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"The Haunted Mansion" - Movie Review

"The Haunted Mansion" - Movie Review

Genre:  Family comedy/Suspense

Rating:  PG (for frightening images, thematic elements and language)

Release Date:  November 26, 2003

Actors:  Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Tilly, Terence Stamp, Wallace Shawn, Marsha Thomason, Marc John Jefferies, Aree Davis

Director:  Rob Minkoff

Special Notes:  One of the faces in the singing busts group belongs to a member of Disney’s legendary Imagineering department, Paul Frees. And the “ghost host” of the ride when you first enter, Thurl Ravencroft, also sang the lead on the original “Grim Grinning Ghosts.”

Plot:  Realtor Jim Evers (Murphy) knows he’s a workaholic but he can’t seem to stop making appointments for he and his wife, who happens to be his business partner. After missing his anniversary dinner, Jim promises to take Sara (Thomason) and the kids on a family vacation to make up for all the time he’s been busy. But as the family is leaving town, Jim can’t seem to turn down business and makes one more stop at a ghostly mansion for sale. The family is taken in and befriended by the butler Ramsley (Stamp), but soon they are up to their necks in ghosts … 999 of them! It seems the owner of the estate, Edward Gracey (Parker), thinks Sara is his long lost love and hatches a plan to get rid of Jim and the kids. With time running out, Jim has to take the time to discover the truth and set his wife free.

Good:  If you’ve ever been to Disneyland and visited the Haunted Mansion attraction, then you can imagine with little effort what this movie looks like. Ever mindful of the fact that they just raked in a gazillion dollars for “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the creative folks at Disney are hoping to discover gold twice with a haunting tale about their famous mansion. For those familiar with the ride, you’ll recognize familiar spooks like Madame Leota (Tilly), the singing busts, the graveyard musicians, hitchhiking ghosts, the ballroom dancers and places like the hall of mirrors, corridor of doors and the tower with the hanging ghost. In the beginning, there’s even a shot alluding to the Tiki Hut. New elements that help provide the storyline the movie needed include the love story between two ghosts, the jealous butler who’d kill for his master, the flesh eating "Thriller"-looking ghouls that try to attack the family and skeletons that rise from coffins. Murphy has perfected the funny and impatient dad who is initially self-absorbed with a few blind spots but quickly takes on the role of “hero” in the end. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast just doesn’t live up to the talent or charisma Murphy projects. The kids do a decent job of acting scared, but neither one steals the movie with talent. Thomason is mismatched against Murphy’s acting abilities and ends up being more of a prop (who sounds like Leeza Gibbons whining) than a character. This is an exciting movie for kids to watch because of scenes when the children are caught in perilous situations and the comedy that Murphy brings to the story. It also feels familiar because many kids have probably ridden the ride that resembles the movie so, all in all, it’s supposedly “OK” entertainment. However …

Bad:  What I can’t for the life of me understand is why Disney would release a movie about ghosts the week of Thanksgiving? This is a story that would have been better placed in the summer lineup or even in September, when Halloween was just around the corner. And that's assuming parents don't mind their kids seeing movies about ghosts. But to put a story about ghosts, ghouls and death in a season when movies should be about the spirit of peace, joy and love? At least make it kid-friendly and jolly! I have to wonder, "what were they thinking?" Along with mild language, there are a couple of “oh my God” exclamations and a few puns like Jim complaining about a ghost trying to "get jiggy" with his wife and "look at the size of those knockers" spoken at the front door. The real concern for me is smaller children seeing the scary ghosts appearing throughout the house, ghouls climbing out of their coffins – and in true Boris Karloff fashion – slide toward the panicking and fleeing Murphy and kids. Gracey is shown hanging himself and swinging up in the tower, and the two ghost servants who help the kids are decapitated when their heads hit a clothesline (but their heads quickly come back). A decomposed ghoul grabs the dad, but he closes a door and severs the arm and the hand moves on the ground ... and on and on. Any one of these scenes would have given me nightmares for weeks when I was a kid. I was flinching when the zombies almost got Murphy and the daughter. So when I walked out of the theater and saw a mom with her four year-old, I asked the mother if her daughter was afraid during the movie and she said, “No, not really; she didn’t seem to mind it.” I then bent down and asked the girl, “Were you scared when the monsters jumped out of the water and almost grabbed the little girl?” She nodded her head up and down quickly and said “Yes!” So much for the discerning parent who knows her child. 

Bottom Line:  This isn’t a bad movie. It has a few entertaining moments, and Murphy was funny in several parts. But in a season that is known for spreading joy and holiday cheer, why would you want to scare your kids or give them images of ghouls and skeletons to dance in their heads? Go see “Elf” instead.