Tag Archives: Ed Asner

Muppets Haunted Mansion

Among the new crop of family-oriented Halloween fare on Disney Plus is this little piece of amusement park magic.

Now, if you’re any kind of Disney World fan, you already know that the Haunted Mansion is not just a beloved, 51 year old ride at Magic Kingdom, it’s got its own cult following. In the gift shops, you can find souvenirs and momentos from all the Disney movies you love, and all your favourite characters of course, but also your favourite rides, of which Haunted Mansion is arguably number one. You can buy t-shirts with the same damask pattern as the mansion’s wallpaper, pieces featuring the hitchhiking ghosts, mouse ears with the famed cameo pin on the bow, many tributes to fan fave Madame Leota, the floating head in the crystal ball, replica maid outfits similar to the ones worn by cast members working the ride, and even merchandise featuring the singing busts, which are not actually on the ride itself, but a sight to see and enjoy outside the mansion while you wait in line. It’s such a popular ride that Disney already made a movie out of it back in 2003 starring Eddie Murphy (the same year as they released another ride-inspired film, Pirates of the Caribbean). It wasn’t great, but that just leaves the door open to do better, which Disney will attempt to do next year, with Justin Simien helming the remake, set to star Owen Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, and LaKeith Stanfield. THIS is not that movie. This is a movie starring the Muppets, and involving the ride. It is sure to please fans of the Muppets, fans of the ride, and families looking for not-scary Halloween fare. It’s hard to lose!

On Halloween night, Gonzo is challenged to spend one night in The Haunted Mansion. Obviously Gonzo is known for his bravery as the resident daredevil, so this should be a piece of cake for him (a piece of wedding cake, perhaps? Around this time of year, Disney sells tiny wedding cakes in the park in reference to the one on the ride). The Great Gonzo (voiced by Dave Goelz) brings along his pal Pepe (Bill Barretta), the King Prawn (do NOT call him a shrimp!), because what else are friends for?

Gonzo and Pepe encounter the entire Haunted Mansion gamut, including the caretaker (Darren Criss), the host (Will Arnett), and of course the bride (Taraji P. Henson), who is so gosh darn good she can pronounce king prawn in just such a way as to give you instant wood. Pepe is enchanted, and agrees to marry her, which would trap him inside the mansion for all of eternity. Which, as fans of the ride will tell you, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve visited the Haunted Mansion less than a handful of times but I can see its charms, and this movie is careful to pay tribute to as many as possible within 52 minutes (that’s brisk, baby!). You got your 999 ghosts; Statler and Waldorf in a doom buggy, Constance Hatchaway with her beating red heart and suspiciously high number of dead husbands; a stretching room with magic paintings; even the obligatory photo op at the end, complete with creepy uninvited guests.

The ride’s wide appeal is thanks to its signature Disney finesse with the details and its playful approach to the classic horror haunted house. It’s a ride fit for the whole family, as is this newest Muppet oeuvre on Disney Plus.

The Garden Left Behind

The Garden Left Behind is about a woman and her grandmother, both undocumented immigrants, living together in New York City. Abuela Eliana (Miriam Cruz) dreams of returning to her beloved Mexico while Tina (Carlie Guevara) dreams of the day she can complete her transition. Without papers, money is scarce and medical insurance unheard of, so it’s been a long path for Tina. But she has a second family in the trans community, and a strong circle of fiercely protective women surrounding her, so you want to believe she’ll be all right.

Director Flavio Alves situates Tina in a city filled with love and support, but also hatred and violence. Even the slightest decisions she makes may threaten her personal safety, not to mention her mental health. Meanwhile, her gender identity must be performed for an elderly doctor (Ed Asner) who ultimately gets to decide whether or not she’ll get to be a candidate for transition. Not that his pronouncement either way would save her from judgment or brutality if it came to that. Which is why Tina takes to the streets in protest for a friend beaten by police. Her status makes activism risky, but her very existence is a risk in a world where cruelty is an answer to otherness.

As much as I admired the greater context offered by Alves, it was the grandmother-granddaughter relationship at the heart of the story I responded to most. Abuelita does not understand, but she learns she doesn’t need to. She learns that her love is enough. It’s also relatively rare in this kind of story, so it’s as remarkable and inspirational as it is welcome.

The cast, made up of actual trans people, is refreshingly authentic, and I believe this casting is what really sells the story. What also really works is that Tina is at peace with herself. The world may have problems with her, but the conflict is never internalized. She knows who she is, and while perhaps feeling resentful at having to demonstrate it, she never wavers. But the outside world brings more than enough conflict to make up the difference.

Carlie Guevara, like Tina, is a young trans woman of colour. She is a target for hate but also a symbol of hope; she, and others like her, persist. Guevara is luminous and magnetic. But what makes this movie feel really truthful on top of watchable is that it’s not just hardship and struggle. It rises above the bleakness to deliver pure authenticity.


