This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Despite an interesting premise and talented comedic cast, Disney’s ‘Haunted Mansion’ redo doesn’t live up to the enchanting theme park ride.
Following the financial success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and in the midst of endless remakes of their classic films, Disney is once again trying to adapt more films based on iconic theme park rides. The results have been somewhat uneven, with Jungle Cruise (2021) offering a fun yet forgettable river adventure, Tomorrowland (2015) dazzling visually but lacking a compelling story, and let’s not even address those later Pirates sequels. The spotlight now rests on “The Haunted Mansion,” the beloved ride at Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, where guests encounter friendly and not-so-friendly spirits residing in a Louisiana-style manor. Despite a wonderful cast and spooky production design, this new movie adaptation fails to capture the enchantment of the original ride.
Previously adapted in 2003 with Eddie Murphy as the lead and more recently with the Muppets, this time the focus shifts to Gabbie (Rosario Dawson), a single mother fulfilling her dream of moving into an antique house with her nine-year-old son Travis (Chase Dillon). Their excitement turns to fear, however, when they encounter the supernatural occupants who’ve haunted the mansion for centuries. Seeking help, the family assembles a team consisting of Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), a grieving astrophysicist, Father Kent (Owen Wilson), a priest, Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), a charismatic medium, and Professor Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito), an expert on haunted houses. Together, they combine their expertise to exorcise the house from its otherworldly tormentors.
An uneven journey into the mansion.
Haunted Mansions‘s simple premise holds potential, but Katie Dippold’s screenplay encounters trouble with an uneven sense of pacing that bloats the first act by excessively reiterating Ben’s grief. While his pain serves as an emotional anchor, the film’s single-minded focus on it neglects the exploration of other potentially compelling character dynamics. As a result, the introduction of these dynamics feel flat and uninteresting. Attempts to develop romance, a father-son relationship, and characters overcoming insecurities about their crafts come and go without any depth.
Furthermore, the film rushes over the explanation of why the mansion became haunted, leaving more time for one-liner jokes that, while consistently funny, are never hilarious. The talented comedic cast delivers their signature styles, adding a highlight to the film. However, the jokes often feel tailor-made for the actors, breaking the immersion and hindering character development. Consequently, the movie lacks tension beyond its central objective: to un-haunt the house. The plot itself isn’t boring, but it places too much focus on its least compelling elements.
A scary amount of missed opportunities.
The charm of the “Haunted Mansion” ride and similar Disneyland attractions lies in transporting audiences to a unique and captivating world. This escapist allure is what made the world of pirate outlaws in Pirates of the Caribbean so endearing in 2003. While this new film does offer glimpses of a magical and spooky world, thanks to its campy and Halloween-themed production design, it fails to fully embrace and explore its own potential. The ghosts themselves are endearing, each with clever stories, but unfortunately, the movie doesn’t spend enough time with them. Although it includes some nods to the ride and its catchy song, these references remain superficial Easter eggs. Consequently, the movie feels like being stuck in a line with other humans while the iconic song plays faintly in the background.
Haunted Mansion is by no means a bad film. Audiences will likely have a fun time with the entertaining performances of seasoned comedy actors and cheeky references to the ride’s most familiar elements. It might even attain cult-classic status among Halloween enthusiasts when it hits Disney+ later this year. In the end, though, the film is haunted by its unfulfilled potential.
Haunted Mansion is available in theaters. Watch the trailer here.
HAUNTED MANSION (2023) - 6/10