Haunted Mansion Screenplay Filled with Haunts and Memories. Disney movies are not the standard fare for THiNC., by any means. But there is a lot here (surprisingly) that a young Indie Screenplay Writer can learn from the Mouse-House.
Disney has been leveraging the magic of memory and nostalgia since well before there was anything to be nostalgic about. You think I’m being funny, I’m not. Literally, that is what Disney is so good at, making experiences so universal, and so heartfelt, that pretty much every first experience feels like a coming home. You know what I mean?
For me, I grew up just down the street from Anaheim – which is where Disneyland resides. And I spent so many days there, at the park, immersed in those experiences, that I feel like the fairy dust of the parks is pretty incredibly thick for me. But it really doesn’t matter if you’ve been there once, or a thousand times, if you’ve wandered onto the Haunted Mansion “ride” (more experience than ride) even once, you will be intrigued by what the Disney writers managed to do with this IP.
So, I went into this one with sort of a wry smile at the train wreck I was about to experience. It was going to be hot trash, and I just knew it. And yet, something happened! Something weird. Something extraordinary I didn’t expect. And I don’t know why I didn’t expect it because it’s the exact same thing that happened with the Pirates of the Caribbeans. They created a universal movie experience that was so in line with the ride that it’s as if all us fans are participating in the movie too.
Quick Haunted Mansion Overview
You know the ride I assume. You walk into the house, and you, along with hundreds of others, sort of are trapped there, are haunted along the way, and your undeclared goal? To escape. And the interesting thing is, there’s not much else to go on for the screenplay writers. There’s some interesting characters, and interesting experiences (the infinitely long hallways, the expanding ceilings) but not much else.
So, when the film sets up this idea, that a recently widowed mother Gabbie (Rosario Dawson), and son, Travis purchase this mansion to return to her roots… gets haunted by the house’s inhabitants. Right? Easy fix? Leave. Run. Get away from the ghosts. But the trick here? Is that when you leave, the ghosts follow you. There is no leaving. In order to “leave” the house, they need to resolve some deeper mystery. Worse, as the duo attempt to get help from “experts,” they too are trapped. And as more and more come, more and more are trapped. Sound like something else? Yeah, the ride, filled with hundreds of people at any given moment. Clever that.
We learn, after the group heads into the attic, that William Gracey originally purchased the mansion with the hope of getting in touch with his dead wife Leota. (On the ride she was the woman’s head in the crystal ball). Every single night Gracey attempted to summon his wife – every single night. Welp, as a result, he released hundreds of spirits into the mansion… and he then was tricked into taking his own life. Which results in trapping Leota in her crystal ball. They then discover both Gracey as well as the Hatbox Ghost. Another key personage in the ride.
Soon, the Hatbox Ghost is discovered to be Alistair Crump… a rich heir who was abused by his father. In revenge, he began killing the socialites of the day that shunned him. Ultimately his servants beheaded him. (This is a kid’s movie? This is DARK!) Here’s the interesting bit. Heading over to Crump Manor, they learn from the Mariner that Crump requires someone to willingly give up their life and become the mansion’s 1,000th spirit… and that will be the only way that they will be able to escape the mansion.
Ultimately, Ben convinces the ghosts to turn on Crump, and join their effort. And they use a piece of Crump’s hat to help banish Crump. After the banishing, many of the ghosts choose to stay at the mansion, and are now in alignment with Gabbie and Travis… they aren’t attacking them anymore. Happy haunts, yadda yadda.
You get the idea.
The movie itself, the meandering, McGuffin-filled chaos? Tripe. But what the movie does well is that they relive the most meaningful parts of the ride with laughter and low key scares. It also manages to ret-con the meaning of the various random details found throughout the house. So that people that have seen the ride 27 times will also really enjoy the experience of it.
Final Thoughts on the Movie
The movie is trash. It doesn’t pull off the magic of Pirates of the Caribbeans. It won’t go on to build an enormous multi-billion dollar franchise with Haunted Mansion 27. And it won’t convert into an international best seller on DVD, or stream gazillions of minutes on Disney+. And yet, the Mouse managed to figure out how to pull this movie out of the ditch for the Disney initiates. It aligns with the recent renovations of the ride, and it is interesting enough that it might just cause a few more people to head back to the parks to experience the fun of the ride one more time.
But there was one moment in particular that I want to end with. Danny Devito is trapped in a chair… and the chair goes flying out the foyer, down the front stairs, and out the driveway, and off into the woods. The chair is specifically designed to look EXACTLY like the ride chairs. We watch as he goes swooping out of the house, spinning and revolving without end. And we all say to ourselves… I’ve done that. I’ve been on that ride! And that was all it was intended to do. Sure, Haunted Mansion 27 would be cool. But even though this movie probably won’t make its budget back, (? Maybe?) it is an interesting expedition into the world of world building. The movie was a dumpster fire, and yet I enjoyed the screenplay’s successful attempts at nostalgic teleporting. So, kudos Disney there. Never mind the fact that the rest of the movie was a train wreck.