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Transfiguring Adoption awarded this movie 3 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a foster/adoptive family. [Learn more about our Hoot grading system here]

Movie Info:

  • Rating: TV-PG
  • Genre: Comedy, Fantasy
  • Runtime: 101 minutes
  • Studio: Disney+

From the Cover of Muppets Haunted Mansionby Disney+:

“The Great Gonzo – world famous daredevil artiste, has done it all, seen it all, and survived it all. But on Halloween night, the fearless Gonzo takes on the greatest challenge of his life by spending one very daring night in the most grim grinning place on Earth …The Haunted Mansion.”

Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:

Muppets Haunted Mansion is a new short available on Disney+ offering some spooky fun without being too scary for young children. The target age range is elementary school-aged children, though as with other Disney and Muppet movies, it’s definitely one that older children, teens and adults will likely enjoy as well. There are lots of fun references to the Disney World ride as well as other Muppet franchise content. There are, however, also frequent mentions of death, ghosts, and other Halloween spookiness that may bother more sensitive children so definitely something to keep in mind and might be one to avoid if your kiddos don’t particularly enjoy those aspects of Halloween.

** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **

How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?

The movie is not related to foster care. However, the main theme of the movie is about accepting and facing fears which is something that children in care may relate to. Gonzo, the main character, starts off feeling like he has to stay in a haunted mansion to prove that he’s The Great Gonzo. He repeatedly states that he’s not afraid of anything. However, he realizes there are a few things he is afraid of like being alone, that he’ll never see his friends again, and that no one will care about him if he doesn’t do dangerous stunts. Children who have experienced trauma may have a lot of fear and anxiety, but they may also feel like they can’t express these fears because they don’t feel safe doing so, they need to ‘be strong’ or protect others such as younger siblings. Because of this they may relate strongly to how Gonzo feels.

Discussion Points:

  • Care isn’t something that has to be earned
    Early on in the movie Kermit says to Gonzo, “You don’t have to be The Great Gonzo to be great, Gonzo.” One of the reasons Gonzo decides to try the haunted mansion challenge is because he is trying to prove that he deserves the title and that he’s fearless. Later, after some self-reflection, he finds out one of his fears is that his friends won’t care about him unless he’s doing dangerous stunts. He realizes that this isn’t true and that his friends like him for who he is, and not because of tricks or what he does. This can be a great opportunity to talk to children about some of their own worries around having to earn friendship or love and that when people really care about you, you shouldn’t have to try to impress them.
  • Acknowledging/Facing Fears
    A big theme in the movie is that Gonzo doesn’t believe he’s afraid of anything but his experience at a haunted house helps him realize that there are a few things he’s afraid of – being alone, his friends not caring about him unless he does dangerous stunts, and not seeing his friends again. Just like Gonzo we all have fears of varying degrees even though sometimes we may not recognize or admit them. Children who have experienced trauma are even more likely to have a lot of things they might be afraid of or anxious about. Depending on their comfort level this could be an opportunity to talk about some of their own fears but if not, the conversation may need to stay focused on Gonzo and how he realizes and accepts his own fears. This could also be an opportunity to share that there are things that you’re afraid of or worried about too, and that even adults get worried sometimes and that it’s a very normal thing.

Cautionary Points:

  • Some Scary Imagery
    While the movie is only rated PG and it is The Muppets things don’t get too scary but there are spooky elements including a haunted mansion, thunderstorms, graveyard, ghosts, spiders, etc. Even in cartoon form these elements may be frightening or upsetting to some children.
  • Frequent Mentions of Death and Ghosts
    The movie is set in The Haunted Mansion (like the Disneyworld ride) so there are ghosts frequently throughout the movie. Most of these are cartoons but there are a few that are live action actors including The Bride who plays a fairly large role. There’s also a scene towards the beginning that takes place in the graveyard and various ghosts come out of their graves and sing about how they died. It’s meant to be humorous but if children have recently experienced the loss of a loved one the graveyard, ghosts, and mentions of death may be a lot for them to handle.
  • Inappropriate Romantic Relationship
    The Bride is a ghost who tried to lure Pepe to his death by pretending to be in love with him. During these scenes she does things that seem to make him uncomfortable like feeding him spiders, but follows them up with reassurances that she loves him or romantic gestures to lure him back into acceptance of what is happening. This scene is somewhat creepy especially given that this romance is happening between someone who is clearly a grown woman and one of The Muppets who are somewhat ageless. Pepe’s consent is also not 100% clear and the fact that we know she’s planning to kill him after they’re married just adds to the inappropriateness. It’s clearly done in jest and not meant seriously, but for children who have been sexually abused or experienced grooming, manipulative or gaslighting behavior this storyline may be very triggering.