Although this may be my favourite film in the universe, I have never been brave enough to attempt a review. The last time I was at Disney World, I was tickled to bring home a piece of the film – a pencil drawing signed by the artist, of Carl and Ellie as goofy, gap-toothed, be-goggled kids. I liked the drawing so much I had it tattooed on my shoulder. I have a grape soda pin so I can also be part of the club. I 980xhave an adventure book that is filled to bursting with our travels. It’s safe to say I’ve had a love affair with this movie, and with Carl and Ellie, who are not unlike Sean and Jay – he mostly silent, she effervescent, talkative enough for two. Though we have not experienced the heartbreak of miscarriage (which has got to be the most poignant, most difficult, most gut-wrenching scene in any cartoon in the history of the world), we are in the same way just a couple of explorers looking to get lost in the world.

Carl and Ellie are brilliantly animated in that his body is basically square, and hers is basically round. Everything around them mimics their distinct shapes. Carl’s recliner is square, while Ellie’s chair is round. His glasses are square, and hers are oval. It’s only when we meet a villain that we start to see triangles. Sean is a definite tall drink of rectangle himself, and I am the round little sausage beside him.

Recently widowed, Carl is also facing the loss of his home; pushy developers wantc09e23050e099ba42b93a7d02aeca25d him out, and he’s the last holdout in his neighbourhood. Carl isn’t ready for Shady Oaks Retirement Village, but it doesn’t look like he has much choice, so he breaks out the only weapon left in his arsenal: a tank or 3000 of helium (Pixar estimates he’d need between 12 and 25 million balloons to actually do the trick; they’ve animated 10286). Carl sets his sights for Paradise Falls, the destination he and Ellie always meant to visit but never did.

[Sidebar: Roughly 5 years ago, Sean and I were on a cruise in the Bahamas, and we were taking a shuttle van toward some excursion. There was an elderly couple also in the van, the old man riding shotgun needing several little hops before he made it into the passenger seat, and his wife sitting beside me in the mid section. They were very excited to finally be taking this dream vacation, and the old guy advised Sean on how to properly live his life, ie, by saving diligently so that he could afford to take me to the Bahamas when we were retired. Never mind that we were already in the Bahamas. Only come to find out, his was was actually his second wife, and the poor wife who had responsibly saved her pennies her whole life had passed before earning her reward. This has always struck me as the ultimate tragedy; perhaps it hits close to home because with my disability due to autoimmune disease, I likely have a vastly shortened lifespan. That’s why Sean and I are always traveling. That’s why we’re in Disney World right now, just a month after Mexico, because I’ll be damned if I let his second wife get the Bahamas trip. Bitch.]

Anyway, the one thing Carl doesn’t account for is a stowaway. Wilderness Explorer
Russell has been trying to earn his “assisting the elderly” badge, and just happened to be on or under Carl’s porch when the house took off. Russell is unaccountably adorable, and when you pair him with super dog Dug, the effect is positively cuteness overload. Dug wears a dog-to-English translator, so we know he says things like “I have just met you, and I love you” and that’s exactly what a dog WOULD say! This movie is Jay kryptonite. It murders me right in the emotions.


So you can imagine the puddle of feels I’ll be when I meet Russell at Disney World. In fact, I already have – and Dug, too. But since I’ve been, they’ve added UP! A Great Bird Adventure (presumably after Kevin, the infamous snipe), so I’ll be trying to keep it together in the front row in my pretty Up dress. Yes, I’m a sucker. A sucker for love. And for doing second-wife stuff during my first-wife tenure.

The Christmas Card

A well-meaning church lady sends a card overseas to “the troops” – and “Sarge” is touched by its generic rah-rah words of encouragement when he receives it in “Afghanistan.” The church lady, who is blonde and pretty in a buttoned-up, conservative way, sends a sexy picture along with it. Okay, no, she sends a picture of the church (just what every soldier is hoping to get!) but it really gets him through a tough time, when his buddy gets blown to bits on a Red Cross mission (it sounds like someone didn’t really do their war research, but that’s the least of the troubles: the effects budget is so non-existent that you could get a better display out of the fireworks that are leftover in your local corner store on July 5th)(no need to fear anything graphic – by “blown to bits” I mean he received a fatal bloody lip).

Anyway, when Sarge goes back stateside to deliver dog tags and hugs to the grieving widow (who is not an actual widow), he can’t help but stop by this magical town with all the friendly, letter-writing people.

Meet cute: they both order a chicken salad sandwich on rye with extra crispy curly fries and hot chocolate with marshmallows. Dear baby Jesus. That’s not a meet-cute, that’s a meet-butt fugly.

Anyway: “good news” – everyone in town’s a church goer and he has no trouble getting escorted to the pictured church , has pew-mates lined up and everything. He’s welcomed by an old man played by Ed Asner, which, let’s face it, is the only reason I’m watching this thing. The old guy wastes no time (was it even 10 seconds?) before introducing his “somewhat attractive daughter, Faith” – who just happens to be the curly fry lady from the day before, who just happens to be the card-sender who inspired his trip in the first place!

Anyway, if you ever feel the need to combine a badly-acted, terribly-written cheeseball holiday movie with a flag-waving, hero-worshipping war and god movie that’s super light on war and pretty heavy-handed with god, well, I can’t imagine a more obnoxious combination than The Christmas Card.