The new Disney’s Haunted Mansion movie is due out on July 28. Think of it as a redo; Disney made a first attempt at a Haunted Mansion franchise back in 2003, but it was both a critical and a commercial failure. Has the company learned its lesson from this prior misstep?
Disney has two distinct approaches to its big-budget, tentpole films. The first is to take classic animated films and convert them into live-action spectacles (or, in the case of The Lion King, a photorealistic animated spectacle). The quality of these films is wildly inconsistent and largely depends on whether the original material had room for improvement. That’s why The Jungle Book adaptation was fantastic. And it’s also why The Lion King adaptation was so bad.
The second approach is even less reliable than the first; it’s to take Disney theme park rides or experiences, and expand them into full-length feature films. The quality of these films is also inconsistent; for every Oscar-nominated blockbuster like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, we also get a movie like The Country Bears.
Here is everything we know so far about Disney’s Haunted Mansion (2023).
When’s the release date?
Haunted Mansion is set to open in theaters on July 28, 2023. The release date has changed two prior times. Disney first announced a debut on March 10 and then on August 11, before finally settling on July 28.
Who’s in it?
The main character is Gabbie, played by Rosario Dawson. She is the mother of Travis (Chase Dillon), and the two of them move into the eponymous mansion, only to discover that it’s haunted.
Gabbie finds a team of “experts” to exorcize the mansion; she contacts a priest (Owen Wilson), who then enlists a paranormal tour guide (LaKeith Stanfield), a psychic (Tiffany Haddish), and a historian (Danny DeVito).
The ghosts include Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis) and the Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto). Other notable actors include Dan Levy, Hasan Minhaj, and Winona Ryder. According to Disney, Haunted Mansion has an elaborate backstory and mythology on the level of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Who is the director?
The director is Justin Simien, the man behind Sundance breakout film Dear White People and the subsequent TV series on Netflix. Simien is also developing a Star Wars series about Lando Calrissian, which has yet to receive a release date.
The writer is Katie Dippold, who wrote comedy for Mad TV and Parks and Recreation. She and Paul Feig co-wrote the screenplay for the all-female Ghostbusters reboot in 2016.
Is there a trailer for the movie?
There is! You get a pretty good feel for the movie’s tone–definitely scarier and more unsettling than the Eddie Murphy movie, but also tongue-in-cheek. Owen Wilson, who makes a handsome living by playing different versions of himself, seems perfectly cast; his laid-back, lackadaisical attitude is a perfect juxtaposition. Take a look at it below.
A theme park classic
Here’s a little history lesson. The Haunted Mansion opened at Disneyland in 1969, and it was one of the last attractions that Walt Disney had direct creative control over before his death in 1966. It went through many iterations–first as a walkthrough exhibit and a museum of the weird. However, when it debuted, it was as a ride-through attraction in which guests rode in the clam-shaped “Doom Buggies” that we know today.
Some Imagineers wanted it to be scary. Other Imagineers wanted it to be fun. And because of their inability to compromise, the Haunted Mansion ended up being a bit of both. There is an eerie hallway of knocking doors and screaming voices in one part of the ride, and a massive cemetery party in another. There is the creepy and iconic “stretching room,” in which the doorless room you’re in appears to be stretching upward, ending with the reveal of a corpse hanging from the ceiling–which is undercut by a pun-loving ghost host that narrated the attraction. The stretching room is actually a cleverly-designed elevator that lowers you to the actual ride.
Today, the Mansion is considered a classic–a key part of theme park history and an eccentric exhibit of American ingenuity. It’s filled to the brim with practical effects and optical illusions, many dating back to the 1800s.
Didn’t we do this already?
Disney attempted a Haunted Mansion film back in 2003, which cast Eddie Murphy in the lead as a realtor, who moves his family into the mansion and becomes entangled in a ghost story of lost love. The movie was intended as a family-friendly horror comedy, but it flopped at the box office. The upcoming movie will be Disney’s second attempt at a Haunted Mansion adaptation, and it is a reboot, with no connection to the first film.
Connections to the theme park ride
Based on the footage released so far, there are some clear connections to the original ride. The film is set in New Orleans; the original ride is in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. There are visual callbacks to the ride’s Changing Portraits Hallway and Stretching Room. There’s a ghostly organ player, who originated from the ride’s ballroom scene. And there’s a murderous-looking bride who’s probably a reference to the attraction’s bride–a “black widow” by the name of Constance Hatchaway.
Curtis’ character, Madame Leota, is the woman in the crystal ball in the ride’s seance room. And Leto’s character the Hatbox Ghost was originally in the ride for a few months, and then disappeared for decades due to technical problems. The Imagineers restored him to the attraction in 2015.
The new Haunted Mansion is rated PG-13. The 2003 version was rated PG.
For years, there was a different Haunted Mansion movie in development. Guillermo del Toro, director of Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water, and Pacific Rim, worked on a script for a Haunted Mansion movie centered around the Hatbox Ghost. The movie would have been scary–anyone who’s seen the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth knows that del Toro specializes in conjuring up childhood nightmares. But the project never got off the ground, even after Ryan Gosling was rumored to play the lead. And in 2019, del Toro conceded that the project was likely dead. This new movie, made without del Toro’s creative involvement, probably seals the deal.
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