Monday, December 26, 2011

The Mansion at the Movies

Ah, there you are...

      I hope you all had a merry Christmas. A while back on the Facebook Page, I revealed my thoughts on the Guillermo Del Toro film; to everyone's surprise, I claimed that I hoped it tanks. Let me start this post by rephrasing that statement: Part of me hopes that the film tanks. How could that be? How could any mansion fan make such a blasphemous statement? Let's first take a look back to 2003, when Disney launched three of their classic attractions into Hollywood.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

     Three classic attractions were about to make their jump to the silver screen that year: Pirates of the Caribbean, The Country Bear Jamboree, and The Haunted Mansion. In all honesty, this wasn't the first time a ride got the movie treatment, (Tower of Terror, etc.) but this was the real beginning of this sudden trend. Let's take a look at each one. Don't worry, this is all part of how I plan to explain my statement about the upcoming reboot. Okay, so we will start with Pirates; even though the Country Bears came out before it, Pirates will be first because it will make more sense to start with the successful one first.

The Good: Pirates of the Caribbean
     ...Too good for it's own good, actually; Pirates of the Caribbean was Disney's big break with the attraction-to-film idea. The box office juggernaut still is pumping out sequels and revenue. Today if you ask somebody about the topic "Pirate's of the Carribean", you will most likely hear about a movie staring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, and Keira Knightly; not about the veteran attraction at Disneyland that broke major ground for the Disney rides of today. What you have here is a case of something that turned out too good for it's own good. It's gone out of hand, out of control. It was a freak of nature; the attraction that people all around the world knew about when it open is now nothing in comparison with the Hollywood money monster. This is what can happen if the reboot is a sucess. You will get something that brings change to the source material. We're not dealing with something like a book adaptation here; it's a theme park ride, and it's subject to change. Here is just a small visual at what happened to Pirates because of the movie phenomenon:

    Above are only two of the dozen or so scene changes that were made to the attraction. Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Tokyo (Thankfully not Paris as of this writing) all modified their rides to revolve around the film. Even the audio wasn't left to be as it had been for the 36 years prior to making it's jump to the silver screen. Bellow, take a listen to some music cues, from before the films, and after the films:

Dunking Carlos the Mayor

The Chase Scene

    For some reason now, all the Pirates are just as interested in locating actor Johnny Depp as they are in finding the treasure. Perhaps another post here will be dedicated to this confusing new story, and my analysis of the additions. But for this post, the important thing I'm trying to drill home is that the movie ended up taking Pirates and changing it from extraordinary, world renowned theme park attraction, to blockbuster Hollywood film franchise. We are going to leave the 2003 Mansion movie for the last in order to make a valid point at the end, so that means we are going over Country Bears next.

The Ugly: The Country Bears

   I'm still baffled as to how this film ever got through production without getting canceled. Country Bear Jamboree might have made a good animated movie, but a live action film? And without any of the music from the attraction, or ether of it's two overlays? (Country Bear Vacation Hoe-Down, and Country Bear Christmas) This movie was, in polite terms, a terrible waste of celluloid film. It's 88 minutes my life can never get back. The film was the polar opposite of Pirates of the Caribbean. It did everything wrong. The plot involves a anthropomorphic bear who has been adopted by a human family. He runs away after realizing that *gasps* he was adopted. He goes on a mind-numbing road trip of self-discovery to try and bring his favorite band, the Country Bears, back together, after they have been split up for a good amount of time. They travel all over the South, looking for the band members at various human-run establishments while breaking out into really awful song and dance numbers. I would go into more detail here, but all you need to do is check the movie's page on Rotten Tomatoes to realize this movie wasn't a hit. I wasted 88 minutes waiting to hear the "Bear Band Serenade" from the attraction preformed in the movie. Not once did they sing or play anything remotely similar to the music in the ride. If you haven't seen this film, I urge you to avoid it and forget that it ever existed. If you have seen it, you have my sympathy, and I urge you to keep acting like it never existed. I doubt that Del Toro's film about the mansion will end up like this though; this is the lowest of the low. Expect to see the Enchanted Tiki Room, Matterhorn, and Tommorrowland Indy Speedway films in this category if they make it to the big screen.

The Bad: The Haunted Mansion

   Okay, let me start off by saying that 2003's Rob Minkoff's Haunted Mansion film was not a bad film. I enjoyed it; it could have been much better, but it could have been way worse; it didn't fall into a category of extremley successful, or ungodly terrible. There were some really good things this movie had going for it, and some pretty bad things as well. Let's look at the positives:

The Settings:
You really can't complain here. Nearly all the scenes within the mansion are extremely eye-pleasing. The set design had to be one of the best things in the film.

The Music:
Or I should say, the score, by Mark Mancina. The official soundtrack release was rubbish. We really didn't get a full out, vocal, Graveyard jamboree version of "Grim Grinning Ghosts", but we did get a very lush composition of the instrumental tune in a cinematic sound, similar to Phantom Manor, but in a non-looped, realistic film-style format.

