Hidden away in this week's casting notices for The Muppets Haunted Mansion was a little piece of Disney Parks history that you probably only spotted if you knew what to look for. Kim Irvine, the Executive Creative Director of Disney Imagineering, was cast in the movie -- and while that's obviously a fun fact in and of itself, it's the specifics of who Kim Irvine is, and what she has done during her time at Disney, that make it a lot cooler for superfans. After all, she has a pretty direct connection to the very first iteration of the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland.
Starting at the beginning: Irvine is the daughter of former Disney Imagineer Leota Tombs -- and if you think "wow, that's a name that fits the Haunted Mansion perfectly," you'd be right. Ironically it isn't the "Tombs" part that first appeared in the ride, though; instead, Tombs gave her likeness to the ride, appearing as Madame Leota, the disembodied face seem floating in a crystal ball within the original ride.
Years later, during a holiday update to the attraction, Disney wanted to add some new lines for Leota, and the job fell to Irvine to provide the facial acting. Neither of the two performed the lines, with that task falling to Eleanor Audley in the original ride, and Susanne Blakeslee in the current iteration. Irvine, it seems, has remained the face of Leota since the holiday update.
It's likely that the character of Madame Leota will show up somewhere in The Muppets Haunted Mansion. The character has already had a pair of live-action appearances, first in the Eddie Murphy Haunted Mansion movie and later on Once Upon a Time. She was played (and voiced!) by Jennifer Tilly in Haunted Mansion, and by Suzy Joachim in Once Upon a Time. The character has also appeared in a number of video games, including the 2003 Haunted Mansion game and of course, Epic Mickey.
A teaser photo shows Irvine looking very human and very alive, so it seems her primary role will not be as Leota, although it's possible they will reuse footage from the ride, or that they created new footage for the special featuring Irvine and Blakeslee.