The Haunted Mansion

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Rating: PG

Starring:
Eddie Murphy as Jim Evers
Terence Stamp as Ramsley
Nathaniel Parker as Master Gracey
Marsha Thomason as Sara Evers
Jennifer Tilly as Madame Leota
Wallace Shawn as Ezra
Dina Spybey as Emma
Marc John Jefferies as Michael
Aree Davis as Megan
Jim Doughan as Mr. Coleman
Rachael Harris as Mrs. Coleman
Steve Hytner as Mr. Silverman
Heather Juergensen as Mrs. Silverman
Jeremy Howard as Hitchhiking Ghost
Deep Roy as Hitchhiking Ghost

Special Features:
Bloopers

Deleted Scene

Raven “Superstitious” Music Video

Haunted Mansion Virtual Tour

“Making the Mansion” Behind the Scenes Featurette

Anatomy of a Scene: Ghosts on the Graveyard

Audio Commentary with Don Hahn (Producer), Jay Redd (Visual Effects Supervisor), and David Berenbaum (Writer)

Audio Commentary with Director Rob Minkoff and Costume Designer Mona May

DVD-ROM Content – Morphing Ghost Host Maker, The History of the Haunted Mansion Attraction, Photo Galleries, Desktop Themes, Wallpapers, Screensavers, Enhanced Virtual Mansion Tour

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1) – Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions
Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround Sound
THX Certified
English, Spanish, and French Language
Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 88 Minutes

Synopsis:
The Haunted Mansion is based on the ride at Disneyland and Disneyworld. It is also the third Disney film based on one of their theme park attractions.

Jim Evers and his wife Sara are real estate agents living in New Orleans. Despite being consumed by his business, Jim decides to take the family on a vacation at the urging of his wife. However, they are detoured when the owner of Gracey Mansion contacts Sara wishing to sell the place. Unable to resist a big deal, Jim takes his wife and kids into the swamp to the old mansion.

When they arrive, they find Master Gracey and his servant Ramsley living in the house alone. Gracey seems to have an unhealthy infatuation with Sara, but Jim is still eager to make a real estate deal. After a heavy thunderstorm, the Evers family is stranded overnight at the mansion. They soon find out that the mansion has a terrifying secret – 999 ghosts haunt it. Jim quickly discovers that Sara is in danger from Gracey and the only way to save her is to find out the secret of the mansion and set the ghosts free. Along the way he grows closer to his kids and finds a new appreciation for his wife.

The Haunted Mansion is rated PG for frightening images, thematic elements and language.

The Movie:
After having seen the trailers for Haunted Mansion, I wasn’t too sure if the film would be any good. The fact that it was based on a ride from Disney wasn’t a big plus either. It made it seem like a big commercial for the theme park. However, that didn’t hurt Pirates of the Caribbean. The Haunted Mansion had a good team behind it, too. The amazing Rick Baker did the makeup. Eddie Murphy has done a few comedy gems in the past. Director Rob Minkoff had a good track record directing the Stewart Little movies and The Lion King as well. So with that behind it, The Haunted Mansion had a bit of potential. Unfortunately, the final product wasn’t that great mainly due to the script.

First of all, the movie is very predictable. There’s nothing new about the plot and it offers few, if any, surprises. It repackages most of the things seen in other haunted house movies like Casper, The Haunting, etc etc etc. Then the mystery of why Gracey is interested in Sara is pretty predictable as well. I think audiences would be hard pressed not to see it coming. Along with all the other haunted house clichés, you can also pretty much guess that all the ghosts will make the typical ascension “towards the light” at the end (which they do). The movie isn’t scary either. I think the actual ride probably offers more scares than this film. Anyone recall the see-through bride with the knife and beating heart on the ride? That’s scarier than anything in the movie. The film also is not very funny either. Eddie Murphy attempts to do a few ad-libs, but that’s the closest it ever approaches to a laugh. In fact, the fraidy cat son Michael was probably funnier than Murphy. Because the film isn’t funny enough, scary enough, or original enough, the final result is only a mediocre film.

