligned,” says executive producer Leigh Slaughter, who also produced the first season of “Muppets Now” for the streaming service. “It felt like we had a great story ready to go, and Disney Plus was ready to partner with us and take a chance on this crazy story.”

In the 90-minute film, Gonzo and Pepe The Prawn spend the night in a haunted mansion eerily reminiscent of the popular Disneyland attraction of the same name. There, they encounter all kinds of Muppet-inspired ghouls, along with a few celebrity cameos including Will Arnett, Taraji P. Henson, Yvette Nicole Brown, Danny Trejo and Ed Asner in one of his final roles.

To capture the magic of both worlds, The Muppets worked with Imagineers to ensure the mythologies of both franchises were respected and honored. The result is what the team believes to be a successful merging in which the colorful characters of The Muppets live within the expanded universe of the ride that fans know and love.

“The partnership created this space for The Muppets to add and make things their own,” says executive producer Andrew Williams, who has worked with several iterations of The Muppets over the years. “Outside of the parks, this is their own magic. We had the freedom to create The Muppet version of The Haunted Mansion with its own architecture and portions of the mansion that you don’t get to see on the ride. So, there are surprises and Easter eggs all the way through.”

When the movie filmed last April, it also marked another first for the Muppet franchise: working with virtual sets. “That allowed us to shoot the characters in ways we’ve never done before, adds Williams. “It’s normally hard to shoot these characters with floors and ceilings and the things that really do break your budget. So to give them this magical realistic look was a really unique opportunity.”

Although both EPs and several other members of production worked on “Muppets Now,” “Muppets Haunted Mansion” is a standalone piece from that revival, which has yet to be renewed for a second season at Disney Plus. Instead, this film is more of a throwback to Gonzo-led films from the past including “Muppets Treasure Island” and “A Muppets Christmas Carol.” It’s also an opportunity to pull in new family viewers in a thematic way that perhaps the recent television series attempts on network and streaming weren’t able to.

“We want it to be a co-viewing experience. It needs to be for the for the whole family, just like the original ‘Muppet Show’ was really a family experience. The kids are going to love the adventure and the characters. But there’s some jokes in there for the parents as well,” says Slaughter.

“The Muppets are inherently inclusive, they welcome everyone into their troupe that comes along. And that’s true of the audiences too,” adds Williams. “It was exciting to look at this as a new genre: What is a Muppet ghost story like? This is in the vein of something like ‘Hocus Pocus,’ that has a little bit of scares, but it’s also going to work for everyone that watches it.”