The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion.
Walt Disney Pictures 2003.

Before watching the movie:

I’m pretty sure this was greenlit on the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. That there were no sequels or further “movies based on Disneyland attractions” projects (until Tomorrowland much much later) to my knowledge suggests it did not do as well as they hoped.

I didn’t even realize that Wallace Shawn is in this. I just knew there’s Eddie Murphy, and a house full of ghosts. Presumably there are some important ghosts.

After watching the movie:

Jim and Sara Evers work as real estate sales duo Evers and Evers Realty, but Jim can’t walk away from a deal to be there for his family. Having missed his anniversary date talking to new clients, Jim promises his family they’ll go away to the lake house that weekend, but when Sara gets a call asking her specifically to come sell Gracey Manor on Saturday morning, Jim insists that they go check it out on their way to the lake, 20 minutes tops. At the mansion, they find Ramsley, the butler, and Edward Gracey, the owner, perturbed to find that Sara didn’t come alone, but they lay out extra hospitality for them until a rainstorm floods the road, stranding the Everses overnight. During the night, they find secret passages, ghost orbs, fortune tellers trapped in crystal balls, portraits of a woman who looks exactly like Sara, and that everyone living in the house is in fact dead, and stuck on earth until a centuries-old curse is lifted. And Ramsley’s plans to free them all hinge on Sara’s remarkable likeness.

I’m probably less familiar with what the Disneyland attraction The Haunted Mansion is like than I am with what the Pirates ride is like at this point, but I was at least aware that The Haunted Mansion was something at Disneyland. I’m sure there are a lot of setpieces in the movie that are there because they are in the park feature, but except for the singing busts, they all seem pretty well integrated into the plot.

While it’s Jim’s story, and he gets the main character arc, there’s also a slight arc for his son Michael, and while I don’t think older daughter Megan really has an arc past her father learning to appreciate her abilities, both of the kids do a lot of the narrative work of finding stuff out. Sara doesn’t really have much to do but be a macguffin and damsel, but it seems unusual for not the protagonist’s girlfriend, mother, child, or princess to be in such a role, but his wife, the mother of his children. It seems very rare for a mother to be the one who needs saving, but not by her children directly, only by her husband.

Wallace Shawn, Jennifer Tilly, and Dina Spybey all get slightly more to do than Marsha Thomason does, and I’d be more disappointed by that if the central adult woman of the story wasn’t the least narratively active character. There’s a lot of people in this movie who I’d like to have seen more from, but I don’t really feel like they lost screen time to Eddie Murphy so much as the story didn’t really care about them as much as it should have.

Often a franchise goes on long enough to have a few bad movies weighing it down. Pirates of the Caribbean certainly falls into that category. Sometimes it’s best to go out on a modest success than be held down by posterity. I’d rather have this movie sit on its own, as much fun as it is, than see it have a legacy of franchise fatigue like its cousin. It’s just a spooky little adventure that does about as much as it sets out to, and it doesn’t need to be any more.

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