July 26, 2023 / Walt Disney Studios Canada
LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Chase W. Dillon, Dan Levy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jared Leto
A single mom named Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) hires a tour guide (LaKeith Stanfield), a psychic (Tiffany Haddish), a priest (Owen Wilson), and a historian (Danny DeVito) to help exorcise their newly bought mansion after discovering it is inhabited by ghosts.
Once entering the mansion, there apears to be no way out as halls twist, doors disappear, and the spirits in the house aim to add another to their list. Led by Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto), the spirits play on the residents' fears and strike when they least expect it. The group must find a way to rid the ghosts and escape from the mansion alive.
Written By Darren
Rating 4 out of 5
Haunted Mansion is a spooktacular time at the theaters, full of laughs, heart and some truly good scares suitable for younger viewers, while paying wonderful tribute to the iconic Disney ride that serves as inspiration for this film.
The Haunted Mansion has been welcoming foolish mortals for decades at Disney theme parks around the world to a ghoulish tour of the iconic mansion, becoming a fan favourite attraction amongst Disney fans. The ride was previously adapted to the big screen back in 2003 starring Eddie Murphy, though it was not the runaway hit that Disney experienced with Pirates of the Caribbean earlier that year and met with poor reception, despite it having a childhood nostalgia for myself having seen it on the big screen at a young age. And twenty years later, the ride returns to the big screen with a great mix of comedy and scares that is still family friendly, but is reminiscent of the gateway horror films of the 1980s and 90s that is too intense for young children but tolerable enough for pre-teens to introduce them to the horror genre. Though, this film is made for Disney nerds as each scene is stuffed with references to the iconic ride that will have them grinning from ear to ear throughout the film.
After moving into an old mansion inhabited by 999 spirits, Gabbie enlists the help of an eccentric group of so-called spirit experts to help her rid her home of the spirits so she can start a new life for her and her son. But they all quickly discover that there is a deep secret buried in the mansion’s past that they must uncover the truth behind to stop the evil spirit trying to break free into our world before the next full moon.
As a die hard Disney fan who goes to at least one of their theme parks every year, I instantly fell in love with the production design of the film. From the first scene that the mansion appears on screen, it captures the iconic ride in every way imaginable. The outside of the house is based on the original Disneyland design from Anaheim, California, while the inside features many rooms and decorations from the various iterations of the attraction around the world. You have the stretching room with the iconic paintings, the busts that feel like they are watching you in the library, and paintings throughout the mansion right out of the ride such as the dueling shooters. Every last detail such as door designs, wallpaper and set decorations are plucked right from the ride. When combined with a script that features many of the unforgettable lines from the ride, familiar ghosts such as the hitchhiking ghosts, and Kris Bowers’s riveting musical score which puts a wonderful spin on the ride’s original music, the entire film is full of nods to the iconic ride that will delight Disney fans with each frame.
In terms of story, it’s a very simple premise but has enough to fill the film’s two hour runtime. It takes about twenty minutes to find its footing, but once the team is assembled to figure out why the ghosts are stuck in the mansion, the film finds the perfect balance of story, scary moments and comedy. At this point, the story takes audiences from one iconic moment of the ride to the next, crafting a fun adventure story with an intriguing mystery about the ghosts and what evil force lurks in the shadow of the mansion. But underneath all the ghosts, there is a great human story about loss with LaKeith Stanfield’s character, that brings that Disney heart you expect from the studio, which is a nice counterbalance to the comedy and scares. Sure, the third act becomes a CGI extravaganza, though, the heart underpins the entire act and creates a film that I can easily see viewers checking out each Halloween season on Disney+.
Making the film a truly delightful watch is the cast. Stanfield is great as Ben, giving the film a saddened soul to create the emotional backbone of the story. In the film’s quieter moments, Stanfield tugs on your heart strings with his performance, showcasing his talents as an actor and how he can shine regardless of whether it is an awards worthy drama or a fun summer blockbuster film. Rosario Dawson is fine as Gabbie, the mother trying to protect her son from the spirits inhabiting their new home, even if she is underutilized for the majority of the film. Owen Wilson is fun as Kent, doing his usual comedic routine that fits the tone of the film well but is far from his greatest comedic performance. Jamie Lee Curtis hams it up as Madame Leota, bringing to life this iconic Disney character and injecting the film with an infectious energy that the entire cast leans into during her scenes. Despite being behind CGI the entire film, Jared Leto is terrifying as the Hat-Box Ghost, creating a truly menacing villain for the film. Though, it is Tiffany Haddish and Danny DeVito who steal the film. Both of them are absolutely hilarious every moment they are on screen; Haddish as the medium Harriet who has the funniest lines of the entire film, using her Costco sage to ward away the evil spirits, while DeVito brings his signature comedic timing to a character far out of his depth. As an ensemble, it’s a great cast that has a natural chemistry and connection with each other, allowing the fun that they must have been having making the film leap off the screen and rub off on the audience.
Easily ranking as one of their best theme park attraction adaptations to date, Haunted Mansion has something for everyone. With a talented cast featuring scene stealing turns from Tiffany Haddish and Danny DeVito, countless references to the different versions of the iconic ride from every Disney theme park around the world, and a fun mix of comedy and scares, Haunted Mansion is a safe yet very entertaining trip to the movies this summer that the entire family can enjoy.