   And then, we have the okay stuff; some people would say that Rick Baker's make up and Special Effects go in the category above, but I wasn't as impressed by most of it as others were; on the whole, I though the special effects were passable for the most part. The way they did the ghosts still looks kind of odd to me; and I hate how the singing busts look like Claymation; in A Night in The Haunted Mansion, you will all witness my vision of the bust coming to life. The acting was so-so for the most part; but then again, some things were less than pleasing...

The Story and Script:
We get a variant of the "Story & Song" plot in which we see a group end up stuck in the mansion due to a rainstorm. But they are more than a few instances that had me shaking my head in shame at the way the action was playing out, and the characters were speaking. Madame Leota should not be used for comic relief!

Eddy Murphy:
As much as I like Eddie Murphy as an actor and comedian in movies like Shrek, Daddy Daycare, The Nutty Professor, and his stand-up acts like Delirious, (which I love) I really felt like he was just thrown into this movie because of star-power. While he delivers laughs in the film, the Mansion is not something I feel I should be laughing at for comedic value as a fan of the attraction.

The Haunted Mansion wasn't a box-office flop, but it wasn't a mega-success like Pirates. I prefer watching the mansion movie to Pirates myself. The movie really didn't need to be a theatrical release though, because watching it now, it really doesn't feel like one. It feels more like a really expensive, made for TV film. Not that it's a bad thing. Rose Red, Stephen King's Haunted House film is one of the best "Ghost" movies in my book, and it was made for TV. With this film not being so successful, we got a decent Mansion based film without all of the added ride-changing baggage that came with Pirates. But what would have happened had the movie been a mega hit? While these additions were rumored in 2003, I'm sure that they would have been physical fact had the movie been a major hit:

    So yeah, we dogged a huge bullet and got the better of the three situations that came out of the films in 2003. So, why do I partially hope the new film tanks? Del Toro seems like THE guy in Hollywood to do a Mansion movie, so why shouldn't I be anything but excited to see an enthusiast like myself making the movie* out of my favorite Disney attraction?

    * "Duh, your making one and your not happy seeing a film with a bigger budget and resources, and, duh, you think your's is better because it's your's" Your wrong there; A Night in The Haunted Mansion is completely void of this issue. I am not comparing a Hollywood film to my out-of-pocket, time-consuming, non-profit project, but I'd expect that sort of remark out of quite a few; so we will start off by staying that this is NOT the reason behind my partial desire to see the film fail. The two movies are both tributes to the ride; Del Toro's is just an official, legally-licensed for profit production.

   The artwork above got everyone excited. Because we all know who that is. Ol' Hattie is being used as the central character, according to Del Toro, in this new film. If this isn't a reason to worry, I don't know what is...

"Wait, what? The Hatbox Ghost as the main character is something to worry about? What could be bad about that?!?"

    ...I could see why many a fan would look past the reason. Because his presence as a main character in the film  would mean he would obviously come back in the attraction, and not to many mansion fans have anything against that. Even though we almost got Hattie back in 2009 before the film was announced and his re-installation was put on hold, the re-inclusion of the infamous ghost needs to be done very carefully. Because if he isn't done right, he will loose a lot of the aura and mystique that make him such a popular persona. First, we'll look at him in the ride, then, in the film.

I'm not going to go back over the entire Hatbox Ghost History; that can be found on plenty of other blogs. What you need to really remember is that the attic was a different place back in 1969. No talking, no music, no wedding vibe about the entire scene. Just pop-ups and blast-ups, the Corpse Bride, and the Hatbox Ghost; all accompanied by a few shrieks, screams and the heavy thumping of a heart. Now, in 2011, we have a clear wedding theme about the entire room; the pop-ups, blast-ups, and screams are all gone. The Hatbox Ghost is nowhere to be seen, and the bride is now a fully developed, story-driven character with dialouge and an axe in hand. Oh, and she is directly across from Hattie's old spot too. Well, this brings up a really serious question that might set some Mansion fans on edge:

"From an Imagineering standpoint, how do you make the scene bellow work, so that the bride doesn't get all the attention from the majority of the guests, and that both characters get equal time in the spotlight during this extremely short scene?"

     Sorry mansion fan-boys and fan-girls, but if your looking at this in a majority perspective, the talking character is going to get the most attention. Especially if the character trying to divert some of that attention is merely a static figure with lighting changes.


     Because putting myself in the shoes of an average Disney guest, the technologically advanced, axe-wielding, attractive, pun-loving bride on the left side is much more eye-popping and attention grabbing then the static, quivering, skeletal senior citizen on the right. Just because us mansion fans love Hattie and a good few hate Constance doesn't mean are views are that of the average rider. I expect you know where this is going...

