Friday, September 16, 2011

Phantom Manor: Trip Report & Review Part 3

Continued from Part 2...

"Ah, there you are! Welcome, foolish mortals; there's no turning back now..."

We left off right after the Bride's Boudoir scene; we have just crossed the line where the Mansion and the Manor go in completely opposite directions. Where as the normal Haunted Mansion would have us headed out onto the balcony looking down into the graveyard we will soon be venturing through, Phantom Manor lets us out of the house into a graveyard garden of sorts on the same level as the Boudoir. The Phantom reveals himself to us in full figure, right in front of us, for the first time in the ride. No longer hidden in shadow, he gestures toward an opening grave which the never-ending ring of carriages plummets into as he laughs madly.

We begin our descent into catacombs of Thunder Mesa. Skeletons are seen rising out of coffins the carriages plunge further down the tunnel into the ground. The music at first is played in a way that makes you wonder if the skeletons are going to harm us or not. We round a corner and find that the skeletons have no intention of doing us in, and are merely having a jam session of sorts as the wake from their supernatural slumber. The music goes from suspenseful to jazzy right on cue. The singing busts, pretty off cue (Thurl seemed to be playing a second too slow, and the 3 others were playing a second too fast) begin to sing our favorite song, set to an amazing new underscore. We pass by a skeleton playing the "Skull-O-Phone" before venturing out from under the ground into the big finish.

Phantom Canyon, the hellish ghost town finale is where many fans of the original mansion seem to have there problems with Phantom Manor. Gone is the extended performance of "Grim Grinning Ghosts" as sung by the many ghosts from creepy-old-crypts all over the world. The Pop-up ghosts and the many Marc Davis sight gags that cover the original finale of the Haunted Mansion are all missing. Some have a problem with this, but not me. For me, it was a breath of fresh air. Something that was completely tolerable, and in some ways, more than I was expecting it to be. Let's begin our journey through Phantom Canyon, looking at the many gags presented to us along the way.

We begin by passing projections of Night on Bald Mountain wraiths on scrims that line the caves on either side of the exit archway that leads out of the catacombs. (See the flash photo I took to the left to get an idea of the exit archway) A swaying noose hangs off to the side of the track, and a flipped over carriage sits by a horse's skeleton. We then see Ezra, the Phantom Canyon train-station ticket-taker off to the right in the first of many collapsing buildings. He goes by this nick-name because of his resemblance to the skeletal faced Hitchhiking ghost by the same name in the American mansions. He nods his head along to the music as we pass by him, and off to the left, a familiar voice from the American Mansions fills the air. Paul Free's Ghost Host material is heard coming from the Mayor as he welcomes you to this hellish version of Frontierland; the collapsing city hall building directly behind him. (See picture on the Left) We enter the heart of the town; an subsequently, a cross-fire between a bandit on the left and the cowardly sheriff on the right. The Bandit can't get his stubborn pack-mule to cross the green-glowing trench that has just cracked open in the ground as the underworld version of the earthquake that destroyed thunder mesa begins to shift the ground. He shoots at the sheriff on the opposite side of the tracks, trying to keep him at bay while he tries to get his Donkey to pass over the crack in the ground. Off to the left, the town's pharmacist is seen drinking something that has him coughing up a storm. We are then directed towards the first half of the saloon; which has been torn in half by the earthquake, and now resides in pieces on both sides of the track. Still directed toward the right side, we see a Honky-Tonk Piano player, preforming Grim Grinning Ghosts. A wild west Can-Can Dancer (above right) waves to us as we pass by, while the Bartender offers us a drink. We then turn to face the best effect not seen in any of the other Haunted Mansions; the ghost poker game. On the opposite side of the track in the other half of the saloon, a group of invisible cowboys are having themselfs a game of poker, while enjoying a beer and cigars. The cards float above the table, held by unseen hands, and the cigar floats in mid air, puffing out smoke. Poker chips shift about the table as the game progresses. This was by far the most amazing effect in Phantom Manor. It's so original, and it doesn't have a similar effect to be compared to in any of the Mansions. This was one thing I hadn't seen before I rode it; I had heard about it, but had no clue what it looked like. Anyway, we continue up a slight incline towards a glowing horizon at sunset, right out of the finale of any old western film. The Phantom is finally seen without his skull "Mask" and revealed as a rotting corpse; quite a graphic looking visual for a Disney attraction. He laughs maniacally without ever stopping to take a breath in between. He gestures toward an open casket, urging us to remain in Phantom Canyon forever. But the carriages continue past in an effort to escape. We pass into a cave-like opening under the distorted shadow of the Mansion atop a rocky hillside to the left of the scene, out of ghost town.

