-“This mansion is unhinged. She needs all the help she can get. You wanna be a hero?”
-“Two thousand dollars.”
-“What’s the address?”
I think Disney got it right this time. Or least they did from my perspective. Twenty years ago, they attempted to create a film adaptation from one of their popular attractions: The Haunted Mansion. Recruiting a top-level talent like Eddie Murphy, it appeared that it would be a success. However, the film was considered a critical failure, but a decent box office success. The 2003 adaptation was described as lifeless, as well as neither scary nor funny. Granted, in recent years the film has undergone a reassessment, joining the likes of Clue, The Monster Squad, and Hocus Pocus, similar dark-yet-broadly-comical films that were initially received poorly before finding an appreciative audience. After watching this 2023 version, I don’t think this one will have to wait before it finds its audience. Starring Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta), Tiffany Haddish, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, and Danny DeVito, Haunted Mansion feels like a more faithful adaptation of the popular Disney ride. Injected with a double dose of heart into the film, the film entertains while also warming the heart. The quality reminded me of Disney films of old.
While I don’t exactly share Disney’s opinion of this film potentially having Pirates of the Caribbean levels of success, I will say that this film, with this cast, and humor, is a step in the right direction. LaKeith is the heart of this film. He is an actor who has been on my shortlist of actors with the potential to accomplish greatness in this industry. His charisma, which is also on display in this film, sets him apart and potentially elevates role that he embodies. However, in this outing, he gives emotional depth that I’ve never seen from him. I don’t want to give too much away, but the emotional turmoil of this character, in my opinion, is what sets the film apart from its predecessor and helps to establish it as more than just a reboot. He is the person to watch in this film.
A close second is Tiffany Haddish, who, like always, gives her all with her performances. Bringing her special brand of witty humor to the role of Harriet, a psychic, she keeps you guessing with what she will do next. As Harriet, she walks a fine line, as when she is first introduced, we are skeptical of her claims and her abilities. Haddish is the film’s funny bone. All you have to do is listen to the words coming out of her mouth. I dare you not to crack a smile when she is delivering her signature wit.
I could spend the entire review dissecting everyone’s performances, but that would just take away from the important details, so I will leave you with those two dissections and move on to another element which made the film the more faithful adaptation. I’m pretty sure it is no secret that this film has been a concept of Guillermo Del Toro’s since 2010 ComiCon. A part of that concept was his intention to use the famed “Hat Box Ghost” character from the popular Disneyland attraction to play a large role in the film, with Doug Jones intended for the character’s likeness. While Del Toro exited the diretor role back in 2013, he remained as co-writer and executive producer. This, coupled with the production crew then pulling lots of details from the Haunted Mansion ride to the sets, provided the film with an air of authenticity. It looks and feels like you are on the ride. Additionally, I love the development of the “Hat Box Ghost” character; it provides the film the necessary device to further the plot and introduce the threat to the characters. This is a character that is synonymous with the ride, so it only feels right that he also be a part of the film.
I will admit that I am curious as how the character would have been portrayed if we got to see Del Toro’s version. I suppose that curiosity goes for the whole movie, in the event that Del Toro had been able to occupy the director’s chair. As it stands, the film is tame in the scary department, which will allow it to apply to a greater audience. I imagine Del Toro’s version would have been a bit darker tone-wise. In any event, I was satisfied with this rendition, and it was not as if we were currently denied Del Toro’s influence given his involvement.
As I said, I’m not sure this film will reach the heights that Pirates was able to reach, but I am also not also ruling out the possibility. My two cents: I’m not sure I would try to go the sequel route. It doesn’t seem plausible in my opinion. The film is a closed loop; I don’t see how we even continue the story. Everything was wrapped up neatly in a bow, and there wasn’t even a after-credits scene. On balance, I don’t see how re-introducing these characters with a brand new cast is more indicative of another reboot rather than a continuation. I just don’t see a pathway to do it, but I won’t rule it out.