The Haunted Mansion is a dark ride attraction located at Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, and Tokyo Disneyland. The ride is set in a large, creaky mansion that is rumored to be haunted by the ghosts of its former residents. Riders are led through a series of rooms, each of which is decorated with creepy props and features a different ghostly encounter. Some of the most famous scenes in the ride include the Ballroom, where a group of ghosts are dancing, the Conservatory, where a casket floats in mid-air, and Madame Leota’s Séance Room, where a disembodied head floats in a crystal ball. Someone at Disney decided this was enough substance to turn this into a feature film. Not sure why.
Disney’s Haunted Mansion film, helmed by Justin Simien and penned by Katie Dippold, is a horror-comedy ride based on the famous Disneyland attraction. However, the ride this film takes you on is less of an enchanting journey and more of a haphazard tour through a dilapidated amusement park. The movie stars Lakeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny Devito, and Chase Dillion.
More from Deadline
Haunted Mansion begins with Ben Matthais (Stanfield) at a party where he meets his future wife Alyssa (Charity Jordan). He’s an astrophysicist and she gives ghost tours throughout New Orleans. Years later, he’s slumped over drunk at a bar, seemingly given up his science career to run the ghost tours himself as Alyssa isn’t around anymore to do them. On the other side of town, Gabbie (Dawson) and her son Travis (Dillion) arrive at an old mansion ready to move in. Her son feels something ominous in the air, while Gabbie walks through the house as if the cobwebs, broken floors, and scary paintings with moving eyes aren’t a problem. However, the pair discover the place is haunted when a suit of armor follows them around the house. This incident sends them running for the hills.
Father Kent (Wilson) arrives at Ben’s home to ask for help on behalf of mother and son. It seems Ben created a special camera that sees spectral energy and they need it to help prove the presence of paranormal activity in her home so she can be rid of it. After being paid, the former scientist meets the duo at the home and of course thinks they are crazy. After finding nothing suspicious, he returns to his home where he witnesses the apparition of a Mariner who won’t leave him alone no matter where he goes. Now he has to return to the mansion where Gabbie, Travis, Father Kent, local Medium Harriet (Haddish), and historian Bruce Davis (Devito) are also forced to stay. The group must put their heads together and figure out what’s causing this ghostly infestation before they are trapped in there forever.
Haunted Mansion starts with promise, offering laughs and clever quips that promise a light-hearted romp through a spooky narrative. It tries to be existential as the story touches upon the theme of grief and the lingering effects it can have on individuals. However, this thematic exploration isn’t a priority in the script which leads to a missed opportunity for emotional depth. The initial charm from the start of the film is replaced by a conventional and predictable storyline that feels hurried, thus creating a narrative jumble that seems thrown together rather than carefully constructed.
Credit should be given to Darren Gilford’s production design as it is a faithful replica of the iconic ride. Gilford’s designs are aided by the generous use of practical effects, which do conjure up a spectral atmosphere similar to what visitors would see during the Haunted Mansion tour. Although not always seamless, the special effects also offer a nostalgic homage to the original ride that can be a fun experience for audiences familiar with the theme park’s version.
Lakeith Stanfield, renowned for his dramatic roles, is an odd choice for the lead in this family-oriented film. He’s acting like he’s in The Shawshank Redemption rather than a Disney comedy. He doesn’t even pretend to be enjoying himself here, while in contrast, Rosario Dawson and Chase Dillion deliver performances that strike the right chord for the film’s tone. Their chemistry is genuine and their relaxed approach brings a playful air to the narrative.
Also, the choices of wigs are bizarre and off-putting. Despite Dawson and Stanfield having perfectly fine hair, they are saddled with synthetic wigs that gave me more of a laugh than any of the comedic one-liners throughout the film. Bad hair is a distraction instead of an enhancement and audiences are beginning to notice these details. Good hair and wigs matters!
Disney’s Haunted Mansion is a fair enough choice for a family night in, experienced from the comfort of your couch, where the flaws are less glaring and the price of admission for Disney+ is cheaper. It has its moments, especially if you are a fan of the original Disneyland ride. However, the $15.99 ticket price for a movie theater experience in New York City feels steep for a movie that struggles to consistently deliver the laughter and chills one would expect.
Title: Haunted Mansion
Release date: July 28, 2023
Director: Justin Simien
Screenwriter: Kate Dippold
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny Devito, and Chase Dillion
Running time: 2 hr 5 min
Best of Deadline