The ghost town, as I said before, is a breath of fresh air. It doesn't go as far as Mystic Mess does in pulling away from the original Mansion concept. The whole point of Phantom Canyon is to show a more demented version of the earthquake that took the life of Henry Ravenswood, and created the legend of Phantom Manor and the rest of Frontierland.

We continue onward to the finale, where the Hitchhiking ghosts are replaced with the finale vision of Melanie Ravenswood; now a mere skeleton in a tattered wedding dress, she points the way out of the Phantom's demonic version of Frontierland. We proceed down a hallway with three ornate mirrors, in which the Phantom is seen one last time, creeping over the top of the carriage in one last effort to keep you in Phantom Manor for good. We then exit into the Manor's wine cellar, where we see what has been listed as Little Leota backstage according to ghost relations department. We then proceed out a shed on the side of the Manor back into the daylight of Frontierland.

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


Monday, September 12, 2011

Phantom Manor: Trip Report & Review Part 2

Continued from Part 1...

"Let us continue our tour; there is much to see, so look alive, and stay together; I'd hate to loose you all so soon..."

After boarding our Vekoma carriages, we progress up the up a short staircase and under an archway into total darkness. Out of the darkness, the first thing we will catch a glimpse of is a mirror on the wall which reflects the light from the previous room, the grand staircase. A little matter I forgot to mention in the first part of the post is that Phantom Manor pulls off nicely is the transition from light to dark. When we enter, the house has both natural and ambient lighting in the Foyer, unlike the Walt Disney World mansion, where you step straight into the disorienting darkness of the underground foyer. We round a corner and come face to face with the veiled figure of Melanie Ravenswood herself. Still young and beautiful, she bows as we pass further into the darkness.

Turning another corner, we are pointed down the endless hallway that appears at all the other Mansions. A candelabra floats midway down the shaft of doors. But before we can move onward, who should appear out of thin air but the beautiful bride herself, holding the candelabra, floating mid-way down the hallway, with a ghostly glow to her airborne figure. This effect is achieved in a similar way to the ballroom ghosts at all the other mansions. Pepper's Ghost; as they call the effect; is a reflection & lighting gag that can make things reappear and disappear, or create ghost-like figures in a way similar to seeing your reflection in a piece of glass. The effect is quite amazing here, because of the condensed space it's being created in, and the fact that your facing directly towards the figure at eye-socket level, unlike in the ballroom, where the ghosts are bellow and above you. We move onward as John Debny's Orchestral arrangement's of "Grim, Grinning Ghosts" is suddenly accompanied by sound of a piano. The shadowy figure of the pianist, who is actually the Phantom himself; according to official Disney documents; is seen spread across the floor of the conservatory. The keys of the piano move on their own, and the sound of the air-pistons that accompany the gag in the states is no where near as loud or obnoxious. The cars continue backward into the darkness, still facing in the direction of the endless hallway; as though the cars wish to proceed down the hall, but are being dragged onward by a more powerful, unseen force. It's been said that Melanie may have been warning us not to go down the hallway; so the unseen force could be her trying to pull us onward to safety; or it could be the Phantom dragging us away from his heavenly daughter towards the hell he has in store for us. You can decided that for yourself!

The carriages proceed blindly backward through the darkness, which is only pierced by the light of a few flickering chandeliers above our heads. The sounds of terrible monsters and creatures fill the air, trying to get out of the doors that are just visible a few feet from our faces in the inky blackness. Looking closer, it's apparent that the door knockers are turning on some of these doors; some are even shaking in their frame as though something powerful is pounding away on them. One looks as though it's a breathing body, inhaling and exhaling like it was made of rubber (it probably is, but it's supposed to be made of wood) and another is about to be pushed out of it's frame by skeletal hands that have grasped the top of the door itself! The sounds in Phantom Manor's Corridor of Doors are much scarier then the original Disneyland recordings. Gone is Thurl Ravenscroft's comical "Let me outta Here" or the helpless wining of the trapped ghosts. These spirits sound more demonic, and give the scene scarier flavor. We round a corner and face a grandfather clock, whose hands are spiraling out of control; backwards; chiming the hour 13. The eyes in the infamous Rolly Crump wallpaper glow green as we pass onward into a huge dark room.

