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The Haunted Mansion
2003 - PG - 99 Mins.
Director: Rob Minkoff
Producer: Rob Minkoff, Andrew Gunn, Don Hahn, Barry Barnadi
Written By: David Berenbaum
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Terrance Stamp, Jennifer Tilly, Nathaniel Parker, Wallace Shawn, Aree Davis
Review by: Joe Rickey
Disney has turned two of their other popular theme park attractions into feature films with The Country Bears and Pirates of the Caribbean to varying degrees of success. The Country Bears was a dismal flop, never engaging the minds of a mass audience despite having the power of Disney marketing campaign behind it. The Pirates of the Caribbean, on the other hand, grossed over 300 million at the box office in the summer of 2003, trailing only Finding Nemo (Coincidentally, another Disney film) as the highest grossing film of the year. With such sporadic performance from their theme park properties turned films, where would The Haunted Mansion lie in comparison?

Eddie Murphy continues his downward spiral into child targeted film hell with this film after appearing in the inexplicable box office hit, Daddy Day Care back in May of 2003, one of the year’s most puzzling successes. Well, as childish (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not) as Daddy Day Care was, it at least had some semblance of life to it along with a quick pace that made it more bearable as a result. However, The Haunted Mansion is a surprisingly lifeless affair. From the very beginning, as the opening credits sloppily detail the background plot involving the death of someone’s wife apparently by poisoning. This sequence is obscured by needless visual effects that are especially annoying because they prevent a clear view of what is occurring on the screen, events important for understanding the rest of the film. When a film can’t even get the credits sequence right you know that you’re in trouble.

The film also struggles in maintaining interest in the aforementioned clichéd plot because it has been told so many times that only a bold new take on the material could have reinvigorated something that has become old hat in Hollywood films. Writer David Berenbaum (Elf) decides against taking any sorts of chances with the material and therefore we are left with less than creative output. The film could have presented a darker version of such a story and there likely would have been greater rewards for doing so. Pirates of the Caribbean did just that and turned out to be a rousing success. In fact, the theme of not taking any chances could be applied to the film as a whole. Director Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little 2) shows a distinct lack of imagination in presenting the material, telegraphing many of the key events long in advance of when they actually happen. Eddie Murphy plays it safe in yet another everyman role as the overworked father who ignores his family in favor of making extra money whenever possible. The supporting performances are, for the most part, just as bland and unexciting as Murphy’s performance.

There are a few bright spots in the film. The special effects, when not obscuring the action, are quite good and bring to life various aspects of the ride experience effectively. The lone good performance comes in the form of Terrance Stamp as the cold and mysterious butler who obviously holds a few dark secrets of his own. His delivery of the lines is so emotionless as to be eerie and very well suited for his character. His equally expressionless face compliments his line delivery.

Overall, The Haunted Mansion is a disappointing film because it is obviously playing it safe in most every facet of filmmaking.
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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