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Making films based on Disney theme park rides and attractions seems like a good idea. Sadly, Disney’s first attempts at doing this didn’t go too well with films such as Mission to Mars, Tower of Terror, and The Country Bears. Then, came the film that changed that losing streak.
After the success of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Disney decided to make another film based on one of its park rides. And what better ride to choose than The Haunted Mansion? I mean, having a mansion that’s haunted lends itself to so many film possibilities: story-wise, visual-wise, etc.
The Haunted Mansion is actually my FAVORITE ride at the Disney parks, so of course, I was excited for this film when I heard about it. Did it satisfy my fanboy-ness and become an instant classic like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl? Or is it just a collection of man-made trash that makes me want to be the 1000th ghost in the mansion? Let’s find out!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
As the credits roll, we see glimpses of what appears to be a masquerade ball taking place in a huge, ancestral mansion of yore. The guests appear happy, for the most part, and everything seems to be going well…until someone appears to die…and another man is seen hanging.
Cut to the present day where we see our main character, Jim Evers, played by
the ever-funny-man-he’s-totally-my-favorite-actor-and-comedian, Eddie Murphy.
Jim is a real estate agent whose main goal in life is to find good houses for his clients. Well, it’s not just him alone. He works as partners with his wife, Sara Evers, played by Marsha Thomason.
They appear to get along fine in the business world and have a loving, caring marriage. The only downside is that while Sara knows when to make time for her family and other activities, Jim is more of the workaholic type and sometimes forgets or postpones family engagements to take on work.
This causes some problems between him and his wife, especially when he misses an anniversary dinner with his wife because of work. In an attempt to make amends, Jim tells her that he’s going to take her and their kids, 13-year-old Megan and 10-year-old Michael, played by Aree Davis and Marc John Jefferies, respectively, out on a family trip to the lake over the weekend.
This appeases his wife for the time being, until a phone call comes in informing the Evers that a particular house is needed to be taken a look at and sold over the weekend. Not just any house, but a mansion.
Jim is ecstatic for the chance to sell a mansion, but doesn’t cancel the family trip to check out the mansion. He instead takes the whole family to see the mansion with the intention of heading straight on to their family outing as soon as the deal is done.
As they approach the mansion, we see that it’s actually the mansion from the beginning of the film that had the masquerade party and the two deaths.
It’s not long before both we and the Evers realize that the mansion is a little strange. For example, there’s a massive iron gate at the entrance that’s locked and chained, yet it magically opens to allow the Evers to drive in. The mansion even has its own private graveyard in the back.
The only thing missing is a creepy British butler, I hear you say. Well, enter the creepy British butler, played by General Zod himself, Terence Stamp.
The butler, Ramsley, informs the Evers that his master wishes to discuss the business of the mansion over dinner. Sara doesn’t want to stay for dinner, but Jim says that they’ll just have a little something to eat and be on their way.
They soon meet the master of the estate, another Brit, Edward Gracey, played by Nathaniel Parker. He’s the typical handsome, suave, respectful, mannerly, British master whom you’d expect to be the master of this elaborate mansion.
As the Evers have dinner and discuss the mansion with Master Gracey, a heavy storm is going on outside. It’s so heavy that it actually floods the roads temporarily trapping the Evers at the mansion.
Sara is upset with Jim as he was the one who insisted on coming here, insisted on staying for dinner, and because of him they’re stuck in the mansion instead of on their family outing.
But, Mr. Gracey shows a kind heart and allows the Evers to spend the night at the mansion. He even lends them two rooms: one for Jim and Sara and one for the kids. Now, if I were to stay in a huge mansion owned by strangers overnight, I wouldn’t put my kids in a separate room from me. I’d make sure we all were sleeping together in one room: or have one parent sleep with one child and the other with the other child. But, I guess that thought slipped Master Gracey’s mind and/or the Evers’. Or maybe the Evers didn’t want to complain about the sleeping arrangements as they’re guests. Oh, well!
