Master Gracey: This mansion has waited long for its shroud of darkness to be lifted.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
With the success of turning the Pirates of the Caribbean ride into a feature length movie Disney sought to continue this trend by making another popular ride, The Haunted Mansion into a movie. And no matter where you stand on the Pirates movies (or their sequels for that matter) this movie really couldn’t make it big the same way.
The story involves workaholic real estate agent Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) who has been neglecting his wife Sara (Marsha Thomason) and two kids Michael (Marc John Jefferies) and Megan (Aree Davis) so he takes his family on a vacation. Before doing so they stop by a mansion that Evers has been asked to sell only to find it haunted by Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker), his butler Ramsley (Terrance Stamp), and a couple of other servants who need help to break a curse that surrounds the mansion. As the family explores the mansion they come across many wonders and uncover dark secrets.
For all this movie’s flaws it opens on a rather promising note with the visuals and the music showcasing a spooky but whimsical vibe. And it was very well done in how they showcased the dark backstory of the mansion without actually saying anything about it. There’s enough context to tell me a lot but it leaves me wanting to know what happened. It feels genuinely scary. But sadly it all goes downhill once we meet the human characters. The setup of the workaholic dad is overly clichéd and in trying to set up the human characters it feels more like padding than anything. Even the acting and direction feel much more out of a DCOM rather than a full-fledged cinematic movie. The idea of outsiders venturing haunted territory and discovering its many secrets and mysteries is a good one but there’s no sign of the movie taking advantage of what it could do. The movie just feels on autopilot with its emotion, wonders, and spooky factors not giving any sense of the experience as much as just showing it to us.
In regards to the cast, I definitely grew up liking Eddie Murphy whether it be his stand-up, his work on SNL (particularly Mister Robinson’s neighborhood), his voice work in movies like Mulan or Shrek, or his other movies like Coming to America or the Golden Child. Murphy definitely looks like he’s having fun with this movie but his comedic approach feels like basic goofiness. The rest of the actors for their family are either average or just downright flat in their delivery.
The one actor who actually feels like he’s having the time of his life with this movie is Terrance Stamp as the butler. His delivery is delightfully over the top but he does at times possess a sinister side. And his look blends perfectly with the spooky atmosphere. Then there’s Jennifer Tilly as Madam Leota and the effects for her still hold up well and to her credit her quirkiness does get a chuckle but Tilly really doesn’t feel like the right choice to play this character. It just doesn’t feel like the fit for this kind of spooky movie. Nathaniel Parker as Edward Gracey does show a bit of class in his performance but his delivery comes across as just so overly whimsical and his dialogue gets repetitive fast. Throughout the entire movie he’s telling the mother the story of the mansion and yet for some reasons she’s listening to it for so long without question.
The ride had quite the variety of ghosts and it would be awesome to see all the shapes and sizes the ghouls come in but most of them are just background references to the ride and others are one note and only appear in human form. There’s not much time to appreciate all the unique ghosts that could and should be seen and it’s too bad because some of the effects for them do look well. But this boils down to my biggest problem with the film: The boring stuff is more focused on whereas the interesting haunting and spooky stuff is glossed over.
At the end of the day Eddie Murphy’s Haunted Mansion is just one giant missed opportunity. It’s not a bad idea for a movie and with all the remakes Disney is doing this is something that could use one in animation or live action. There are many possibilities with this idea but for now all we’ll have is this mediocrity. Anyone at Disney if you read this (if it’s even possible) step up and offer an idea for a new Haunted Mansion. It’s never too late.