You don’t need to have experienced the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland to understand or enjoy the latest Disney movie based on the ride.
But there’s no doubt many nuances highlighted in Disney’s Haunted Mansion will resonate with those who have experienced and/or love the ride found at Disneyland, Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland.
Familiarity with the ride may explain audience and critical reaction to the movie. Audiences seem far more enthusiastic than critics, with fans of the ride its greatest cheer leaders. All, however, agree this latest offering from director Justin Simien and writer Katie Dippold is better than Disney’s previous two efforts to turn the popular ride into a movie.
This version tells of Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield), a brilliant astrophysicist who has given up on life after the tragic death of his wife Alyssa (Charity Jordan). Taking over the ghost tours she used to run, Ben drinks too much and, given he doesn’t believe in ghosts, isn’t a believable tour guide!
Life changes when Ben is visited by Father Kent (Owen Wilson) who wants him to help single mother Gabbie (Rosario Dawson), and her 9-year-old son Travis (Chase Dillon) who have moved into an old Louisiana house. On arrival at the house Gabbie and Travis discover it’s haunted by none too friendly ghosts. Years earlier Ben had designed a special camera to picture ghosts and Father Kent wants him to use this at the house.
Ben at first refuses but the offer of cash is too great to resist so he agrees to the visit. Not only does Ben discover there are ghosts living in the house but those ghosts follow you until you return. This is the reason why, despite moving several times, Gabbie and Travis have been forced to return to the haunted mansion. Needless to say the ghosts have put an end to Gabbie’s plans to start afresh and open a bed and breakfast.
As Father Kent and Ben are also unable to escape the wandering ghosts, they agree to help Gabbie rid the house of its unwanted visitors. To do this they enlist the help of Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), a French Quarter psychic and Professor Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito), who has been studying and teaching supernatural phenomena for decades.
Haunted Mansion then follows the efforts of the group to discover why the ghosts are there and how to get rid of them. Their adventures see them cross paths with many curious spirits including Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis), a long-dead psychic whose head floats inside a massive crystal ball.
As a result, they discover the problem is the Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto), a malicious figure with a skeleton face who has already collected 999 souls and is in pursuit of one more. He identifies Ben, who has yet to get over the death of his wife, and Travis, who is dealing with a tragedy, as the ideal targets.
Ben and Travis’ pain at the death of their loved ones provide the emotional storyline of Haunted Mansion. The words and actions of Father Kent, Harriet and Davis provide the comedy while the ghosts provide the movie’s horror component. Personal opinion on Simien’s success in combining the three elements is likely to determine personal enjoyment of the movie.
I didn’t find it scary but I am not a child and given Haunted Mansion is aimed at families there’s a question of how scary it needs to be. Thanks to the work of Stanfield and Dillon the emotional component of dealing with grief is evident. For me the enjoyment in watching Haunted Mansion came from the performances of Owen, Haddish and DeVito. They provide the movie’s comic moments and ensure Haunted Mansion is more likely to be enjoyed by adults searching for a laugh rather than a scary movie.
Disney’s Haunted Mansion opens in cinemas around Australian on August 31.
*Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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