The Seance will start us with a few problems that some fans have with Phantom Manor. Many people criticize the way Madame Leota looks in the attraction. They say she looks hideous. Well, I hate to break it to you all, but the Madame Leota we are all used to in the American parks isn't exactly your stereotypical Gypsy woman. Generally, they are portrayed as unsightly, middle-aged laddies who are ether overweight or sickly thin, wearing way to much make-up, and covered in zits and moles. Oona Lind is not ugly by any means, but the way she is projected gives here a plump look that fits the general stereotype. So we have a slightly more realistic looking gypsy head; anyhow, she begins to summon the ghosts for a supernatural wedding party for poor Melanie. Gone are the instruments and objects that float about the room. Instead, they are replaced by great pillars with leering gargoyles that frame the circular chamber. The carriages progress onward, up an incline toward a balcony overlooking a grand hall.

The heart of all the Disney Haunted Mansions is the Ballroom, where the worlds largest pepper's ghost effects are staged daily. The Phantom Manor ballroom is slightly different then the versions we see in America, because it refers back to Ken Anderson's original idea of a wedding party instead of the Birthday (or Death Day) party we are all used to in the Mansions. The ghosts are all dressed in Victorian area clothing; no Kings, Queens, Pharaohs or Sultans are seen mingling about the crowd. (Seen to the Left is a Doll-Faced Ghost Girl who occupies the space normally occupied by the Knight and Egyptian Princess) They are all local ghosts here in Frontierland. They have dumped their wedding gifts in a pile near the entry side of the room, and ghosts have gathered around a table topped with a huge, moldy, collapsing wedding cake. Melanie stands on the balcony looking over her party; she's the only human other then an mysterious laughing shadow-like figure seen standing in an open window. This is of course, the Phantom, watching from a far. The dueling ghosts are no more, replaced by a formal painting of the Manor in it's better days. The ghosts waltz about the floor on the far side of the room to a haunting solo played by a man in a purple tux with curly hair seated at an enormous pipe organ. The carriages turn away from the party and head down a long, dark passage; the sounds of the evil laughter and the pipe organ still echoing in the air.

A glimmering light at the end of the passage reveals itself as a fireplace. Above it is a painting of Melanie Ravenswood, in her wedding dress as usual. (You'd think it's the only piece of clothing she owns) The sounds of clock chimes are heard in the room while the tinkle of a music box and wine of an old gramophone (seen to the right) add to the atmosphere. Melanie is seen seated at here distorted make-up table, looking very old. In three minutes, she goes from beautiful young woman, to frail old granny. Anyway, the distorted mirror isn't the only piece of distorted furniture. This room, the Bride's Boudoir, gives me second thoughts about McMansionland's abstract design.


Hear me out. In the darkness, this room fits into the house perfectly. Light it up, and your sure to be scratching your head. This room is filled with cartoony-looking furniture and elements. Maybe I'll do a post about this room later, to explain. As we only spend about 15 to 20 seconds in this room before we are dragged out into the garden where the Phantom is waiting with a surprise for us. We are about to take a huge detour in the attraction; Where the American version is scrapped for a more story-realistic climax; and that I'm sure your all interested on hearing what I have to say about it. We shall continue onward in part 3...

"I'll be waiting for you on the... Other side... Have a frightfully good time... "

To Be Continued...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Phantom Manor: Trip Report & Review Part 1

Ah, there you are...

Yes, I have returned form the, other side... Other side of the pond that is. Europe was an experience I'll never forget. Disneyland Paris was, of course, the main highlight of the entire two and a half week journey for me. Let me just say that the only thing they were missing was Splash Mountain. Everything else was perfect, and in some ways, better than both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. But I'll dive deeper into the entire resort experience later; for now, let's stick with the one ride: Phantom Manor...

Phantom Manor is obviously different from the Haunted Mansions in many respects. I won't dive into the obvious things that so many of us reading this already know of. The story of Melanie Ravenswood; the young bride forever trapped in the walls of her father, Henry "The Phantom" Ravenswood's dilapidated Victorian manor after an earthquake stuck the town of Thunder Mesa; is one any Mansion fan with any credit to his or her name has heard at least once. (Any Manor fan who hasn't has no credit to their name, period. Honestly, how can you be a fan of something like this and Not know the story?) As with my previous trips to both Disneyland in 2008 and Walt Disney World earlier this year, I started my vacation and ended my vacation at the resort with rides through the happy haunting ground. I lost count of how many times I rode, and unlike my January trip to Walt Disney World, I can't go back and look over the number of recordings to gauge the amount of times I rode. Okay; enough stalling... let's get on with the review...

