Disney’s Haunted Mansion – From Ride to Reboot

written by grace bennett

The Haunted Mansion (2003) Starring Eddie Murphy

For many fans of Disney’s all-star attraction, The Haunted Mansion, the 2003 Eddie Murphy film incites anger rather than pleasure. Rotten Tomatoes grants the movie a sad one-star rating, and many die-hard fans of the theme park attraction would agree with the masses’ reaction to the film. However, these fans are no longer stuck with this movie adaptation, and will once again hear these exciting words on the big screen:

               “Welcome, Foolish Mortals. . . “

That’s right! Disney has decided to give The Haunted Mansion another go! Earlier this week the mega company Disney announced that they will be putting another adaptation in the works with writer Katie Dippold. Known for writing The Heat and The Ghostbusters revival, Dippold is tasked with not only writing a good film but making park-goers happy as well.

Being one of the few lasting original attractions that remains popular to this day, Haunted Mansion has become a beloved classic of Disney fans around the world. Not only is the dark ride at both Disneyland in California and Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom in Florida, but the ride also exists in some shape or form at the other international parks. The attraction changes shape, but still carries the torch as Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris, as the Haunted Mansion in Tokyo Disneyland, and as Mystic Manor in Hong Kong Disneyland. 

The concept of the iconic ride at first glance may seem simple, a haunted house with a handful of haunts, a terrifying narrator, a ghost party in the dining room, some singing busts with lovely voices—But much more is revealed when given a closer look to the ride and its origins.

Walt Disney, the man behind the magic wanted a haunted house attraction long before Disneyland opened its gates. Ideas were tossed about, many left behind as Imagineers pitched a variety of concepts for the attraction. (One of them being The Museum of the Weird, which I think needs to happen, but that’s just my humble opinion.)

Originally, the attraction was going to be a walk-through tour of an old worn-down haunted house, but Disney detested the idea of something looking unkempt in his park. He wanted Disney to look pristine and believed that a nicely kept home would better suit the park’s aesthetic. Imagineers’ concept of a walk-through attraction was also changed upon a trip to the 1964 World’s Fair where they were introduced to the omnimover system.

The omnimover system is still used in many dark rides today. It is a system that uses a conveyor-like apparatus to create continuous motion at a controllable speed. For Disney Imagineers, it also allowed them to force the park-goers sight into the direction they wanted. Thus, the Doom Buggy was created.

The Doom Buggies allowed Imagineers to move guests about, and the overhang of the car would shade what should not be viewed by guests. It also provided a sense of isolation in which park-goers could seemingly experience the ride alone, which made the journey more frightening.

With the mechanics and the general idea, Imagineers now had to create the story of the ride. There are many early concepts for the story that would be told during the ride, many of the Imagineers creating bone-chilling tales that initially seemed too intense for younger guests.

One of the original concepts involved a murderous sea captain who owned the Mansion, who was found out by his wife who he eventually had to kill to keep his dastardly secret. The sea captain then starts to be haunted by ghosts, and it drives him to madness. The ride would follow this story, but eventually Imagineers left the idea behind.

After many talks, Imagineers decided to combine fright and fun, choosing to cut the ride into two parts. The initial part of ride guides park-goers through haunted halls with portraits that change upon lightning striking outside, a hallway with doors that creak and moan and bend like the one scene in the classic horror film The Haunting. All the while, riders are guided around by the ominous and always present Ghost Host.

After a few minutes, the tone of the ride changes as riders enter into a haunted ghost-party. This is the scene where ghost guests are seen at the dinner table, dancing about in circles, and the scene even features a ghost pirate captain!

Guests are then led into the attic where they meet a lovely bride who had a murderous past. Constance. Her name is Constance. Constance Hatchaway.

And specifically, in the Disneyland ride, guests are introduced to another character in the attic that many know and love—The Hatbox ghost. Mr. Hatbox can be seen in the attic carrying a hatbox in which upon one glance, contains the decapitated head of the ghost. Another glance reveals his head to be resting back on his shoulders. Gotta love him.

The Hatbox Ghost

The final part of the ride is where the tone really shifts, and things have more of a silly, family-friendly vibes. After exiting the attic, guests can now hear the joyous tune of “999 Happy Haunts” as they trek through the graveyard. Here park-goers can see the many ghosts that gather about tombstones and mausoleums. This includes an opera singer, the singing busts, a ghost-band, and even a mummy!

Upon exiting this scene, the ride begins its end, and riders are warned to beware of hitchhiking ghosts. These funny fellas also have names. Gus, Phineas, and Ezra.

The Hitchhiking Ghost

As one can see, the ride is full of story and silly tales. It is rich in lore and concepts, which is the main reason why the 2003 film made Haunted Mansion fans so upset.

The Eddie Murphy adaptation of the ride entered in on the coattails of the popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean. It gave Disney the promise of another hit, but personally I find the 2003 movie to be a big swing and a miss.

The movie seems detached from the ride, having a handful of the original concepts that the ride had to offer. It does feature many of the ride’s concepts, but they’re more of a hat-tip to the ride than a basis of the story. One of the movie’s redemptive qualities are that it contains the iconic Madam Leotta—The ghostly fortune teller whose visage is trapped within a crystal ball. It also features the changing portraits, the hitchhiking ghosts, the singing busts, but considering the overflowing tales and scares, this seems minimal.

The movie is more about Eddie Murphy’s character than it is about the house. This seems to be its biggest mistake. There’s no Hatbox Ghost, no Ghost Host, no Constance Hatchaway, no surplus of ghosts in the dining room, and the house is completely different from the two originals. Perhaps this is why Disney has decided to give a film adaptation of the ride another go.

Disney has only announced the new adaptation’s writer, but lovers of the iconic ride can only hope that they get something better than the 2003 film.

Will this new film live up to the hype? Which characters would you like to see make an appearance in the new film? Do you even think a remake is needed? Tell us your thoughts!

Hurry back, and don’t forget to bring your death certificate!

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