Haunted Mansion (Rated PG-13)
By: Adam Freed
Disney’s Haunted Mansion theme park ride has been a mainstay of its Disneyland park since 1969. More than a half century of fanfare and ghoulish fun comes with an abundance of notoriety, and as is the norm for the house the mouse built, plenty of opportunities to cash in. Reproductions of the popular ride were quickly planted at Walt Disney World in 1971, Tokyo in '83, Paris in '92 and Hong Kong Disney just a decade ago. Beyond the multiple clones of the ride, the film is now on its 2nd incarnation as well, first existing as the much maligned Eddie Murphy film The Haunted Mansion (2003), which accomplished little but scaring audiences away from theaters. With this devilish and duplicitous history in mind, Disney’s Haunted Mansion returns from the grave with another attempt at salvation.
The latest version of the film, albeit far from perfect, features a gracious cast, lead by a surprisingly moving performance by LaKeith Stanfield. The impressive collection of actors are able to provide one another enough space to do what it is that they each do best. Stanfield’s ability to harness his grief impressively carries the movie’s emotional burden, which allows the comfortable comedic talents of Owen Wilson, Tiffany Hadish and a sublime Danny DeVito to take hold. It is the balance between Stanfield’s pain and the generationally mismatched comedic duo of Haddish and Devito that make what could’ve been a generic film into something worth watching. Rarely do ensemble casts let on just how much fun they seemed to be having in the creation of a film this winkingly silly. Haunted Mansion covers very little ground by way of story, but overcomes this by embracing the individual lovability of each member of the cast. Viewers may be best advised to avoid reading too much cast information in advance because a laundry list of A-list actors play smaller and even cameo roles, which adds punch to learning what ghoul waits around each and every corner.
Time may prove that giving Haunted Mansion carte blanche to ratchet the fright up to the PG-13 level was a mistake. While some of the scares are real, even for tween audiences, this questionable decision may lead to an early grave for the film given the timing of its release. With the benefit of hindsight recognized, a Disney theme park inspired film with a family friendly PG rating could surely have satiated younger audiences too young to bask in the megawatt glow of Barbenheimer. As is, the only PG rated box office film in the domestic top 10 remains Pixar’s Elemental, a film going on its sixth week of release. A missed opportunity to be certain.
Some older Disney attractions, including the titualr mansion, have taken on a renewed 21st century fanfare because they prove to be a departure from much of the park’s newer, more tech laden fare. The joyful creaking and groaning of an attraction bumping through a repetitive animatronic world sparks nostalgia for a simpler time. The joy of sitting back and reveling in a shared moment with family without the hindrance of a 4D headset speaks to a very specific and fading slice of Americana. Haunted Mansion, like its theme park inspiration is not a mind blowing experience, but with the right company, is a call back to a time when moments spent enraptured in playful fright felt well spent.
Target Score 5/10: Plenty of frights for younger audiences. Plenty of fun for adults. Doesn't redefine the brand in any meaningful way.