Haunted Mansion review: "Breathes new life into the classic Disney ride"

 Haunted Mansion
Haunted Mansion

Disney is no stranger to turning its beloved attractions into films. This isn't even the first time Haunted Mansion has been adapted for the screen; Eddie Murphy headed up a version in 2003 that fared well at the box office (but not so much with critics). But this fresh take from director Justin Simien (Dear White People) and scribe Katie Dippold (2016's Ghostbusters) breathes enthusiastic new life into the classic ride.

The plot sees single mother Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase Dillon) seeking to start over in a cobwebbed New Orleans mansion. But when things start going bump in the night, a motley crew of eccentric experts is called in to deal with those (un)happy haunts - and one sinister spectre in particular, Jared Leto's mysterious Hatbox Ghost.

As our team of paranormal investigators shifts from misfit group of strangers to close-knit found family, a spirited chemistry develops among the starry cast. Danny DeVito (historian), Owen Wilson (priest), and Tiffany Haddish (psychic) bag laugh-out-loud moments, while Jamie Lee Curtis has an entertaining (if small) role as crystal-ball-bound medium Madame Leota. Cameos from Winona Ryder and Dan Levy also delight. And though Leto's performance is buried beneath heavy vocal effects, the Hatbox Ghost emerges as a dastardly foe.

The Haunted Mansion itself is also a lively character, whipping up family-friendly peril via moving portraits, suddenly endless hallways, and other spooky surprises. Much of the action is confined to but a few rooms; more could have been made of the house's sprawling potential. Still, Simien makes the most of the space as it stands, lovingly packing the movie with Easter eggs (without ever assuming knowledge of the original attractions).

Anchoring all the wacky fun is a surprisingly emotional performance from LaKeith Stanfield as tour guide Ben, a widower consumed by grief. Chase Dillon, meanwhile, is a moving standout as a struggling, sweet but socially awkward youngster; the film's exploration of loss tugs hard at the heartstrings and makes for a cathartic third act, proving it was well worth re-opening the Mansion doors.

Haunted Mansion is in US theaters from July 28 and in UK cinemas from August 11. For everything else the House of Mouse has in store, see our guide to all the upcoming Disney movies.