Good evening, darlings, and thank you for reading. We welcome you once again to Haunted Mansion Mondays on The MonsterGrrls' 31 Days Of Halloween, and today we explore an unusual chapter in the history of the Mansion: that of its ill-fated movie.
With the success of Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, which like the Mansion was both a ghost story and a popular Disney-park theme ride, Disney immediately slated the Haunted Mansion as a possible film. Soon after, comedian Eddie Murphy, who was planning his own haunted house movie, called the Walt Disney Studios and requested a script, and was shortly signed thereafter to the lead role. The resulting film, however, was panned almost universally by critics and disliked by many fans of the Mansion, and today we shall examine why.
The story of the Haunted Mansion film has Murphy starring as Jim Evers, a workaholic real estate agent who is unfortunately neglecting his beautiful wife Sara (Marsha Thomason) and his children, snippy daughter Megan (Aree Davis) and insecure son Michael (Marc John Jeffries) and immersing himself in his work. When Evers tries to appease his family by taking them on a weekend getaway, a mysterious phone call leads them to a huge, sprawling and strangely ominous mansion (complete with private cemetery) deep in the Louisiana swamps. Inside, Evers and his family meet the Mansion's owner, the mysterious Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker), his taciturn butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp) and the Mansion staff, consisting of bumbling footman Ezra (Wallace Shawn) and nervous maid Emma (Dina Waters). When a storm traps the Evers family in the Mansion overnight, they gradually discover its secret: the Mansion is under a terrible curse, and haunted by 999 ghosts--some of whom are Ramsley, Ezra, Emma and Edward Gracey, who plans to take Sara for his bride because of her resemblance to his long-lost, long-dead bride Elizabeth (also played by Thomason). With the help of Ezra, Emma, and the disembodied medium Madame Leota (Jennifer Tilly), Jim must find a way to break the curse of the Mansion and save his family from certain doom.
While the effort to create an impressive film based on this much-loved dark ride is certainly obvious, there are a number of glaring flaws in the movie that mar the experience for long-time Mansion fans. First, there is the Mansion itself, which is partially CGI and displayed as a distended, brooding combo of both the Disneyland and Disney World Mansions, ultimately reminding the viewer of neither. The rooms of the Mansion, while visually stunning, seem grossly oversized and dwarf the actors in many scenes. Second, the film tries to base its story around the partially fan-created legend that has haunted the Mansion since its creation: the legend of Gracey and his bride. Though the backstory is well fleshed out--Gracey, a white landowner, becomes betrothed to Elizabeth, a black woman, and loses her due to opposition and prejudice--it does not seem particularly challenging or innovative in the context of the Haunted Mansion, and the interracial theme becomes more of an afterthought. Finally, there is Murphy himself, who appears constrained and repressed in his role of Jim Evers. Murphy has a bent for scatological humor that, of course, does not work within a family film, and though he means well, his performance leaves the viewer feeling that his brand-name appeal in the film is entirely unnecessary in comparison to the popularity of its subject.
While some of the Mansion's happy-haunt spirit does appear within the graveyard scenes, several well-known characters of the Mansion, such as the Opera Singer, the Caretaker (who is established as a live human in the ride but here is presented as another trapped ghost), the Duelists, and in particular the Hitchhikers (who appeared on teaser art for the movie, leading many to believe that their roles would be important to the film) are given short shrift in favor of a noisome tomb filled with spiders and reanimated corpses, thus relegating the Mansion to status of Just Another Spook Movie. The Hitchhikers, who are perhaps the most popular and well-known ghosts of the Mansion, especially suffer because of this. In the end, this movie is neither an addition to the ride nor a suitable substitute; while there are some interesting moments and the film is well put together, The Haunted Mansion unfortunately suffers from too much incorrect story and mishandling. Therefore, we Mansion fans must wait until the right person (or, strangely enough, the right movie studio) comes along to properly tell the story of the Haunted Mansion in cinematic fashion.
Do return next week for more of our Haunted Mansion Mondays, and we hope to see you here tomorrow for more of The MonsterGrrls' 31 Days Of Halloween. After all, we are working hard to assemble all those spirits who have been just dying to meet you...