Gripes aside, it is a good-looking movie. The sets for the mansion are fantastic and richly detailed. The ghost effects are cool, too. While they aren’t groundbreaking, they are good eye candy. More impressive, though, are Rick Baker’s zombies. He somehow made men in costumes look like skin and bones. The effect is very cool. (This leads to one other gripe – a number of the ghosts in the film look like regular humans in one scene, then turn transparent in other scenes. Not only is it inexplicable but it takes away from their spookiness considerably.) A showstopping scene in the graveyard with dozens of ghosts ends up being the high point of the film.

As you would expect, there are numerous tips of the hat to the original Disney ride. You see Gracey swinging from a noose early in the film. You see the hitchhiking ghosts, the singing statues, the ghost carriage, the ballroom, and other items. If you’re a fan of the ride, what you see in the movie should please you.

As for the actors, the only real standout is Terrence Stamp as the manservant Ramsley. He is creepy almost to the point of being over the top. I was almost expecting him to say, “Walk this way” a couple of times with Eddie Murphy providing the obligatory punch line. The rest of the cast does their jobs well enough, but there are no breakout performances. I will say that I was surprised to find out later that Marsha Thomason (who played Sara) is really British and normally has an English accent. She did a good job covering it up in the movie.

The Extras:
There are quite a few extras on this DVD. Here are the highlights:

Bloopers – This is about a 5-minute blooper reel. Most of the bloopers feature the cast flubbing lines. It’s funny, but I was surprised just how long it went on.

Deleted Scene – There is one deleted scene included on the DVD. It features Ezra and Emma, the two servant ghosts, telling the children about the history behind Gracey and the mansion. Seeing as how this is reiterated later, it does make the scene redundant.

Raven “Superstitious” Music Video – It’s weird to see “Raven” all grown up and singing music videos. I still remember her as Rudy 2.0 from the Cosby Show. This video shows her singing and dancing with some other kids on the Haunted Mansion sets. Having seen it, I think Stevie Wonder’s version is still better. Raven can sing well, but the music wasn’t very good compared to Wonder’s funky sound.

Haunted Mansion Virtual Tour – Ezra and Emma, the servant ghosts, lead you on this tour of the Haunted Mansion. You click on arrows and the screen floats from room to room. You get a greater appreciation for how detailed the sets are, yet it does get a bit boring after a few minutes.

“Making the Mansion” Behind the Scenes Featurette – This is the centerpiece of the bonus features and your standard “making of” video. The featurette goes through all aspects of the making of the film from the building of the sets to the filming to the special effects and more. Standard interviews with cast and crew are also included.

Anatomy of a Scene: Ghosts on the Graveyard – This is a more detailed look at how they made the ghosts in the graveyard scene of the movie. You see a lot of bluescreen work, more details on the costumes, and other cool stuff. Rick Baker’s impressive zombie costumes are also highlighted. (You also learn that Baker plays a couple of the ghosts himself in the graveyard scene.) This ended up being my favorite extra simply because I love special effects.

Audio Commentary with Don Hahn (Producer), Jay Redd (Visual Effects Supervisor), and David Berenbaum (Writer) – I’ve met Don Hahn in person and I have to say he’s a great, friendly guy. I had a lot of fun talking with him and he has a real dry sense of humor. That comes across in the commentary as he cracks joke after joke while the movie plays. In between the funny comments, he and the other guys offer a lot of interesting insight into the making of the movie. They tell stories from the set, point out hidden details that you would otherwise miss, and other cool stuff. This is the better of the two commentaries.

Audio Commentary with Director Rob Minkoff and Costume Designer Mona May – Since the costume designer joins Minkoff for this commentary, it ends up being heavily geared towards the making of the costumes. May and Minkoff go on and on about the costumes in almost every scene and there’s little talk of anything else. Minkoff occasionally departs to talk about other aspects of the making of the film, but not enough. These two should have been thrown in with Hahn and the others to give a more well rounded commentary.

The Bottom Line:
In the end, I think kids will enjoy The Haunted Mansion a lot more than adults. The film is fairly tame, so you probably don’t have to worry about them having nightmares. Adults may be a bit less entertained. It’s not a bad movie, though. It’s just not a great one.

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