The Haunted Mansion
Directed by Rob Minkoff. Starring Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Wallace Shawn, Jennifer Tilly, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason, Dina Waters, Marc John Jefferies, Aree Davis. (2003, PG, 99 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 28, 2003
Disney continues its recent trend of re-purposing its amusement-park rides into feature movies, a dubious activity but one that proved its potential worth with this summer’s box-office bonanza of Pirates of the Caribbean. But the Johnny Depp x-factor so integral to the success of Pirates does not transfer to Eddie Murphy, who here breezes through this family-friendly haunted-house movie with the blasé conviction of a man who knows that all the ghosts will disappear at the end of the ride. The world of The Haunted Mansion is a world of PG-acceptable scares and frights (minus, perhaps, a couple of suicide-by-hanging silhouettes). With its atmosphere of heavy fog, CGI ghosties, and harmless surprises, The Haunted Mansion calls to mind Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" video more than any other horror touchstone. Murphy is solid, if uninspiring, as the movie’s driven real-estate agent Jim Evers. In business partnership with his wife Sara (Thomason), Jim can’t resist the opportunity while on a weekend vacation with his family to detour to a stately antebellum mansion whose owner had solicited Sara’s services in selling his property. The family arrives, is stranded due to a rainstorm, and slowly discovers why it was that the owner Edward Gracey (Parker) wished to lure Sara to the mansion. Seems it is that she resembles his former love from an earlier century, who supposedly killed herself rather than face public opposition to their love, an act which cast the mansion into perpetual darkness. It’s interesting that the movie manages to set this up without ever resorting to any commentary on race or showing a clear picture of Gracey’s former love. Are we to assume that Gracey was in love with a black woman (thereby making marriage illegal in most states at the time) or that Sara resembles a white woman? The Haunted Mansion never clarifies this background information, an angle which might have provided this toothless story with some real bite. Interestingly, the movie is authored by newcomer David Berenbaum, who also scripted the current surprise hit Elf. The Haunted Mansion relies on the quirky mansion residents for lots of its humor. Included here are the comically stentorian butler Ramsley (Stamp), servants played by Wallace Shawn and Dina Waters, and Madame Leota (Tilly), a gypsy riddler in a glass ball. Also mined for comedy are cemetery statues that sing barbershop quartets and lots of behind-the-scenes work from faceless computer animators. Learn from the Evers family: The Haunted Mansion is not worth the detour.