"The Haunted Mansion" (2003) Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Disneyland is one of the most beloved places on Earth; it serves as a place where families can escape and immerse themselves into this beautiful world that Walt Disney created back in 1955. One of the most famous rides of all time is The Haunted Mansion, where 999 Happy Haunts reside, but there is always room for one more. In 2003, Disney brought the famous mansion to the big screen, with world-famous comedian Eddie Murphy in the starring role. While the movie is quite fun and full of the happy haunts that makes the movie memorable, it's not without its flaws.
The movie follows Jim Evers (Murphy), who is a real-estate agent that will do anything he can to get a sell. But, by doing that, he jeopardizes the relationships he has with his wife Sara (Marsha Thomason) and kids (Ariel Alexandra Davis, Marc John Jeffries). When he promises a weekend getaway to spend quality time together, it turns into a work trip for him as a beautiful mansion is now up on the market, with the owner wanting Jim to help them sell it. When they get there, they realize the mansion has some dark secrets and powers they are unaware of.
Now recognizing the house is haunted, ran by Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker) and his dutiful butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp), Jim and his family must now find a way out of the home. Assisted by ghosts Ezra (Wallace Shawn), Emma (Dina Spybey), and the famous Madame Leota (Jennifer Tilly), they must break the spell that Sara has over Master Gracey to save all of their lives.
At the surface, this film practically oozes the elements from the iconic Disney attraction. There are so many elements here that you can find when riding in the Doom Buggy in Anaheim or Orlando. From the iconic hitchhiking ghosts to the ball Madame Leota resides in, it will definitely bring a smile to the viewer's face if they are familiar with the Disney ride. If you have read my other reviews, it doesn't come as a surprise to know I am a huge Disney and Disneyland fan, so I definitely did appreciate what they did here in terms of the elements they added in from the ride.
However, at the same time, the story suffers due to the need to add in so many of the iconic elements. It seems like after a while, the story is sort of set on the back burner to ask fans, "Do you remember this? Oh, you don't. Well, let us show you why you should." I think at the start and the end of the film does the story shine the most. They really do set up a very interesting plot that could have worked really well, but lose their way once the Evers get to the Mansion. Now, if you enjoy films that simply work by the viewer sitting back and relaxing, then this is for you. But, if you want a story that is engaging throughout, maybe another Disney attraction film is for you.
Murphy is quite funny and likable in the lead role, and I think it was a very interesting choice to put him in the lead role. When I think of this iconic attraction, I don't think of comedy very often. But, that is the choice filmmaker Rob Minkoff went down, and he does get some success from it. The movie is quite funny, mostly thanks to Murphy, but does cheapen some of the horror value at times, which is really disappointing as Minkoff does craft some fantastic horror shots and elements that really do work quite well here. Consider the scene where Stamp's character walks down the hallway to flickering lights as his introduction. It still chills me to the bone thinking about that scene today.
I did thoroughly enjoy the performances from Shawn, Spybey, and Tilly as they were all quite fun and hilarious at times. I think Parker's Gracey character was very intriguing, but the film doesn't do too much to set him up a very engaging or interesting story. I think Parker was great in the role, but the story unfortunately doesn't give him much growth and leaves him on the back burner.
All in all, this is an enjoyable popcorn-flick that will intrigue any fan of the iconic Disneyland attraction. Yes, it's not the best, but for what it is, I think there are some elements that do work here. If I was able to craft this film for Disney, there are multiple things I would have changed concerning the story and some of the characters, but I do enjoy this movie as it is.