The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion

2003, PG, 99 min. Directed by Rob Minkoff. Starring Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Wallace Shawn, Jennifer Tilly, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason, Dina Waters, Marc John Jefferies, Aree Davis.

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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Rob Minkoff Films
Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank
Blazing Saddles meets Bushido for animated joy

Sarah Jane, July 15, 2022

Mr. Peabody & Sherman
The genius dog and his adopted human son return for these animated adventures in time travel.

Kimberley Jones, March 7, 2014

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
All That Breathes
The struggle by three men to save the endangered black kite

March 31, 2023

SXSW Film Review: <i>Joy Ride</i>
Film Review: Joy Ride
Groundbreaking comedy doesn't break the raunchy mold

March 19, 2023


The Haunted Mansion, Rob Minkoff, Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Wallace Shawn, Jennifer Tilly, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason, Dina Waters, Marc John Jefferies, Aree Davis

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle