A few months ago Disney announced that aside from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels, they won’t be doing any further Disneyland rides-turned-movies. They must’ve made that decree after seeing this – to put it simply “Haunted Mansion” is every bit as bad as “The Country Bears” although more of a crime considering the rich source material. In fact in many ways its like that other big budget spooky mansion disaster “The Haunting” – ie. superb sets and the odd clever idea but ultimately destroyed by the painfully dull and poorly constructed backstory at its centre.
One has to wonder what happened. Director Rob Minkoff tries the very difficult balance of scares, laughs, a ghostly romance mystery, an action FX spectacle and doing it all within the restraints of a PG rating. Its admittedly a very tough order to pull off and sadly it fails badly. Visually though its a success – the sets look glorious, some simple tricks like a ‘breathing door’ work very nicely, the skeleton zombies are excellent – yet the script is as limp and cold as a real dead body. There’s no epic spin or cleverness to the story like ‘Pirates’ and Murphy is certainly no Depp, which leaves us with a dry and very cliched fable which runs by at a funeral pace – turning 99 minutes into something that feels much longer.
The humans, whether they be mansion residents or of the Evers family, are cardboard cut outs of the most familiar order – the wise-cracking daughter, the inquisitve young son, the beautiful mom disappointed her husband is too focussed on his career, etc. You couldn’t care less for this family, much less the struggling to sound spooky Terence Stamp or Nathaniel Parker as the butler and Mr. Gracey respectively. Jennifer Tilly has a small role as a fortune-telling crystal ball with the odd good line. Funnily enough the film’s most smile-inducing moments come from entirely artificial characters – namely a barbershop quartet of stone busts.
Honestly without the quality effort put in by the design people, this joins the likes of Murphy’s other stinkers of late like “Pluto Nash” or the “Doctor Dolittle” sequel, yet when you have someone like Minkoff in charge (he did “The Lion King” and “Stuart Little”) you would expect something with a lot more energy or creativity to it. Given talents like Murphy, Stamp and even the elaborate sets – he never seems able to generate any life out of events (pardon my pun) which ultimately leaves this mansion a very dull place to visit.