     Above is an updated, un-cropped version of my April Fools 2011 "Updated Hatbox Ghost" photo I created, showing a projection-style version of Ol' Hattie. As much as I hate to say it, the only logical way to go about the problem is to make Hattie a projection effect the way Constance is achieved. This way, not only will he look like he belongs across the track from bride, but he will be able to talk and interact with her from across the track, and therefore, draw in more than just a little visual attention. And if this isn't done the right way, it could be disastrous. But unless the imagineers just throw in an updated static figure with lighting effects or a low grade AA figure just to please all the Mansion fans, (which would be a Miracle if there ever was a perfect definition of the word, as well as a complete head-scratcher) I highly doubt he will return in a form that is anything as quiet or as still as he was in August 1969.

    Now look at this situation from your inter-mansion fan (assuming that if you've read this far, you have some of that in your heart); what kind of voice does the Hatbox Ghost look like he'd have? What kind of personality would he have? If you ask a group of ten mansion fans individually, I doubt you'd get the same answers from everyone. Those who think he should be a hoarse-voiced joker, whose insanity makes Constance look like Mother Teresa would be less than happy to find a stuttering, bass-voiced ghost who cowers in fear of his axe-wielding bride. There are so many ways to go with this scene and this character that you have to wonder how many different versions of the Hatbox Ghost could they create? He really doesn't have a defined back-story as of right now. Why is his ghost present in the attic, and not Ambrose, Reggie, or the other husbands? Why is he so skeletal looking, while Constance's ghost is young and beautiful? I could go on and on. The expectations each mansion fan has for Hattie are different, and each is just as likely to fell let down when he returns.

   This ties into the movie; I promise; we have the same issue in the movie as in the ride now; who would play him? Knowing Del Toro, he could possibly end up being a Muppet like Yoda or all those soul-eating, Nightmare fueling creature puppets in the Dark Crystal. We could see him in a form that doesn't have the pop-eyed skeleton face we associate with the character; after all, he's the Hatbox Ghost, and his name never refers to a skeleton with a popped eye; only one carrying a Hatbox. I doubt he looked so darn scary in his lifetime as young man. Each mansion fan has a different feeling on how the Hatbox Ghost should be portrayed. Have you ever read a really bad fan-fiction story where a character is put in a situation that makes you think, "What the...?" Or they have them say or do something that you see as completely out-of-character for the guidelines and personality boundaries that the character has set up for them in whatever book, movie, show, ride, etc that the character comes form;

(Examples; Harry Potter trying to get it on with Hermonie; Jack Sparrow being sober for more then half of a story; Darth Vader reading a story to Jedi Younglings during reading month; Mickey Mouse spontaneously coming out of the closet and sharing sexual feelings for Pete, Goofy's Overweight friend; you get the drift, these things do happen online, and are as baffling as anything could be)

With Hattie being the main character, (unless he ends up mute, which I doubt will happen) he will have a voice, and a personality. His boundaries and guidelines are non-existent for the most part. (If I see Hattie making bathroom jokes or wearing a swimsuit and acting feminine, then we have a serious problem) Once you give him those traits, a lot of what makes him so cool, so popular among mansion fans; will be hacked off of his reputation forever. The mystery, the mystique, it will all be washed away.

    So that's why I'm not going all in with Del Toro's Haunted Mansion till it plays out; that, plus the fact that it's in 3D. If the Haunted Mansion isn't a prime candidate for 3D gimmick effects, I don't know what is. I will however, go all in with A Night in The Haunted Mansion, but that's because I'm the director, co-producer, and screenwriter, and I know what I think is safe territory for the Hatbox Ghost to venture into; and that is virtually being a terrifying presence and nothing but...

I'll see you all a little later...



  1. You make some very good points. We'll have to wait and see how this pans out.

  2. So you're for or against 3D for the movie?

    "So that's why I'm not going all in with Del Toro's Haunted Mansion till it plays out; that, plus the fact that it's in 3D."
    (Sounds like you're against it.)

    "If the Haunted Mansion isn't a prime candidate for 3D gimmick effects, I don't know what is."
    (Sounds like you're for it.)

    Personally I'm all for the HM film being in 3D. I want to be immersed in the Mansion's environments and see ghosts floating around right in front of me.

  3. When I say gimmick effects, I mean stuff that pop's out of the screen to startle the audience; it will date the film once this second coming of 3D is behind us. You'll sit down and say, oh, that was so for the 3D. I'm not really for 3D, even the "Depth enhancing" 3D, because I frankly don't feel like having to wear goofy glasses every time I watch a film, when, if done right, the same depth effect can be achieved without 3D.

  4. If they bring back the Hatbox ghost, removing Constance entirely is always a possibility (not saying they would, just that it is something that could be done). The bride's changed several times over the years, and Constance is a rubbish effect anyways (at least in the Disneyland version, is she better at WDW?), so it'd be killing two birds with one stone, really.