By Bob Grimm
Haunted Mansion is the latest Disney attempt to turn one of their great rides into a movie—and this is not the first attempt focusing on this particular attraction.
Eddie Murphy starred in the lousy The Haunted Mansion (2003), and a couple of years ago, the Muppets took a crack at it with the fun Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021).
Haunted Mansion falls somewhere in between its predecessors in terms of quality. Some of it is lousy, and some of it is great, resulting in a movie that has plenty of stuff of interest to hardcore Disney fans—even if I can’t recommend the film. It has a large bounty of ride Easter eggs.
Rosario Dawson stars as Gabbie, a single mom trying to start her life over in New Orleans with her young son, Travis (Chase Dillon). They aren’t in their new house—the building referred to in the film’s title, of course—for more than a few minutes before hallways start expanding; paintings become alive; and suits of armor begin chasing them. They decide immediately to leave.
In steps Father Kent (Owen Wilson), a priest assigned to investigate the house. He enlists the help of Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), a scientist who has designed a camera that can photograph ghosts. Ben goes to the mansion—and discovers Gabbie and Travis are still there, because, as Ben will find out, the ghosts follow those who have entered the house off-premises and demand you return. It’s hard to argue with ghosts.
Other goofy characters come into play, including Tiffany Haddish as a psychic, Danny DeVito as a professor with a heart condition, and Jamie Lee Curtis as the infamous, crystal-ball-dwelling Madame Leota. Jared Leto lends his voice to Crump, a big-screen version of the headless ghost that keeps his still-alive head in a hat box.
There are nods to the ride at every corner (the cemetery worker and his dog; the hitchhiking ghosts; the ballroom dance; the chairs, etc.), and it is fun to see them onscreen. What’s not fun is the film’s patchwork, sloppy plot that basically goes nowhere and eventually becomes boring. The performers are mostly likable, but they are given little to do. The Crump story is the best plot thread, but it arrives too late into the movie to save it.
I’m guessing this will be the last Haunted Mansion movie for a long while, unless they opt for a cheap direct-to-streaming effort. Some might argue that, despite some good production values, this Haunted Mansion should’ve skipped theaters and gone directly to Disney+.