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The Foothill Dragon Press

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Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” is a frightfully fun movie for all

Karli Riehle
20 years after the initial film, the 2003 movie, “The Haunted Mansion” is given a revisit. With its release, movie critic Rihanna Samples gives her thoughts on this spooky delight.

On July 28, 2023, Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” made its way to the big screens relatively unnoticed compared to its box office competitors “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.” With a star-studded cast, the film follows Gabby (Rosario Dawson) and her nine-year-old son, Travis (Chase Dillon), as they hope to start their lives anew by moving to a historic old mansion in New Orleans. As Gabby and Travis begin exploring their new home, they instantly realize this abandoned mansion has a sinister secret.

As soon as the clock strikes midnight, the undead apparitions come alive and the mansion turns into a dangerous place run by its ghostly guests. In order to protect themselves, and hopefully rid their new home of its otherworldly spirits, Gabby and Travis enlist the help of Ben Mattias (LaKeith Stanfield), a grieving astrophysicist who vowed to put the paranormal behind him, Father Kent (Owen Wilson), a “religious” priest who performs exorcisms, Professor Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito), a historical expert with knowledge of the paranormal and a seemingly phony spiritual medium named Harriet (Tiffany Haddish).

Promoting the theatrical release of Disney’s “Haunted Mansion”, the movie poster shows all six of the main characters along with the eerie illusion of the Gracie Mansion inside the crystal ball. The dark, mysterious colors along with the ominous mood, invites the onlooking “foolish mortals” to join the characters for the spooky spectacular ride, if they dare. ( WDW Info)

While each member of the group investigates the mansion, they find themselves forced to stay inside; otherwise, when they try to leave, they are haunted by a hitchhiking ghost. By working together to sort through the clues, they discover that not only are they being kept inside the mansion by a malicious spirit, but this spirit only needs to claim one more willing soul until it can wreak havoc on the world. With the clock ticking down, the group battles against outward spirits, along with their inner demons, as they desperately search for a way to escape the mansion and stop an unspeakable evil from destroying the world they love.

Although the storyline seemed promising from the initial trailer, the actual film struggled to fit itself into a specific genre. It wasn’t quite scary enough to be horror, funny enough to be strictly comedy, or even mysterious enough to be a mystery. The storyline was highly predictable, especially during the climax of the film, which took away from the overall ‘mystery’ of the story. In moments where it was meant to be suspenseful, such as the final standoff between the protagonists and the Hatbox Ghost, it was obvious what the outcome was going to be and exactly how the protagonists were going to win before it even happened. It’s hard to stay invested in a film when you’re able to guess what’s coming next. This was majorly reflected by the negative critic scores, as “Haunted Mansion” only received 38% by critics on Rotten Tomatoes.

That being said, “Haunted Mansion” does have its strong points. The best thing about the film is the message behind it, along with the difficult topics it portrays. Throughout the entire film, the importance of family is highlighted again and again, showing that not all families are related by blood. In fact, many are shaped by the circumstances that they endure together. Gabby and Travis find a family they never thought they would have in the spiritual guides they hired. The film also tackles the topic of grief and the profound impact and guilt it can create. The main antagonist of the film, the Hatbox ghost, is a personification of the crushing fear that grief can inflict. The film overall does a great job of normalizing grief, by showing the hardships and trials that Ben Mattias faces as he begins to process his grief and by illustrating that overcoming it doesn’t happen instantaneously, it is a process that takes time.

Along with the strong central message, the film’s many references to its Disneyland counterpart will not disappoint any diehard fan of the original ride. It is chock-full of fun easter eggs including the scowling 3D statues, paintings with moving eyes, the stretching room, the hitchhiking ghosts, along with the famous settings such as the dining room and graveyard. Not only does it include fun easter eggs for any ride-loving watcher, but the two main mansions in the film are directly modeled off of both major Disney attractions; the Gracie Mansion is modeled after the Disneyland ride, while the Crump Mansion is modeled after its Disney World equivalent.

While it may not have been the next cinematic masterpiece, or even a huge box office hit—only making a little more than $24 million on its opening weekend compared to its $150 million budget—the outstanding performances by the lead actors, along with the spooky visuals effects and heartfelt message, make up for the movie’s predictable plot. It is a great film for people of all ages, even a Foothill Technology High School (Foothill Tech) student wishing to kick back with a bowl of popcorn. “Haunted Mansion” is far superior to its 2003 predecessor and earns a solid four out of five-star rating.

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About the Contributors
Rihanna Samples, Multimedia Editor
A junior who is constantly looking at the world through the lens of a camera.
Karli Riehle, Illustrator
A first-year illustrator, obsessed with dragons and doodling.

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