The Haunted Mansion (2003)


Ebert:1/2 James Berardinelli: TV Guide:

Warning, minor plot points revealed!

Did you ever think, "Hey, wouldn't it be fun if someone made a movie about a Disney Amusement Park ride that was like watching someone else ride the ride?"  Well if vicariously enjoying Disney Amusement Park rides is the thrill you're looking for then The Haunted Mansion is the movie for you.  

The Haunted Mansion movie is the next best thing to paying the actual $7200.00 it takes to go to Disney World for a day and ride the mediocre ride that might scare the pants of some 4 year olds.  

After the unexpected greatness of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, it's hard to understand why this movie, also based on a theme park ride, is so deficient.  Perhaps because it's also based on a theme park ride?  

In fairness, this movie was not made for childless 32 year old men.  The kids that surrounded me in the theater seemed to be loving this movie.  They laughed and screamed in all the right places so it does succeed on one level.  The problem is that most Disney or Disney-type movies try to throw in enough adult humor to keep the parents awake as well.  The Haunted Mansion does not.  

The story revolves around the Evers family who make a detour from a weekend trip to meet with the owners of a large estate who have requested Evers and Evers Reality representation for their sale.  Once the family arrives they are treated to dinner and informed that they will need to stay the night due to the foul weather.  They soon find that their hosts are ghosts who have summoned them because Mrs. Evers looks like the departed fiancÚ of the ghost Lord of the Manor.  The father and the children, with the help of a gypsy head in a crystal ball, investigate the history of the mansion and it's occupants to save Mrs. Evers from having to marry the ghost and presumably die herself in the process.

Along the way everyone experiences the "ride" of special effects that make up a haunted mansion.  Spooky inanimate objects float around, ghosts wander the house and grounds while scary noises come from every direction.  Strangely, once the characters realize that the house is haunted they completely accept all the spooks and horrors as if they were everyday occurrences.  The Evers get attacked by corpses and empty suits of armor but act blasÚ.  They are directed by the afore mentioned disembodied head which they do not question or shrink away from but rather carry around and, in the end, take with them on vacation.  This apathy for the horror that surrounds them is kind of what ruined the movie for me but I suppose it was necessary that the characters react the way they did so that the children watching could relate without fear as well.  

None of the actor's are particularly impressive.  Eddie Murphy's talents are completely wasted.  I don't really like Murphy's family films anyway so I suppose this performance was as good as The Klumps or Dr. Doolittle.  Actually the last Eddie Murphy movie I loved was Coming to America back in 1988.  He hasn't really done anything since then of that caliber.  Terence Stamp is creepy as the butler Ramsley and is the only notable performance in the film.  Jennifer Tilly plays the gypsy head and Wallace Shawn is one of the house's departed servants.  

Perhaps one day I will have a child of my own and I will be able to see the world through his or her simple little eyes and understand why The Haunted Mansion might be a good movie.  Until then I will have to be disappointed that it did not live up to the standard set by Pirates of the Caribbean