Haunted Mansion – The “Spirited” and Chilling Adaptation of the Amusement Park Experience

MOVIE REVIEW – A film titled Haunted Mansion, quite literally about such a place, is expected to give you chills. That’s a given with the title. However, the fact that a 2023 Disney movie manages to do so took us by surprise.



Although Disney has been leaning towards PG-13 movies for a long time, a trend seriously starting with the massively successful 2003 movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, in recent years, they’ve backed away from creating anything that might scare children. Those of us with a good memory may recall that in 2003, the studio made another movie adaptation of Haunted Mansion, the attraction that has been entertaining and playfully scaring Disney amusement park audiences for decades. The film, starring Eddie Murphy, was then and still is seen as a somewhat dull, slightly stumbling creation. The new “Haunted Mansion” thus has a low bar to clear, but thanks to a few clever variations on the attraction and a spirited team, the film ends up being surprisingly entertaining and more than a little exciting.



Ghost Photography


LaKeith Stanfield plays the role of Ben, an astrophysicist who made a name for himself by creating a high-performance camera capable of photographing the afterlife’s specters, such as ghosts. After his wife’s unexpected death, Ben withdraws further from the world and immerses himself in his work when he is called by Father Kent (Owen Wilson), who has been hired to perform an exorcism at an old Louisiana mansion. Its current inhabitants, a single mother and her son (Rosario Dawson and Chase W. Dillon), believe it’s overly haunted. Ben and Father Kent quickly discover that there indeed is a ghost in the mansion and hire a medium (Tiffany Haddish) and an elderly historian (Danny DeVito) to help rid the mansion of the ghostly company once and for all.

Director Justin Simien and screenwriter Katie Dippold waste little time revealing that the eponymous house is full of ghosts – the pre-title scene has the mother and son exploring the house, realizing it’s full of ghosts, and while they do get out of the mansion, they will have to return (the reason why would be a SPOILER, but it’s cleverly handled with a dramatic twist).



The Fine Balance Between Laughter and Frights


Those familiar with the amusement park attraction will spot numerous references to Disneyland and Walt Disney World amusement parks, ranging from the humorous tombstones to the murderous undead brides to the ominous, crystal ball-headed Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis). Simien and Dippold strike a good balance with these references and allusions, without letting them overpower the film or alienate those unfamiliar with Disney amusement parks.

The weak point of the film isn’t whether viewers lacking knowledge of theme parks will understand what’s happening, but rather the alternation between humor and horror. The film’s fundamental theme is grief – Ben’s initial skepticism about the existence of ghosts in the mansion, or anywhere, stems from the pain of losing his wife and the feeling that she has not contacted him from the afterlife – and the script and Stanfield’s performance strongly build on this emotion.

The mild horror and emotional parts are much more effective than the moments when the film tries to squeeze in the humorous aspects of the Haunted Mansion attraction, and the film’s humor can sometimes feel forced and tiring.



Leto Does Not Shine


Most of the cast is up to the task. Both Wilson and Haddish deliver great performances for their characters, and the funny faces (DeVito does the funny, though he gets less screen time than he should). Curtis, playing one of the attraction’s iconic characters, does well with Madame Leota, despite choosing a strange Eastern European accent that doesn’t quite fit with the famous voice of the actress who plays the role in the park. The only weak point among the cast is Jared Leto, who portrays the fan-favorite character, the Hatbox Ghost.

Leto spends a lot of screen time as one of the film’s key characters, the Hatbox Ghost. I have to say, a heavily CGI-ized version of Jared Leto gets plenty of time; apart from a short stylized flashback and Leto’s name in the opening credits, it would be hard to recognize the Oscar-winning actor in the role, which makes it even more perplexing that he was chosen for the part and not… well, almost anyone else.

Overall, “Haunted Mansion” is much better than the lukewarm marketing surrounding the film would suggest. The film’s ensemble cast, anchored by LaKeith Stanfield’s solid lead performance, is helped along by Justin Simien’s effective directing. While this movie may not be as strong a theme park adaptation as the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” was, it more than makes up for the damage done by the more family-friendly film from two decades ago. This “Haunted Mansion” holds much more thrill than you might think.




Haunted Mansion

Direction - 7.2
Actors - 7.4
Story - 6.5
Visuals/Music/Sounds - 7.4
Ambience - 7.5



The new version of Disney's amusement park attraction returns in a humorous, "spirited," and simultaneously chilling form. The combination of the astrophysicist protagonist, the ghost-filled mansion, and the comedic scenes makes it both exciting and entertaining. Although the movie is not perfect, it is a pleasant surprise among Disney films."

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BadSector is a seasoned journalist for more than twenty years. He communicates in English, Hungarian and French. He worked for several gaming magazines – including the Hungarian GameStar, where he worked 8 years as editor. (For our office address, email and phone number check out our impressum)

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