Review by Sean Boelman
On paper, Haunted Mansion seems like it’s one of Disney’s most shameless cash grabs yet, but once you look at the talent involved, it inspires much more optimism. Haunted Mansion has its fair share of flaws, but it’s much more effective than your average nostalgia bait — a great throwback to the horror-tinged adventures of the ‘90s and ‘00s that much of the film’s target audience grew up on.
The movie follows an unlikely group of misfits who find themselves in over their heads after they are unwittingly trapped in a mansion haunted by ghosts. Compared to the 2003 Eddie Murphy film, this one is a bit more heavily inspired by the actual narrative of the ride(s), but it still supplements it quite a bit to create a satisfying story.
The biggest issue with the movie is its pacing, as the film is a bit too long. Although the movie is consistently funny and adventurous, it takes too much time for the characters to encounter the main villain and get the ball rolling on the primary conflict. There’s at least fifteen minutes of this that likely could have been cut.
As one would expect, there are plenty of Easter Eggs to the iconic Disneyland and Magic Kingdom attractions, many of which are worked in wonderfully well. (There’s one sequence that will have fans giddy with excitement — and you can probably predict what it will be.) But beyond those, the film contains some of the strangest and most disruptive product placement (that isn’t tongue-in-cheek or satirical) in any movie this writer can recall, including some particularly egregious mentions of Baskin’ Robbins and Burger King.
Viewers will likely be unsurprised to learn that, with an ensemble as massive as this, there are some players who get the short end of the stick. Many characters disappear for entire portions of the film — and with a budget reported to be north of $150 million, it’s not a matter of them not being able to afford the A-listers for the entire shoot.
Still, everyone in the cast is surprisingly game and willing to go along for the ride. Perhaps it’s nostalgia for the deep-rooted Disney lore, maybe it’s really strong direction from Justin Simien (Dear White People), or it could be — and likely is — a bit of both. Every member of the ensemble is firing on all cylinders here. Lakeith Stanfield brings so much emotional heft to the role, and Rosario Dawson isn’t far behind him. And in their supporting roles, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Tiffany Haddish, and Jamie Lee Curtis are all quite funny.
Haunted Mansion is also quite impressive visually, with an enormous level of attention to detail in the production design. And in what might be the film’s most shocking quality, the CGI actually looks really good. It feels like the budget was actually put to use. The score by Kris Bowers also stands out, incorporating familiar themes from the ride’s soundtrack, but with a unique spin.
In terms of movies based on theme park rides, one could do a lot worse than Haunted Mansion. Although it seems unlikely to start a franchise a la Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s still a fun time at the cinema, and is a solid little kiddie horror movie you can enjoy with the whole family.
Haunted Mansion hits theaters on July 28.