As you can imagine, when you’re in a mansion of this size and elegance, one can’t sleep and that’s just what happens. Jim goes down to the library and manages to get lost in a hidden passageway. Sara meets Master Gracey in the library where they spend a good amount of time together talking about the ancestral mansion and history behind it. And the kids see a spooky blue orb in their room and decide to follow it. Yep, folks, this mansion is indeed the entitled, ‘Haunted Mansion’.
Much of what follows in the movie are winks and nods to the audience. What I mean is, the kids and Jim end up exploring all corners of the haunted mansion and come across many aspects from the ride itself: the snoring door, the elevator, the busts whose eyes follow you, Madame Leota (played by Jennifer Tilly) who picks Jim up and spins him around,
the haunted graveyard, the ghost hitchhikers, and even some singing barbershop quarter busts (voiced by The Dapper Dans of Disney parks fame).
Long story short, Jim and his kids eventually bump into each other and soon everyone realizes the true story of what’s going on. You see, the man who hanged himself in the beginning of the film was actually Master Gracey. Yep, Master Gracey is a ghost!
Why did he hang himself? Because the love of his life whom he was soon to marry, Elizabeth, killed herself. She was the other dead body that we saw in the beginning of the film. But what does this have to do with anything, you may ask. Well, Sara Evers is the exact lookalike of Elizabeth!
Yep, Sara Evers looks exactly like the deceased Elizabeth, so much so that Master Gracey is convinced that Sara IS Elizabeth! He and Ramsley (who is also a ghost) have been trapped in the mansion along with all the other ghosts since the incident and are unable to move on until and unless the wedding between Master Gracey and Elizabeth actually occurs.
And that’s the reason why the Evers were called here. Master Gracey came upon real estate flyers that the Evers had passed out before and when he saw Sara’s face, he was convinced that she was Elizabeth! He called her (the other Evers weren’t supposed to come) to the mansion in an attempt to marry her.
Sara, of course, is absolutely terrified of the whole story once Master Gracey tells her and tries to make him realize that she is not Elizabeth! But, when Ramsley shows an evil side and threatens to harm Megan and Michael, Elizabeth agrees to the marriage.
Thankfully, Jim and the kids appear in time to stop the marriage. Master Gracey is ready to fight off Jim when Jim shows him a letter that he found while exploring the mansion. The letter was written by Elizabeth proving her love for Master Gracey, i.e. proving that she didn’t commit suicide, rather she was poisoned by Ramsley.
Master Gracey confronts Ramsley about this and Ramsley admits to the crime and says that the union between Master Gracey and Elizabeth was unacceptable, hence he did what he had to do for “honor” and the like. Then, weirdly, a fiery Hell-dragon arrives in the room and drags Ramsley down to the pits of Hell.
With Ramsley gone, the curse is broken, and Master Gracey and the other ghosts are free to move on. Master Gracey apologizes to the Evers for what he was about to do out of ignorance and gives the Evers the deed to the mansion before going on to the next life to reunite with Elizabeth.
And the movie ends with the Evers driving down a highway with Madame Leota in the backseat and the four singing busts tied to the back of the car performing a song to the tune of When the Saints Go Marching In, which is my absolute favorite part of the film.
And that was The Haunted Mansion…and boy, is it a mess!
The plot is quite stupid and full of holes. The curse, in particular, makes little to no sense, especially how it’s broken in the end.
The acting, on the other hand, although not great, wasn’t horrendous…for the most part. And although the film didn’t manage to capture any of the magic/delight/charm of the original ride, fans can get a tad bit excited when they see elements of the ride shown in the film.
The visuals are a bit half-and-half. Some are nice to see, others, not so much. Finally, the music gets an excellent rating from me just because of the barbershop quartet busts.
So, this film is a hodgepodge of bad aspects and some tolerable aspects. Before I filled out the rating card, I predicted that this film would be at the bottom of the list. Much to my surprise, it got a higher rating than I thought it would…but it was still an ‘F’!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 20/35 = 57.14% (F) !
The next review will be posted on September 29th.