The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. When Disney announced yet another Haunted Mansion movie, I couldn’t help but wonder if the whole corporation was insane. The Eddie Murphy film from 20 years ago was a complete disaster, and while The Muppet Haunted Mansion was bizarrely great in many ways, it was still a TV special. So, did we really need another Haunted Mansion movie? After watching this latest film based on one of my top 5 Disney attractions, my answer is a resounding “Yes.” We needed at least one more, and this time done right.
The story takes place in New Orleans and its surrounding area, a fitting choice as the ride is located in New Orleans Square in Disneyland. Ben (LaKeith Stanfield) is an astrophysicist who conducts historical, non-ghost tours in the most haunted city in the country. He’s recruited by Father Kent (Owen Wilson), a priest, to investigate a supposed haunting in a mansion recently purchased by single mom Gabbie (Rosario Dawson). While Ben is a skeptic, he decides to humor Gabbie and her son Travis (Chase Dillon) but soon realizes that this investigation might be more than he bargained for. The mansion is indeed haunted, and now this group must figure out how to stop the dark power behind it.
The casting in this film may be the most brilliant part of the whole thing. Stanfield, Wilson, Dawson,and Dillon, along with Danny DeVito and Tiffany Haddish have incredible chemistry together as the main group of heroes. DeVito, in particular, shines with his impeccable comedic timing, which prevents the film from becoming too dark. However, the real emotional anchor of the show is LaKeith Stanfield, whose performance stands out as a bright spot in the film. He possesses that elusive “it” factor that captivates the audience.
Justin Semien takes a departure from his usual work but does an excellent job telling this story. He skillfully weaves together the macabre, dark elements with humor, laughter, and heart. He faces the challenging task of pleasing die-hard fans of the Disney attraction while appealing to a new audience, and he succeeds admirably. The lighting and special effects create the right mood, maintaining a creepy and just-slightly-scary atmosphere.
The film beautifully conveys the message of found family coming together, forming bonds that can sometimes be stronger than biological family ties. It intertwines this theme with an underlying exploration of grief, how to let go and move forward despite the pain, and how to cherish memories without becoming stuck in the past.
Is the film flawless? No, it is a bit long, and there are some clunky transitions between scenes. Nevertheless, it remains enjoyable and fun. To me, it felt like experiencing the ride in the parks. The mansion’s design unmistakably resembled the one at Disneyland (and don’t worry, Disney World fans, they didn’t leave you out). The overall feeling was similar too—creepy and dark, but not excessively terrifying. For me, this is the Haunted Mansion film we’ve been waiting for, adding depth and story to the ride, much like Pirates of the Caribbean did for its namesake ride.
So, it turns out it wasn’t insanity at all. It was science—conducting the experiment repeatedly, tweaking the variables until the hypothesized result is achieved. With Haunted Mansion, they got the variables just about perfect.
My grade: A-