The Haunted Mansion


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"...the film is horrific."



The Haunted Mansion
The Masked Reviewer

Children's films have expanded to include much more than effeminate purple dinosaurs and Power Rangers; there are love stories (Beauty and the Beast), spy movies (Spy Kids), and mysteries (Scooby Doo) all written specifically for kids.  In fact, the only two genres that haven't been re-tooled for the kiddies are horror and porn.  The Masked Reviewer won't deal with the latter (nor will he make any Michael Jackson jokes) but children's horror is what The Haunted Mansion is all about.

And, by horror, the Masked Reviewer means that the film is horrific. 

Eddie Murphy stars in the second movie this year to be based on a Disney attraction.  Disney wisely released Pirates of the Caribbean first, because the film was good and clever and nostalgic, and exceeded everyone's expectations.  Now, people have been lulled into the false belief that movies based on rides is a Good Idea.  Jungle Hunt can't be far behind, can it?  Look out for the giant hippo!

Sadly, The Haunted Mansion isn't good.  Doing a horror film for children seems like an odd choice.  Eddie Murphy has rebuilt himself as one of the big family-friendly stars, with Dr. Doolittle, The Nutty Professor, and Shrek.  There was also Daddy Day Care, which nobody cared about.  Those films all had something The Haunted Mansion did not...some level of entertainment value.  The biggest problem with The Haunted Mansion is that the writing for it is terrible Notice the bold.  Not just terrible, terrible.  There wasn't a funny line in the entire film.  And, that's not just from the adults: even the children sat there.  The jokes were tired, hackneyed, and uninspired.  The screenwriter, David Berenbaum, has done one other film -- Elf with Will Ferrell.  That's not particularly well-written, either (that movie is saved by the cast) but if after the screening, the children in the audience are talking about how the jokes were old -- at age six -- it's time to find a better writer.

Eddie Murphy's performance isn't at fault: he tries hard to get laughs out of the material, but it's like trying to squeeze lemon juice from a Buick.  Marsha Thompson (Black Knight) is lovely to look at, but has a character less well-developed than many of the animatronic figures in the ride.  No, really.  The two children in the film aren't particularly fun to watch, especially the character of Eddie Murphy's daughter, who seems downright unpleasant most of the time.  Even Terrence Stamp is wasted in this role as a spectral-looking butler. 

There are a few redeeming features in this feature, however.  Fans of the ride will find plenty of things they recognize, from the opening voiceover, to many scenes from the ride.  Some will be more immediately recognizable than others.  But, is that really worth ten bucks?  To some, it might be.

The best thing about the film is the design of the mansion.  It's a beautiful design and faithful to the ride (minus the conveyor belt of chairs cycling through the house).  The setting is appropriately creepy, with thunderstorms, ravens, and of course...ghosts. 

There are a few scenes with things jumping out at you, but none of them are particularly scary, even for the kids.  There was no screaming or crying in the theater, other than at how lame the film is.  It seems like it should have been scarier: there were zombies and skeletons and frightening elements, but it was all too tame to the point of being pointless. 

The surround sound in the film was noticeably good: you could hear voices calling from all sides and birds flying around you. 

The ghost effects weren't anything new, and not as charming (or effective) as the illusions in the Haunted Mansion at the Disney theme parks.  It is interesting, though, that they did the animation in a style that was similar to the somewhat herky-jerky movements of the animatronic figures in the ride. 

Another point which some viewers may take issue with is that the end of the film suddenly incorporates the idea of heaven and hell; the Masked Reviewer doesn't remember any references to that in the ride, and it seems like a misplaced last-second religious tie-in.

They neglected to use perhaps the most famous feature from the ride, which is the stretching pictures that change to reveal funny additions to standard portraits. 

Overall, while the film has slick production qualities and good sound, the writing is so horrible and boring that it's hard to imagine that anyone -- even kids -- will have a good time with this one.  It's not the fault of Eddie Murphy, but there's a lot of time wasted on the dull B-story before you get to the equally dull A-story.  The money you'd spend to see the film would be better spent to buy a ticket to Disneyland or Disneyworld.  As will be said many times, "The Haunted Mansion is no Pirates of the Caribbean."



Expectation from the Title: A great movie based on a classic theme-park attraction...oh wait, that's Pirates of the Caribbean

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  The mansion was lovely and must have been a great place to visit in the spring.

The Pros: Nostalgia factor; good surround sound effects; great design.

The Cons: Pathetic writing; not funny (even for kids); not scary (even for kids); wasted talent.


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