The Haunted Mansion (2003)

The Haunted Mansion (2003)

directed by Rob Minkoff


The Haunted Mansion was neither the first of Disney’s attraction-based movies, nor was it the best, nor even the worst — but it was possibly the most anticipated. The Haunted Mansion has a devoted fandom that goes above and beyond any other theme park attraction, Disney or otherwise.

So when this movie hit theaters in fall of 2003 (inexplicably after the Halloween season), after the phenomenal Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, and was a campy, 100-minute family comedy not unlike Disney’s mid-to-late-’90 offerings, fans were confused at best, while others were straight-up furious.

This shouldn’t taint what is, at its core, a moderately good family comedy. (After all, Hocus Pocus is nothing to rave about, but its cult status as the same brand of scary-funny has made it a classic.) Moreover, the production design, character performances, and musical score are some of the best in all of Disney’s live-action filmography.

The problems stem from the fact that this was clearly two separate movies — a faithful film adaptation of Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction, and a goofy family haunted house comedy starring Eddie Murphy — haphazardly combined and held together by loose threads. The tone is often jarringly inconsistent, with tense and atmospheric scenes awkwardly punctuated by Murphy’s flippant quips. When the movie takes itself seriously, it works. When it tries to be silly, it works. But all too often the movie is trying to be serious while Murphy tries to be silly and kills the momentum of the scene.

It’s not all bad, though. Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, and Jennifer Tilly steal all of their scenes as the residents of the Mansion. Eddie Murphy, Marsha Thomason, Aree Davis, and Marc John Jefferies have good chemistry as the Evers family. Rosemary Brandenburg’s sets are gorgeous, Mark Mancina’s score is hauntingly beautiful, and altogether this film is more faithful to its namesake than any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

The end result is a mixed bag that can be a guilty pleasure, with many references to the ride, and a comfortable 100-minute runtime. Overall, it’s a pleasure to look at, and listen to…

But what’s with the random Nelly song during the credits?!