In 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl defied all odds. Gore Verbinski’s fantasy epic appeared doomed, since pirate films had light out of recognition many years prior and a theme park-inspired blockbuster was nonetheless a bizarre, novel idea. However when it splashed into theaters, it made greater than $650 million worldwide and launched a five-movie franchise, with extra rumored on the way in which.
Right here’s the factor, although: Other than the Disney followers who adopted the saga of the movie’s manufacturing, not many individuals even realized it was a theme park film. Verbinski made the clever option to not construct the film across the journey. Certain, diehards may be capable of squint and level to smaller references, just like the canine holding a keyring in its mouth. However Pirates of the Caribbean is an adaptation in identify solely. And in 2003, that labored.
In contrast, The Haunted Mansion, the film that got here out the identical yr, is stuffed with characters from and references to the corresponding Disney journey. The movie earned some cult love, but it surely was critically panned, and whereas it made blockbuster cash, it couldn’t examine to Pirates of the Caribbean’s box-office booty.
Making a theme park film in 2023 could be very completely different than it was 20 years in the past. In 2023, theme parks are costlier than ever, but in addition extra accessible through social media. Individuals who can’t afford Disney park holidays can nonetheless watch ride-throughs on YouTube, and fan websites preserve readers updated on each minute change and plan for the parks and their sights.
So as a substitute of shying away from references and in-jokes, Justin Simien’s 2023 model of Haunted Mansion goes even more durable than the 2003 film. The brand new movie, starring LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, and Danny DeVito, is full to the brim with theme park nods — from the wallpaper sample within the haunted mansion to the principle ghostly characters, from the soundtrack to the portraits hanging on the partitions. It’s principally a guidelines of essentially the most beloved objects from the Disney park attraction. However right here’s the factor: It kinda works?
[Ed. note: This review contains some setup spoilers for Haunted Mansion, and also ride spoilers.]
What separates the Haunted Mansion as a theme park attraction from Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, and different rides turned films is that the journey itself already has quite a lot of story and lore hooked up to it. The Haunted Mansion is slightly completely different in every Disney park, however all of them have storytelling particulars nestled into each cobwebbed crevice. For this film, Simien and author Katie Dippold (Snatched, the 2016 Ghostbusters) have disregarded a number of the dusty busts and portraits in an effort to deliver them to life. I couldn’t depend each single ghost that appeared, however I undoubtedly acknowledged some staples from the journey.
You don’t want any deep ride-lore appreciation to look at the film, which is a reasonably enjoyable comedy-horror bolstered by a stellar forged. But it surely positive does assist, particularly relating to a number of the movie’s extra puzzling particulars. A short pan to a portrait of a girl reclining after which turning right into a catlike girl in a beam of moonlight, as an illustration, may look like a random furry cameo if you happen to don’t know that it’s one of many portraits you journey previous within the opening moments of the attraction.
These transient nods are good little particulars, however when the film begins to combine particular journey mechanics, I wasn’t fairly bought. It is likely to be a win for theme park fanatics to see that Simien and Dippold managed to combine the stretching-room mechanic fairly seamlessly into the film, however at the same time as somebody who loves the Haunted Mansion, that felt a bit too in-jokey for me. I don’t like the massive climatic moments of my film experiences to be tied to particular bits of data — even once I’m the one in on it this time round. Certain, it made for a cool set-piece, however that was the second the film pandered to the journey an excessive amount of for me.
That stated, it’s nonetheless deeply spectacular that the 2023 Haunted Mansion leans a lot on the journey however nonetheless manages to be a stable, pleasing film. The plot itself might use some streamlining, particularly with an pointless subject journey a number of the characters take late within the film, transferring the motion away from the mansion. However the stars deliver their all to the roles.
Photograph: Jalen Marlowe/Disney
Stanfield is extra of the straight man (if anybody on this kooky forged generally is a straight man) for everybody to bounce off of, however as a socially awkward, grieving astrophysicist turned reluctant paranormal investigator and tour information, he brings his personal grounded humor. DeVito and Haddish are each chaotic entities, enjoying a kooky historical past professor and a flamboyant medium, respectively. Rounding out the investigator quartet is Wilson as Father Kent, a priest who retains providing pep talks and optimistic spiels, even when the precise prayers and blessings he says appear to be a bit… off.
In one other film, each considered one of these characters can be relegated to a job as the only real comedic reduction within the forged. Right here, introduced collectively, they ricochet off one another with delightfully frenzied vitality as they react to the hauntings within the mansion. And the film does get spooky, inside the protected confines of nonetheless being a PG-13 Disney flick.
In 2003, Verbinski distanced Pirates of the Caribbean from being a theme park film. In 2023, Simien and crew experience the truth that Haunted Mansion is one. Simien might’ve merely simply leaned on the theme park of all of it, like 2021’s Jungle Cruise, however he dedicated to getting all of the little particulars on display screen — and he dedicated laborious. It’s full-throttle indulgence, and a full 180 from the Pirates of the Caribbean tackle theme park films. Each takes work, although this time round, the area of interest in-jokes may not hit with everybody. However for the subset it resonates with, Haunted Mansion is a grim, grinning delight.
Haunted Mansion hits theaters on July 28.