The 2023 Haunted Mansion movie release is upon us. The film, directed by Justin Simien, came out on July 28th and is the first theme park attraction based movie since 2021’s Jungle Cruise. In this post, we’ll give a spoiler free review of the film and talk about how it relates to the Disney Parks. I won’t question why this movie didn’t come out in October although I am extremely curious!
Before I get into the review, I should say that the aspect of the Disney company I’m most interested in is theme parks. I love movies in general but Disney live action films aren’t generally my cup of tea. If they are yours, then more power to you! I just thought that a caveat should be thrown out before taking my word for something. Movies are a bit more subjective than reviewing a burger or putting together an itinerary.
With that in mind, I thought Haunted Mansion was perfectly fine. Blog post over. Just kidding. If you look beyond some unfunny jokes and unneeded characters, Haunted Mansion offered an interesting exploration into grief and suicidal ideation. Your mileage will vary on the jokes but there’s no denying LaKeith Stanfield’s performance as the lead character Ben Matthias. He does the majority of the emotional heavy lifting and is a convincing leading man for a movie that goes in many different directions. Rosario Dawson, playing Gabbie, is in lockstep with Stanfield.
The rest of the characters in the movie are hit and miss. Danny DeVito (Bruce Davis) and Tiffany Haddish (Harriet) get some strong jokes and move the plot along as a professor and medium, respectively. Jamie Lee Curtis (Madame Leota) and Jared Leto (Crump aka Hatbox Ghost) are effective enough as the most recognizable characters from the actual attraction. They just don’t have much to do and very limited scenes. You could pick nits with Madame Leota’s voice but that might be leaning a little too far into theme park nerdom. Dan Levy is briefly in the movie and gets one of the best jokes/references.
That leaves Owen Wilson (Father Kent), who I generally enjoy quite a bit in different movies. Unfortunately, I can not figure out why he’s in Haunted Mansion other than to just be Owen Wilson. His character adds nothing to the plot and the writing didn’t do him any favors on the joke front. There are a few solid one-liners but they often come at the expense of a heavy moment where the movie should be making a connection to its audience.
I don’t envy Simien’s job. He has to make a haunted movie that can’t be too scary, a comedy that can’t be too cutting and an original story inside of the parameters of a theme park attraction. That the grief and suicidal themes come through without being extremely heavy-handed is a credit to Stanfield’s performance and Simien’s direction. There’s some interesting decisions to switch between a still camera and handheld throughout and I would have liked to see a little more of that. Katie Dippold wrote the movie and had a tough job to pull off, as well.
Haunted Mansion as an attraction has a vibe that is hard to replicate. Yes, there are some spooky parts but it mostly plays as a campy horror-comedy attraction. Pulling that feeling off in a 2 hour movie while also trying to say something isn’t easy. Especially as Disney has tried to make all of these theme park attraction films into family adventure movies. I’ll always wish for that Guillermo del Toro rumored Haunted Mansion project but I’m sure he has a very different vision than what Disney would want. Unfortunately, I think those constraints are why these specific movies can’t get past a little better than mediocre.
I briefly mentioned that Haunted Mansion had an original story inside of it. Most of that worked pretty well but I’m always slightly confused why none of these movies follow the actual plot of the attraction. Yes, there are homages to different scenes in Jungle Cruise, Pirates and this. In fact, this one had more references and recognizable parts than ever before! I find the attraction plot of Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion to be pretty interesting though. Maybe there’s not enough substance in there to stretch into a full length film but I’m always left wondering, regardless of what ride theory you subscribe to, if there’s conversations between the director and lead Imagineers to talk through the actual plot of teh source material.
Haunted Mansion and the first Pirates are the closest we get to those plots but they never fully commit, sometimes to their credit as the first Pirates movie is still a classic. In the end though, most of these movies feel like they’re half in – constricting to the filmmaker while not fully embracing what they’re based on.
Disneyland lovers are far more likely to like this film than those that aren’t. There are short scenes or snippets that likely won’t make sense to those that aren’t familiar with the attraction because of the characters involved. It’s fun to see those references, although I’m not sure they work in the movie’s favor in this instance.
Overall, Haunted Mansion is even with Jungle Cruise and other theme park attraction movies with me. It’s not bad but the story is buried under uneven jokes and a confused tone. If you’re a theme park fan then it might be worth checking out. If you’re not then… weird choice to read a movie review on a theme park blog!
What did you think of Haunted Mansion? Let us know, along with any questions you might have, in the comments below! Planning a trip to a Disney Park? Check out all of our Planning Guides to help you along the way. If you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney please share this post with your friends, as well as like our social media pages. You can also subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email. All of those links are on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!
Categories: Entertainment Ratings