Disneyland Ride Movies (Part 1)

Here’s a random idea for a movie marathon, and possibly a bad idea…we’re going to look at all the movies based on Disneyland rides! Now you might be wondering what the point of that is. After all, there’s only like two or three of them, right?

Wrong. There are SEVEN movies based on Disneyland rides. I’m not being sneaky and including however many Pirates of Caribbean sequels. Only the first entry gets a look in here. Not all of these movies got a global theatrical release, and not all of them got a theatrical release full stop. Only a very small number have managed to achieve any success. This might get painful. If you don’t know what we’ve got ahead of us, then just wait. You’ll be surprised some of these exist.

To begin, we’re picking one we never watched due to a critical drudging and a spectacular tanking at the box office. Let’s see how it holds up!

Movie: The Haunted Mansion

Director: Rob Minkoff

Released: 2003

Cast: Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason, Jennifer Tilly, Wallace Shawn, Dina Spybey

Plot: A real estate agent and his family are lured to an old mansion in the hope of securing a sale, but instead learn that his wife is believed to be the lost bride of the ghost inhabiting the house.

The Ride: Opening in 1969 at Disneyland, ‘The Haunted Mansion’ is one of the definitive Disney Dark Rides. It was an early adopting of the Omnimover technology and takes attendees through a spooky experience created with audio-animatronics and other effects including Pepper’s ghost. ‘The Haunted Mansion’ continues to be popular 50 years on, with merchandise featuring the many recognisable characters, and different versions have been opened in Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland Disneyland Park Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland.

Having worked through a few versions of a story involving a wedding with a murdered bride and a pirate, the experience is mostly an assortment of individual scenes. Ghostly figures waltzing through a ball room, endless corridors and stretching rooms, hovering spectres inside crystal balls and a graveyard brimming with undead cheer…it’s a smorgasbord of engineering and design trickery.

Movie Review: Arriving the same year as Pirates of the Caribbean, and being the result of an equally troubled production, the reception of these two movies could not be further apart. Whilst Pirates spawned a huge franchise and the ride was subsequently altered to incorporate the film characters, The Haunted Mansion is largely forgotten and has a new film adaptation scheduled to be released next year.

Now there’s a couple of things in this movie that don’t work, but there’s only one that pisses me off. Let’s go through them one by one.

First of all, it feels as though there was a drastic tone shift between the script and production stages. There’s little inherently comedic about the set-up or the story, with a simple family adventure being the core of the experience, and yet Eddie Murphy as Jim Evers is determinedly trying to turn it into a whacky comedy. It feels like they wanted it to be an adventure film until Murphy was cast, and then encouraged him to riff on the material to make it a comedy. He’s the only character playing it as a comedy, and no-one else responds to him with anything but annoyance. It’s certainly not meant to be a horror movie, so its jarring when the movie opens with a man hanging himself on camera and later Murphy sees his face gruesomely melting off in a mirror. It doesn’t sit right alongside Murphy gurning like an idiot. This is what pisses me off about this movie though.

There must have been a note from the studio to make sure that X number of elements from the ride are put into the movie. To bring up Pirates again, there’s a scene where Jack Sparrow is trying to lure a dog holding keys over to his cell using a bone. This is a moment from the ride, but it fits into the film story and makes sense even if you don’t know the ride. In The Haunted Mansion it feels as though they were filmed after the fact and hastily spliced into the movie and become confusing and pointless diversions. Take, for example, the singing statue heads. A classic moment of the ride, these characters appear out of nowhere when Eddie Murphy is looking for a key. He tries to talk to them, they only sing in response, and then Murphy’s kid points off-screen and says ‘oh, there it is’ and they walk away. This scene isn’t amusing, it contributes nothing and it can be completely deleted without changing the story. The same applies to the hitch-hiking ghosts. They turn up, Murphy says some ‘whacky’ things and we move on. This isn’t the aspect of the film that pisses me off though.

There is a moment where they almost did something interesting, when Murphy gets thrown out of the high tower to his death. He bounces off the conservatory and smashes into a car, but it unharmed. For a moment I thought he was going to become a ghost – that would have been an interesting turn and change the stakes. No, he’s completely unharmed and moves on. This is lazy film-making, ticking off the boxes or a story that has been down a dozen times before. They even pull out the ‘dad who works instead of going to child’s sport event’ plot, which felt overplayed in 1993, never mind 2003. It’s doubly confusing since Jim and his wife are business partners, it’s strange that she isn’t more invested in the business. This isn’t what pissed me off either.

What pisses me off is that this movie’s special effects are significantly worse than the effects in the ride. Considering that the ride has to exist in the three dimensional real world and has to hold up to the scrutiny of people sitting a few feet away from them, it’s downright ridiculous that the movie looks this bad. The ghosts, the singing statues, Jennifer Tilly playing the disembodied Madam Leota…they look more convincing on the ride than in the movie. There’s really no excuse for this.

This is a pointless and stupid movie. Really, just watch a ride video on YouTube instead.

Rating: TWO out of TEN