Over 25 years ago, an idea germinated in screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio's heads. They put together a story about pirates that included supernatural elements. By 2001, the concept had morphed into using the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction to serve as the backdrop of the film, thus incorporating the theme parks into movie theaters. While CEO Michael Eisner had hoped the film would do well, he never could have predicted the hit the movie became. That same year (2003) Disney released another feature film based on a theme park attraction - The Haunted Mansion that didn't fare as well as Pirates. Twenty years later, a new version of Haunted Mansion is coming to theaters this week.
Gabby (Rosario Dawson; Ahsoka) and her son, Travis (Chase W. Dillon; The Harder They Fall) moved to Louisiana to get a fresh start. Gabby buys an old mansion that she plans to fix up and make into a bed and breakfast. However, almost as soon as they arrive, weird things begin to happen and they immediately leave. A few months later Father Kent (Owen Wilson; Wedding Crashers) asks astrophysicist, Ben (LaKeith Stanfield; Sorry To Bother You) to use his specially enhanced camera to take photos of the ghosts in Gabby's home. What Ben doesn't know is that once he stepped foot into that house, he too would be haunted even after he returned home.
Angry that he was tricked, Ben returns to the mansion and moves in with Gabby, Travis, Father Kent, and the ghosts to try and figure out what is really going on. Feeling as if they are in over their heads, they recruit a medium, Harriet (Tiffany Haddish; Girls Trip), and a college history professor who specializes in old homes, Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito; Batman Returns). Together they learn that the menace is the ghost of an evil man named Crump, a.k.a. Hatbox (Jared Leto; Dallas Buyers Club). They devise a plan, free Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis; True Lies), and set out to destroy Crump once and for all.
What is so wonderful about this latest version of Haunted Mansion is that it is old and new at the same time. The story has its roots in the "lore" behind the theme park ride, but the script is fresh and interesting. Of course, there are Easter eggs at every turn and that is half the fun of watching the film. From the room that stretches to the floating candelabra and of course, Madame Leota trapped inside her crystal ball, there is something to catch the entire time. Since there are so many and a number of them come at the viewer in rapid succession, one could probably watch the movie half a dozen times and still see something they didn't catch before.
With a serviceable script and a strong cast, Haunted Mansion will have you entertained for the entire two-hour running time. Dawson, Stanfield, Wilson, DeVito, Haddish, etc. offer up some terrific characters that you want to root for and an unrecognizable Leto is wonderful but the pièce de résistance is Curtis as the greatest medium ever - Madame Leota. She has the bravado to play the part to perfection.
While Kris Bowers tries to modernize the music of The Haunted Mansion in his musical score, only the sections that featured music from the original attraction resonate well in the film.
If you love the Disney ride, you won't be disappointed by this new take on the Mansion's theme. The costumes, furnishings, and soundtrack are comforting like being wrapped in a warm, fuzzy blanket while following the plot and deducing who the evil spirit in the house is and how to rid themselves and the other ghosts of his presence. There are some laughs and a tear or two but overall the movie pays a well-deserved tribute to the ride.
I also recommend if you can, going on the ride after you have watched the film. You will have a whole new appreciation for it afterward.