The only notable difference I saw between the two cinematic presentations of Disney’s Haunted Mansion is where the humour comes from. Instead of making the popular comedian of the time the laughingstock of the show, they’ve been made into supporting characters. Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson and Danny DeVito make for a terrific team up, but that isn’t enough to make this film a success.
In this reboot, Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield) and Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) are now the focus. The former was an astrophysicist who lost his wife in a car accident, and the latter is raising a 9-year-old son who misses daddy greatly. It’s implied they separated, but as for whether he’s alive or dead, that’s easy to guess. The latter moved to Louisiana to set up a B&B and hopefully leave that life they lost behind.
Although the Disney‘s attraction never had a complete backstory to draw in the crowds, the reason for the haunted mansion’s popularity is because of the 999 spirits said to lurk there and we all want to hear their stories. Each of them has something to tell, and although to hear them all never took off (as published by either Slave Labour and Marvel Comics), I yearned to hear about their tales. Not only did the manor have its own problems with the hatbox ghost (it was taken down due to technical difficulties) but also there’s also the legend of the Dread Family often glossed upon to all who wander through. What’s said about them killing each other for wealth is a narrative I’d love to see realised in full.
What I enjoyed from the 2003 film is in how it dealt with how Edward Gracey wanted to reunite with his love. In the 2023 remake, his story is one of many, and the grief that not only the living and death both share is a perfect addition. However, when this theme gets lost in the ghost box shuffle, I thought this film lacked focus.
Although Haunted Mansion is more about highlighting what’s great about the ride, hearing the narrator’s dialogue again, and the walk through experience, I felt the CGI experience wasn’t up to snuff. The effects are designed to be like an 80s film. Aside from simple upgrades, like turning the house into a tesseract, the film wasn’t creepy at all. I’m sure all the upside down and right-side up effects can be achieved by angled mirrors in the ride, but that isn’t enough for me. Yes, I’m hard to frighten. I didn’t think the axe wielding spectre was scary at all despite Matthias nearly wetting his pants, and in order to truly get the heebie-jeebies, I’d rather watch Woman in Black instead!
In this film, Ben is supposed to be “the paranormal guy” who knows all. Just because he still runs one of many local ghostly walks in Louisiana doesn’t mean he can help solve paranormal crimes. But when Father Kent (Wilson) has faith in him, nothing can rattle him until a ghost follows him home. After his experience, he recruits Psychic Harriet (Haddish) and Professor Davis (Davis) to help round out the team. While they manage to figure out the details of this building’s past, namely in who are the ghosts and introduce the staples from the ride, just how helpful they are afterwards is minuscule.
As this concept is faithful towards conducting a proper investigation, the revelations are hardly shocking. I was hardly shocked when the hatbox ghost was revealed to be the true villain! And as for why I think he looks more feline than anything else, that’s up to the production artists to reveal in the eventual home video release. Sadly, his motivation to detain these souls isn’t as frightening as Hugh Crane’s (Haunting of Hill House). What’s presented is more Goosebumps level than EC.
While some thrills are worth recreating for the fun of it, unless a curveball is thrown to make what’s known fresh again, what’s experienced won’t be as good. Disney should have turned Haunted Mansion into an anthology series much like the printed material instead of making a one off work. The comic book publishers got the idea right, and for the studio to miss the boat on this one is a head scratcher.
Thankfully, we have the wonderful Pirates of the Caribbean films to enjoy time and time again while other translated park ride attractions to film are sinking.
3 Stars out of 5
Disney’s Haunted Mansion Trailer