The Haunted Mansion (2003) / Comedy-Horror
MPAA Rated: PG for frightening images, thematic elements and language
Running Time: 99 min.
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Marsha Thomason, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Marc John Jefferies, Aree Davis, Wallace Shawn, Dina Waters
Director: Rob Minkoff
Screenplay: David Berenbaum
Review published December 4, 2003
It's not anywhere near the crowd-pleaser that Disney's other theme park-release, The Pirates of the Caribbean, was, but The Haunted Mansion delivers enough of the family fare goods to eke out the most modest of recommendations. That recommendation only holds up so long as you aren't really expecting to be scared or doubled over in laughter, as it isn't really strong in the comedy or horror elements to satisfy either way. This is solely time-filler entertainment, meant to be easily consumed and digested, for that time when your family wants to see something that will appeal to all ages, which is pretty much the motto of almost all Disney features.
Murphy (Daddy Day Care, I Spy) plays a successful real estate agent, Jim Evers, who has been busy of late chasing down big sales, much to the disapproval of his wife and partner in realty, Sara (Thomason, Black Knight). Even their anniversary gets put on hold for Jim's business pursuits, but he makes a promise that they will take their kids to the lake for the weekend without interruption from work. A small compromise is made when they receive a call for Sara to come look at a large mansion estate that is being put up for sale, so along the way to their trip, they decide to stop by for a small visit. However, that small visit ends up being longer than they anticipated when it is discovered to be haunted by ghosts who don't want them to leave, as it seems Sara is of particular interest to the mansion's current owner for resembling his deceased lover.
It's easy to see that this isn't a role that was crafted with Murphy in mind, as he ends up mugging throughout most of it without some of his more racier wit. He does manage to ad-lib a smidge to conform some of the lines in a more Murphy-like delivery, but the handcuffs are definitely on, so it's all very pat and predictable. Although Murphy is clearly the most recognizable face, he is supported strongly by a good cast of character actors who seem much more tailor made for their respective roles, and even veterans like Stamp (My Boss's Daughter) and Tilly (Monsters Inc.) are fun to watch in roles that they don't get a chance to play often.
The special effects and sound effects are also top-notch, as you'd expect from a big budget Disney release. Lots of interesting visuals dominate much of the screen time, some fascinating to behold, and if there were a truly compelling story to go along with them, this could have been an all-time classic.
Alas, the story itself is the weakest element, being a very standard plot of a group of people caught in a haunted mansion. There's little that probably could have been done about this, given that the whole essence of the Disney attraction is solely rooted in conventional haunted house themes to begin with. Those who are familiar with the plot will probably remain tepid at the proceedings much of the time, but I suspect the core of Haunted Mansion's target audience will be first-time viewers of the youngest variety.
As I mentioned earlier, unless you are looking for a film that is perfect for a group outing, there's little that's new or fresh in The Haunted Mansion to go out of your way for. Like the actual theme park "ride" it's based on, it's strictly well-produced run-of-the-mill escapist entertainment that will hold your interest while it's showing, but once it's over, you'll already be concentrating on the next attraction.
©2003 Vince Leo