Based on the attractions at Walt Disney parks, Haunted Mansion is not the first attempt at adapting the theme park “ride” for cinema. In 2003, Disney released a movie called The Haunted Mansion, which is moderately entertaining and somewhat fun but needs more great storytelling. Disney has decided to develop and create a reboot with a new cast, updated special effects, and a story they hope will entertain and appease cinema audiences. The result is a fun film with more emotional depth, but ultimately, it feels like a movie following a formula designed to boost popularity for their theme park offering.
The story follows the life of astrophysicist Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield), a gifted scientist working on an advanced camera lens designed to capture images of dark matter. During the development of his innovation, Ben falls in love with New Orleans tour guide Alyssa (Charity Jordan) but eventually loses her untimely and tragically. Sometime later, Ben abandons his scientific work and takes over Alyssa’s tour guide business. Though he initially feels obligated to do so, he has reached the point where this work means so little to him.
Meanwhile, Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase W. Dillon) have purchased the old historic Gracey Manor in New Orleans and discover that there is much more than meets the eye to this estate as they are moving in. The manor is haunted, and despite their attempts to leave it behind, they have become trapped, in some very supernatural ways, to the property. Desperate to free themselves, they seek out the help of priest Father Kent (Owen Wilson), who in turn seeks out the assistance of Ben to document further evidence of the haunting. As new people attempt to assist Gabbie and Travis, everyone gains a disturbing attachment/entrapment with the infamous Gracey Manor.
While this movie has more depth than Disney’s previous attempt to adapt their attraction for the big screen, Haunted Mansion still plays out as a primarily shameless boost for their income and promotion of what their theme park has to offer. That is the bottom line. Most people should realize that going into this movie, and I was well aware of what the ultimate goal is for this movie.
That said. I had some fun with this movie. Though the motives behind it are obvious, at least Disney signed up both filmmakers who wanted to do something more profound, more emotional, and still fun and exciting. Regardless of the motivation, Haunted Mansion is still a great time at the cinema and deals with fundamental human problems and emotions. However, it does so with solid writing, competent direction, and great performances by its talented cast.
And that is what sells this movie so well! Casting LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Tiffany Haddish, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Chase Dillon helps elevate this movie higher than it probably deserves. As everyone is a consummate professional, every actor performs well within the script’s limitations. They genuinely are having fun, which also helps the audience have a great time.
Disney has excellent resources, so the effects look great and add to the overall experience. Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this movie deserves to be experienced in cinemas, but one could do much worse. However, I could see this movie as being a fun night for families during the Halloween season at home.