Discussion Guide:

  1. Do you have a favorite Muppet? Why do you like them the most?
    Caregiver Note: This is just a fun question to get the conversation going but it’s a great opportunity for some bonding. The Muppets have been around a long time so chances are that you as a caregiver also have a favorite you can share with your child as you talk.
  2. Kermit and his friends are having a Halloween costume party and Gonzo is going to a Haunted House. What kinds of things do you like to do on Halloween?
    Caregiver Note: This is another fun bonding question. It can also be a great time to talk about your family’s Halloween plans and maybe what your kiddo wants to dress up as if they haven’t already decided. Holidays can be challenging for children in care, especially if this is the first Halloween they have spent with you. Maybe they have some special traditions or activities they enjoy that you can incorporate into your holiday plans. Given that Halloween also tends to involve some spookier aspects, talking about plans ahead of time can go a long way to ensuring that everyone is able to have a safe and fun celebration even if that might mean things look a little different than usual.
  3. Do you think Kermit is a good friend to Gonzo? How do the things he says and does show that?
    Caregiver Note: Kermit is clearly disappointed that Gonzo won’t be able to make it to his party but he is also supportive of Gonzo’s interests and accepts that his friend wants to do another activity instead. Kermit also tells Gonzo that he doesn’t have to try to do impressive stunts in order to be great. He also mentions a few times that he misses Gonzo and hopes they can see each other soon. All of these are qualities of being a good friend. Sometimes when children have experienced trauma they struggle with all relationships, including friendships. Since they did not have healthy relationships modeled for them it may be hard for them to identify what a good friendship looks like. Having a conversation about how these characters are engaging in a positive and healthy relationship can be a great way to work on this skill.
  4. Kermit says, “You don’t have to be The Great Gonzo to be great, Gonzo”. What does he mean by this?
    Caregiver Note: As with the previous question this can be a great lead in to discussing positive friendship behaviors. Gonzo thinks that proving he’s fearless by completing a Halloween challenge will make people like him better, but Kermit tells him that he doesn’t have to try to impress him or do anything to prove his worth and that he is great just like he is. This is an important message for children of all ages to hear. Reiterate that your regard for them doesn’t change based on things they do or don’t do, but that you care about them just for being who they are.
  5. Gonzo says he isn’t afraid of anything multiple times. Do you think this is really true?
    Caregiver Note: Oftentimes we equate being afraid of something as being ‘weak’ so in order not to seem this way we put on a brave face or claim that we aren’t scared and Gonzo is no different. He learns later in the movie that he does have fears he didn’t realize and more importantly that everyone is afraid of something (as discussed in the next question). Children who have experienced trauma might be even more likely to feel the need to not admit their own fears or worries to appear strong, maybe because they are uncomfortable being vulnerable or because they felt the need to protect younger siblings. As discussed below it’s important to talk about how it’s okay to be afraid or worried about things and that doesn’t make them any less worthy of your love and support.
  6. The Host says “Everyone’s afraid of something”- do you think this is true? Is there anything you think is scary?
    Caregiver Note: This is a great opportunity to share some of your own fears with your child, especially if they think that adults aren’t afraid of anything. It’s helpful to know that they aren’t alone and everyone really does get scared from time to time. Kiddos might not be in a place where they are ready to share all their own fears with you and that’s okay too! Depending on their own trauma experiences they may have some pretty big fears. But this can be a great time to remind them that if something does scare them, that you’re a safe person to share those fears with whenever they are ready to do so.
  7. How does Gonzo escape from being trapped in Room 999? Does the fact that he escapes mean he isn’t afraid anymore?
    Caregiver Note: Gonzo is able to escape the room by admitting and facing his fears, not necessarily overcoming them but just recognizing what the things he’s afraid of are. This is a great example that emotions don’t always have to be ‘fixed’ but that just recognizing them and acknowledging them is important and the first step to being able to move forward. This question can be used to start a conversation about how to engage in self-reflection and ways that you as a caregiver can help them identify and label their emotions similar to how the mirror Gonzo helps the real Gonzo realize what his fears are.
  8. ACTIVITY: Draw your own version of Room 999
    Caregiver Note: Room 999 is the room that shows Gonzo what his fears are. As with the previous questions children may not know what their fears are or may not be ready to talk about them. Sometimes when it comes to identifying emotions using pictures might be an easier way to express what they’re feeling rather than words. If even this is too much, they can simply draw a Halloween picture that includes things that are common fears such as spiders, ghosts, etc. or they can illustrate Gonzo’s fears or what they imagine the other characters might see if they went into Room 999.
  9. Gonzo knows he has to leave by sunrise or he will be trapped in the Haunted Mansion forever. Why does he stay even though he knows this? Do you think he did the right thing?
    Caregiver Note: Gonzo finds out that Pepe is still trapped inside and won’t be able to get out without help. Gonzo decides he wants to help his friend, even if it means he won’t win the competition. This can be a tricky one to talk about, however, because while helping those we care about is important (like Gonzo did when going back for Pepe), it’s also important to take care of ourselves even if sometimes that feels a little selfish. This is especially hard for children who have experienced trauma as they tend to have less developed self-preservation instincts and may feel like their life or safety isn’t as valuable as those around them.
  10. How do you think Gonzo feels when McGuffin tells him he’s “the greatest”?
    Caregiver Note:  McGuffin is someone whom Gonzo idolizes and thinks very highly of. Because of this it means a great deal to him when McGuffin praises Gonzo and tells him how great he is. Gonzo hears this from Kermit and Pepe, his friends, but there is a difference to hearing someone you look up to offer you praise. This can be a great opportunity to tell your kiddos the ways you think they are great and some of the positive qualities you see in them

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About the Author: Jenn Ehlers

Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.

**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

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