HAUNTED MANSION review by Mark Walters – Disney brings their park attraction to life… again

HAUNTED MANSION review by Mark Walters – Disney brings their park attraction to life… again

The popular Disney theme park attraction HAUNTED MANSION is getting a big screen adaptation in theaters this weekend, but it’s actually not the first time this happened. Twenty years ago, in 2003, they attempted a live action version of HAUNTED MANSION featuring Eddie Murphy in the lead… and it didn’t quick work that well, failing to make back its $90 million dollar budget in the U.S., even though it did moderately good numbers worldwide. I’ve honestly never even seen it all the way through, which is surprising since I’ll watch Eddie Murphy in just about anything. Thankfully the new version is considerably more effective and engaging, and is a great family-friendly film.

Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield) is a ghost tour guide living in New Orleans, mourning the loss of his fiance, and not at all a believer in ghosts, even though he developed a high-tech camera lens that (in theory) can capture supernatural imagery. Widowed mother Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her awkward son Travis (Chase Dillon) move into an old mansion across town, and discover immediately that their new home is haunted… big time. And to add to their woes, they also learn that leaving the mansion doesn’t solve their problem, as the spirits follow anyone who has entered, no matter where they go next. Ben meets Father Kent (Owen Wilson), a priest who tells him about Gabbie and that he can get paid really good money if he helps her with her problem. Being a skeptic and one who needs the money, Ben takes the gig, but quickly learns that ghosts are in fact real. Eventually Father Kent and Ben recruit a psychic medium named Harriet (Tiffany Haddish) and a historian named Bruce (Danny DeVito) to round out their team, and do their best to figure out what these spirits are handing around for. But they also learn there is an evil entity named Crump (Jared Leto) who is controlling the madness, and has a devious plan to branch out from the homestead.

If you’ve ever been in the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disney’s park, you know that it’s a scary yet fun experience. And in many ways that’s the perfect way to describe the new film. There are some definitely effective scares and creepy moments, all staged in a very inventive and imaginative way, but the proceedings are very much amusing and just plain fun. The comedy elements hit well and don’t feel forced or over the top, and the characters are really nicely developed and likable. The casting here is inspired and smart, with LaKeith Stanfield playing a surprisingly engaging lead, all while not at all being a typical leading man. Rosario Dawson is a little underwritten as the film’s co-lead, and probably the only character that feels under served here… I really like Dawson and feel she’s a terrific actress, I just wish she was given more to do here. Tiffany Haddish is clearly having fun in her role, as is Owen Wilson and Danny DeVito, and newcomer Chase Dillon is refreshing as the nerdy outcast kid who feels more “real” that most young characters in movies like these. Jamie Lee Curtis is a funny treat as the crystal ball-contained Madame Leota, and Jared Leto does a great job playing the story’s villain, even if he’s mostly seen as a CGI character.

Director Justin Simien (DEAR WHITE PEOPLE) does a solid job of keeping the events on screen interesting and fun, and makes the most of the two hour and 2-minute run time, even injecting some surprisingly emotional moments for multiple characters that make the stakes feel even higher by the end. The only problem I had with the movie came in the final action sequence, in which the script seemed to rush together a big “battle” sequence that feels more like an afterthought than a necessary story element, and even the CGI and effects in that sequence come across as a little sloppy. But overlooking that minor gripe, I really enjoyed the overall film and the way it was put together. This reminded me a lot of the family films of the 1980s, sort of that Amblin-era where even scary films could be safe for all ages. Imagine a less-adult GHOSTBUSTERS or a more kid-friendly take on CLUE, but whatever you liken it to you’ll likely enjoy the experience. Good on Disney for not letting the failed first attempt 20 years ago bury the idea, and finding a way to make it work well for modern day audiences. HAUNTED MANSION isn’t quite as fun as going into the actual Disney attraction in the parks, but it’s pretty close.

HAUNTED MANSION opens July 28, 2023

Be Sociable, Share!

About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.