Jul 30, 2023
Haunted Mansion is in my top three attractions at the Disney parks. I enjoyed Eddie Murphy’s Haunted Mansion (2003). I absolutely loved Muppets Haunted Mansion. We have Haunted Mansion Christmas tree ornaments! Can you imagine how excited I was to see this new iteration of HAUNTED MANSION?
It saddens me to say this version lost me from the beginning. It was very hard to root for the protagonist when you think he’s a jerk. Let’s back up here and summarize the uninspired plot. Single mother Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her nine-year old son Travis (Chase Dillon) move into the mansion with the hopes of turning it into a bed and breakfast. Very quickly they realize the house is haunted! However, they never appear frightened when freaky occurrences happen such as when a suit of armor suddenly appears right behind them. I don’t know about you but at that point I’d be scrambling for my car keys!
Father Kent (Owen Wilson) pops into the story and enlists the help of grieving astrophysicist Ben (LaKeith Stanfield). We then take a Wizard of Oz detour as the two enlist more help from psychic Harriet (Tiffany Haddish) and then visit haunted house historian Prof. Bruce Davis (Danny Devito) only to steal his blueprints to the mansion. When that plan goes awry, Davis ends up joining the ghost buster group. Now this overpacked cast has to rid the house of the ghosts and the ghost that is haunting the ghosts!
When Ben arrives at the mansion with his camera that can photograph dark matter, he is paid $2,000 for his services. He doesn’t believe any of these hauntings are real so he couldn’t even be bothered to take actual pictures but instead make a “click” sound with his mouth. That is what I meant when I said it is hard to root for a protagonist who I think is a jerk. If you’re not going to do the work then give Gabbie back her $2,000! This really irritated me.
If it’s a scary scene, the characters should be frightened, not just slightly taken aback. With a dream team cast like this who can work circles around this material, you have to look towards the director for bringing the right reactions from the scene. Rosario Dawson has nothing to do in the film, but if two or three characters had been cut out (or more to the point SHOULD have been cut out) it would have given her something to do.
Another A-lister in the cast is Jared Leto as the Hatbox ghost. He was a CGI character and when he spoke there was so much reverb you couldn’t understand what he was saying. They could’ve saved even more by cutting out the unnecessary cameos. I was excited to see Dan Levy but his insignificant role as a counterpart to Winona Ryder’s tour guide at Crump Manor took away more than it gave.
When the film detoured into the backstory of Alistair Crump (AKA The Hatbox Ghost), the film got exciting! I love backstories on villains since they often come from a sympathetic place. (Big kudos for paying homage to Disney Imagineer Rolly Crump who was a leading artist in the Haunted Mansion attraction.)
I really liked the concept of the Hatbox Ghost holding the 999 other happy haunts to increase his power and bring terror to the world. But it just made me want even more of Alistair Crump's story. At this point we’ve seen enough Haunted Mansions iterations, let’s focus on the characters who inhabit the mansion and their stories! Jamie Lee Curtis was wonderful as Madame Leota in both her corporeal state and housed in her crystal ball. The film really came alive (no pun intended) when these characters were brought into the story and I was excited to learn more about them. The excitement was short-lived since the film had to get back to the main plot of grief for both Ben and Gabbie who had lost a loved one and now have to move on with their lives.
There are plenty of Easter Eggs and references that will make Haunted Mansion fans excited. However, the couple I sat next to had no idea what any of the references were since they kept whispering, “I don’t get it.” Since Simien is a huge fan of the attraction it did look like he had a blast sprinkling in stretching walls, hitchhiking ghosts, portrait ghosts, the Duelists, and concept art. And of course, what Haunted Mansion iteration would be complete without the earworm that is “Grim Grinning Ghosts.” That theme permeates the film with plenty of iterations.
Unfortunately I don’t see HAUNTED MANSION making back its $150 million budget anytime soon. I would really like to know why Disney thought to release Haunted Mansion in the middle of summer instead of closer to Halloween. You’d think they would have learned from the dismal box office of Hocus Pocus when that Halloween-themed film was released in July of 1993. Unlike Hocus Pocus, it’s unlikely this film will build a cult audience or ever have a nostalgic resurgence. At the end of the Disney park attraction, a ghost hauntingly tells guests to “hurry back.” Sorry that won’t be happening here.
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