LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chae Dillon, Jared Leto, the mark of the beginning of the end of my adult childhood, and 999 unhappy yawns and there’s room for so much more.
More details here.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
Gabbie (Dawson) and young son Travis (Dillon) move to an area outside New Orleans to open a bed & breakfast in the old Gracie Mansion, a dilapidated crumbling dwelling sitting in the bucolic splendor of Goddamn This Shit Creepy County.
Having nowhere else to go, Gabbie and Travis are forced to live with these ghastly phantoms the best they can, but the spooky goings-on are just too much for the young family.
So Gabbie turns to local priest and self-described ghost eradicator Father Kent (Wilson) for help, but he may be a few crackers short of a communion basket.
Sensing a plumb opportunity to spread the good word and make a few bucks on the side, Kent enlists the aid of Ben (Stanfield), a former budding scientist turned local depressed New Orleans History tour guide. In his prior academic life, Ben developed a device that can photograph invisible energies which could provide evidence of the paranormal.
In desperate need of quick cash, Ben agrees to investigate the home and participate in the charade but he's 100% skeptical, that is until the Gracie manor ghosts hitch a ride home with him.
Gabbie's ghostbusters gather to confront the unruly spirits and so the Haunted Mansion stars come out to shine:
I have often been described as a “Disney Adult”, a label placed on grown-up fans that have strong opinions about Disney products from films, toys, TV series, and amusement parks and have put their fanaticism out on display whether at the parks, in social media, or at their therapist's. At first fun, the term has turned out to be somewhat pejorative and maybe unfairly applied to some. My opinions are not as fervent as your average belly-aching Disney fan, but I have invested in annual passes for the park, spent more than I should on unique merchandise, and maybe shoved a kid or two on my way to the Peter Pan ride. But I’m certainly not the type that goes to the Disney parks every day, live streams every minute detail of my visit, wanders around childless gushing at popcorn containers and cheap plush, or publicly melts down on YouTube at any hint of the tiniest of changes to a beloved ride, overpriced food item, or dress code. But yes, despite the overcrowding, the screaming brats and doofwad parents, the terminally eternal wait queues, and good god the walking and sweating, I love the Disneyland Park in Anaheim, CA. My ardent affection for this specific piece of Disney property and its rich history has forged lifelong friendships, stronger bonds with family, and abject financial ruin.
As a kid, the Tremendo fam would make every effort to visit Disneyland each summer and so many memorable impressions were made: the smells of orange groves as you enter Main Street, the swampy waters of the Pirates of the Caribbean, and the clouds of buttery goodness wafting through popcorn stands around Sleeping Beauty Castle, the sounds of the Billy Hill and the Hillbillies Band’s pun and poverty-fueled hilarity at the Golden Horseshoe, the electronic joy of the Main Street Electrical Parade theme, the jubilant but migraine inducing It’s a Small World song, and the sensations of the shadowy rolling terrors of Space Mountain, the toe-tapping bodily fluid bliss of the Country Bear Jamboree, and that crunchy first bite of The Plaza Inn Restaurant’s fried chicken. But nothing beats the nervous gulps and goosebumps felt as you hear that gloomy organ music approaching the line to my favorite Disney attraction of all: The Haunted Mansion. This ride had everything that pleased puny Halloween-obsessed Tremendito: ghostly howls, spectral chaos, gloomy décor, catchy tunes drenched in dread, a threatening but alluring undead bride, and a delightfully dark and twisted sense of humor. Makes me want to go bankrupt and visit the park now!
So, before I watched Eddie Murphy’s The Haunted Mansion way back in 2003, I experienced the same anxiety I felt while easing into a Doom Buggy, because I fully expected a miserable movie that would fail to capture the spirit of the ride and ruin it for me forever. But I didn’t get that. I got something worse: a completely forgettable but harmless and dopey Disney comedy that barely scratched the surface of its source material. (If you disagree, dear four readers, please leave a comment below!).
Did the same happen 20 years later with this 2023 version of the ride as a movie? Not really, but it suffers most of the same problems as the previous. And the issue might lie within Disney's determination to make a film franchise out of all their attractions, a strategy that is churning diminishing returns like the bloated Jungle Cruise (2021). Haunted Mansion seems like a rushed effort as is evident by moments of obvious post-produced dialog and a couple jarring cuts. This appears to be a problem with all post-2020 movies lately and I don't know whether to blame it on expedited production schedules, creative laziness, or my increasing aging-related lack of focus. As plot points unravel and we have to introduce so many characters, we're never given a chance to just soak in the eerie atmosphere, character and set design, and plentiful references to the ride's lore which are the standouts of this movie. Also, the movie runs too long with an added side plot that could have been shortened or exorcised.
Besides the design, effects, and ride references, another highlight is the cast which includes the always luminous Dawson, always dumpy and dependable DeVito, always congested Owens, always giving Curtis, always unsettling on and off the screen Leto, and the always ear-piercingly outrageous Haddish. Also, Dillon gives a likeable, endearing, and believable performance as Travis, avoiding the usual Disney trend of casting bland and irritating young actors. The only cast member who seems out of place is the normally outstanding Stanfield who appeared a bit stiff and out of touch with the scary wackiness but recovers with a heroic turn in the last act. The theme of loss and mourning is well handled with emotional payoffs for the living and the dead. But it is the plethora of references to the ride and effort to meld all of its elements into one story that kept me engaged and smiling for a mostly good time.
Personally, I would have preferred an more sinister and/or cynical story that still retained the ride's backstory added with some pitch black humor and horrific fun leaning towards an R-rating. Maybe someone like Guillermo Del Toro, who was actually attached to this project for many years, could have accomplished that like his own haunted house tale Crimson Peak with a tad less bleakness. As long as these movies keep making money, we'll continue to see Disney attractions as film, but I urge the Disney overlords caution and plead them to make better movies. That being said, I for one cannot wait until Bathroom Next to Autotopia is released.
Haunted Mansion's scares and tone are pretty light and despite and over 2-hour running time, the movie might be best shown first or early in your Halloween night movie marathon. Just don't invite some blathering Disney Adult who will complain about the lack of including the Coffin Occupant. Seriously what the Hell???
As of 10/8/23, Haunted Mansion is streaming on Disney+.