In 2003, Disney proved they could make a hit movie based on one of their theme-park rides with the first Pirates Of The Caribbean. They followed up with an Eddie Murphy vehicle (remember them?) based on another Disneyland attraction, The Haunted Mansion. That scared up reasonable business but didn’t become a major film franchise.
Twenty years on, ignoring the warning bells sounded by big-ticket items like Tomorrowland and Jungle Cruise, Disney greenlit this Haunted Mansion, which is neither a sequel nor a remake but throws together the same set of ingredients. Talented cast, CGI phantasms all over the show, open-mouthed comedy, Easter eggs for theme-park obsessives, needlessly complicated supernatural mystery, and an air of being in too much of a hurry to deliver on a promise of shivers.
Haunted Mansion is the sort of watchable product which fills out streaming services – though in that category it’s less fresh than Christopher Landon’s recent Netflix offering We Have A Ghost, and on Disney+ rubs shoulders with deep backlist titles like Blackbeard’s Ghost or The Gnome-Mobile. Director Justin Simien made the smart indie satire Dear White People and followed up with a pointed hip-hop fable about vampire hair extensions called Bad Hair. He’s a canny choice to step up to mainstream studio directing, but it’s a shame he doesn’t get chewier material to work with. Katie Dippold (of The Heat and the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot) assembles a script as if deluged with notes about the plot beats which had to be included and the trick effects from the Disneyland original which couldn’t be left out.
Rosario Dawson inherits the Eddie Murphy role but is sorely underused in a regulation Mom part.
Well-acted but rote talks about grief and ‘moving on’ are layered between scenes of Danny DeVito prowling haunted corridors in his underwear or Tiffany Haddish screaming as a haunted chair tips her into mud. LaKeith Stanfield plays a troubled hero with a low-key, likeable intensity, which is admirable — but less on point than Owen Wilson’s usual spacey act (he’s a failed exorcist) and Haddish’s spieling as an overconfident medium.
As the owner of the haunted mansion, Rosario Dawson inherits the Eddie Murphy role but is sorely underused in a regulation Mom part. As Madame Leota, Jamie Lee Curtis earns bonus points for one astonishing silent-movie-star outfit but is mostly stuck in a crystal ball as a disembodied head – and fails to match Jennifer Tilly’s reading of the role (the most memorable thing in the 2003 film). Jared Leto’s Morbius cheekbones get a CGI workover so he can play a head in a hatbox big bad. The funhouse illusion of corridors becoming impossible geometries is spun out via CGI, which doesn’t dispel a feeling that we’ve been here before and aren’t as spooked this time round.