It’s October and Halloween is only a day away! It’s special time of year that conjures great memories of costumes, candy and all things creepy. These are hardly things you think about when you conjure up visions of Disney parks. They are the epitome of goodness and purity, hardly a place for anything as heathenistic as Halloween, right? Wrong. Ol’ Walt knew a thing or two about capturing a moment and he knew that there is a very special feeling a child, young or old get when the leaves on the trees change and the pumpkins ripen. He knew that this was one of those moments he had to capture, so he caught nine hundred and ninety-nine of them, stuffed them into a dusty old mansion and charged admission for the living to visit the dead.
You guys remember that little ditty that plays when you ride the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland, don’t you? The one about the nine hundred and ninety-nine souls that inhabit the Haunted Mansion at Disneyworld? That epic seven minute and thirty seconds of goofy, spooky rambling by the supposedly ‘happy’ ghosts of the mansion?
“We have 999 happy haunts here, but there’s room for a thousand. Any volunteers?” –The Ghost Host
This ain’t your typical run of the mill carnival ride either. No siree bob! Exit the sleazy carnival barkers leering at everyone. Ax the handsy ride operators helping all the cute teenage girls in and out of the rustbucket cars. No! This is an immersive experience that blurs the edges of reality and fantasy showcasing effects that are as close to life as you can get without having actual real ghosts haunt the ride. For seven minutes and thirty seconds, you are almost literally thrust into a spectral playground that only the Imagineers at Disney could offer you.
The storyline is simple. You visit an old mansion on a dark and stormy night and you are shown around the house. The end? Hardly. It’s the rich ghostly characters that you meet during your tour that make the ride. They all have their own backstories, too. All nine hundred and ninety-nine of them. That amount of detail translates when you visit the attraction. If you think about it, the ride designers only had seven and a half minutes to tell their tale with all of those characters. It seems almost impossible to execute, but Disney does it! With a track record like that it was only a matter of time before the world of the attraction would bleed beyond the gates of the Magic Kingdom and into the consumer world.
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Mugs, posters, lunchboxes, clothing, figurines, and even a replica of Madame Leota‘s gravestone are available to purchase. There was a read-along storybook/record that yours truly had a well-worn copy of. You could get several Halloween costumes of the Mansion’s more familiar specters. There were model kits, board games, you name it, they had/have it. It doesn’t stop there. Once those floodgates were opened the mansion was everywhere.
A video game, based on the ride was released for the PlayStation 2, XBox and GameCube consoles in 2003. The objective is to move through all twenty-seven rooms of the house collecting all 999 Happy Souls from each level. The game had a luke-warm reception which could have been foreshadowing for the movie released in the same year. Earlier this year, Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) creator Shannon Tindle wrote a couple of episodes for a series to be based on the famous Disney ride. There were two different pilots produced but sadly it seems there is no interest from the House of Mouse. There is, however, a trailer for the yet-to-be-made show available online.
On the big screen, things have been much the same. In 2003 Eddie Murphy starred in a comedy/fantasy/horror version of The Haunted Mansion (2003) that was neither funny nor scary and performed poorly at the box office. Not even Murphy’s talents and box office draw could save the film from poor critical and audience reviews. It currently sits at a smelly 13% on Rotten Tomatoes. Fast forward seven years to 2010 and the news broke that a remake would be in the works. Things were suddenly looking up for a possible franchise.
This one really perked up people’s ears as Disney named director Guillermo del Toro as the remake’s writer and producer. Del Toro took his kids to see the Eddie Murphy film years earlier and had mixed feelings about it. This, of course, got the wheels turning in a brain that always has the wheels turning.
“The movie I see in my head of Haunted Mansion is not, I believe, what everyone is imagining it to be. It’s not just a regular world with a haunted mansion plopped in the middle. I really am thinking of a movie that has a heightened reality.” – Guillermo del Toro
Del Toro’s film would have a PG-13 rating. It would be family friendly but scary. Hell, it would even have the dreamy Ryan Gosling starring in it. This was all for not when the studio decided against moving forward with the project though and sadly, both Del Toro and Gosling left the project shortly after the decision.
While cinematically, it seems the future is dim for the Haunted Mansion and its many ethereal inhabitants, that doesn’t mean it is doomed altogether. You see, millions of people visit Disney Parks all over the world and a great majority ride the Haunted Mansion attraction. Contrary to popular belief, they also have souls. Each and every one of them and with 999 happy spots taken in the Mansion, there’s always room for one more. Any volunteers?