Disney has been trying to turn its theme park attractions into feature-length movies for a long time. Before they struck gold in 2003 with Pirates of the Caribbean, there as was the dreadful The Country Bears. Most people have probably forgotten the 90s take on the Tower of Terror. And 20 years ago, Eddie Murphy couldn’t make audiences turn out for a film adaptation of one of their most popular attractions, Haunted Mansion. But if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Too bad someone decided to release the latest update on the attraction in the middle of July instead of October. Not surprisingly, the box office returns fell far short of expectations. Critics were even less impressed with the cinematic ride.
After her husband’s death, Gabbie, and her young son Travis, move from New York to the Gracey Manor in New Orleans. But the dozens of haunted guests quickly turn their homecoming into a nightmare. To rid their new home of its ghosts, Gabbie turns to a priest, a local medium, an old historian, and a grieving tour guide. However, the motley team of paranormal hunters discovers that a more sinister force may be behind the creeps and creaks.
Haunted Mansion Overloads the Screen With Theme Park References
When Disney released Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003, it got two things right about adapting a theme park attraction into a movie. Johnny Depp’s iconic take as Captain Jack Sparrow was lightning in a bottle. But Disney allowed Gore Verbinski (The Ring) to tell an actual story loosely taken from the ride. In contrast, Haunted Mansion jam packs nearly every minutes of its bloated two hour runtime with theme park Easter eggs. And ‘bloated’ is the key word. Maybe Disney required director Justin Simien writer Katie Dippold to drop a theme park reference every so many minutes. Whatever the case, Haunted Mansion is a loud, busy movie that’s cartoonish in all the wrong ways.
…Haunted Mansion almost never allows any one moment to develop and have an impact beyond initial sensory overload.
Everything that’s put up on the screen is visually stunning. Unfortunately, Haunted Mansion almost never allows any one moment to develop and have an impact beyond initial sensory overload. Case in point, a run through a ghostly graveyard with skeleton hands popping out from the ground should be loads of fun. Instead, it’s just another loud, overblown scene lost amidst a steady onslaught of stuff happen. While young kids will enjoy it, Haunted Mansion likely won’t be gateway horror like the recent Goosebumps. Nothing here is remotely scary (even for younger audiences). And the ‘jokes’ are mostly of the eye-rolling nature. This is pure confectionary disposable entertainment – briefly fun and inoffensive.
Haunted Mansion Gets Mixed Mileage Out of its Allstar Cast
Like just about everything else in this Disney blockbuster, Haunted Mansion stacks its cast from top to bottom. Poor Rosario Dawson may get near to top billing but she’s given little to do as the single mother, Gabbie. By and large, Dippold’s screenplay leaves Dawson to play it straight off of the rest of the cast. Much of the remaining human cast – which includes Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, and Danny DeVito – hams it up as con men priests, small-time mediums, or crusty historians. On most occasions, these genuinely funny performers would be a delight to watch. But Haunted Mansion has them coughing on some thin material. In particular, DeVito feels wasted in a role cramped in between so many other characters.
Stanfield, who radiates charisma in the role, largely escapes unscathed from much of the contrived dialogue.
Despite its thin story, LaKeith Stanfield absolutely shines as the mourning Ben Matthias. Stanfield, who radiates charisma in the role, largely escapes unscathed from much of the contrived dialogue. It also helps that Dippold’s screenplay gives him something closely resembling a character arc. Though the theme of ‘moving on’ past grief feels thin in Haunted Mansion, Stanfield lends the movie a bit of emotional gravitas. And the young Chase W. Dillon manages to shine amongst a deep cast. Eagle-eyed audiences will pick out several noteworthy cameos including Winona Ryder, Daniel Levy, and Hasan Minhaj. Jamie Lee Curtis has fun playing Madame Leota. And in a less-is-more role, Jared Leto brings the Hatbox Ghost to life.
Haunted Mansion a Big, Loud, and Busy Movie That’s For Kids and Theme Park Enthusiasts
Disney’s latest attempt to turn its Haunted Mansion attraction into a movie franchise is big, loud, and busy. Young kinds and Disneyland lovers of the beloved theme park stop will find plenty to enjoy. Simien and Dippold cram just about every detail from the ride into their movie. The result is an overstuffed production that – even at over two hours – rarely stops to catch its breath. Is it scary? Not at all. Is it funny? Sporadically. LaKeith Stanfield and the young Chase W. Dillon do their best to add some heart. But Haunted Mansion is a clunky blockbuster as soulless as the ghosts inhabiting it.