Phantom Manor all begins with the same thing nearly ever other ride in Disney Park History begins with: a queuing area. Of course, not all attractions have a magnificent setting and abundance of themed elements as Phantom Manor does. (Dumbo, that one was directed at you...) Phantom Manor's garden queuing area is about as good as realistic "Haunted House" style exterior environments can get. From the cracked cobblestone, to the twisted trees and real spider-webs, the exterior area of Phantom Manor wins the best exterior of all Disney's Mansions in my book. Everything is set up perfect. Even the water fountains in the que are all dried up, keeping with the Frontierland theme of the boom-town that turned into a ghost town! (Though I doubt that was intentional...) Any mansion fan worth their name knows the haunting music box tune played in the gazebo. Slightly less well known is the 3 minuet loop of echoes from past parties and wind-chimes in the pavilion queuing area. And like all statues in Paris, the pavilion boasts four loosely dressed women made of cracked stone. Classy; just like in the Louvre or the Opera House.

I could go in to extreme detail about everything in the que; from the unique, twisted trees that cover the grounds, to the dusty lanterns and ornamental debris; but that would take far to long, and we must continue on to the interior of the attraction; as they say, "the real beauty of this house awaits us, farther on, and she'll just die if we're late..." What I mean to say is, I will devote a post later on discussing the intricate details of the gardens that only Mansion -Manor nerds will find any interest in. This is a report/review, not a break down of the fabric of nature.

So, the foyer. One thing that was neat about the foyer was the fact that when Big Thunder Mountain would go through the unique on-ride-photo section (right across the river from the front of the Manor) at night, it would look like lightning flashes in the window. Speaking of Big Thunder Mountain, check out the on-ride-photo; it comes with an image of Phantom Manor surrounded by bats in the background! As any Phantom Manor fan knows, but some Mansion fans may not know, the face of Melanie Ravenswood (the bride) fades in and out every 15 seconds or so in an ornate mirror hanging in between the two stretching room doors. Another thing that I failed to take a photo of that I liked was the "Sortie" signs like the one in the Foyer. For those of you who have no idea what "Sortie" means, it's the equivalent of "Exit" in french. However, these signs are themed with a Frontierland style font, making them much less of any eye-sore then the Exit Signs in the Mansions here in America.

The stretching room is where things are noticeably different to any average American tourist who has visited the local Mansion. For them, they would be surprised to see a look-alike of the tightrope walker girl in all four paintings. These four girls are all Melanie Ravenswood; and as the stretching room elongates, a chilling premonition of her ultimate fate is revealed in each. The paintings are not meant to be four different deaths she suffered, for even in Disney-logic, dying four times in such bizarre ways goes against the laws of nature. These painting are purely meant to cement one grisly fact into the story; Melanie Ravenswood will die in time. Of course, everyone will die in time, but the story of Melanie Ravenswood is essentially the story of the attraction that you witness on your journey through the ride.

When the lights go out; the image rafters above reveal the Phantom; also known as Melanie's Father, Henry Ravenswood; strangling the intended-to-be groom to death. While I knew what was above prior to visiting the Manor, I really never got a good view of it; both the stretching rooms had dusty scrims, preventing me from seeing the scene clearly. I was also lucky enough to become trapped in a thankfully half-full stretching room once it had reached the bottom. For those of you who do not know, Phantom Manor, like Disneyland in California, has the elevator incarnation of the stretching room. The door became jammed once we reached the bottom, and the floor lurched a few times. Even though it was half-full, the elevator's lift capticty is much lower then it's descent capticty. You can't take a full stretching room back up without creating a true-life tower-of-terror scenario. The house lights came on at one point, but we were only stuck for ten or so minuets at the most. Now I know how my guests feel in the themagical simulation, where the ride's stretching rooms constantly break down. On a more positive note, the eye-sore wall that appears in Disneyland's version of the ride has been painted over with wainscoting here.

And so, we enter the portrait hallway. This is the last time we hear the voice of our host, the Phantom. He bids us farewell, leaving us to board our carriage headed for the party, and beyond. He claims he'll be waiting on the other side for us. (Hint-hint! Foreshadowing!) The Phantom is a much more villainous spirit then the original Ghost Host from the Haunted Mansion. He's not leading you on a safe journey through the house here; he's hell bent on keeping you and ever other visitor trapped in his haunted home for all eternity. The paintings in the hallway contain Marc Davis' Medusa, Panther Lady, Knight, and Ghost Ship; along with various old, sepia tone photos of what is presumed to be some of the former residents of the manor, and plenty of ornate mirrors. It is in these mirrors that first time riders will undoubtedly lay eyes on the grand staircase for the first time; which waits around the corner. At the end of the hallway hangs a large bridal portrait of Melanie Ravenswood in her wedding gown; her haunting soprano seemingly emitting from the painting. We turn the corner, and enter one of the more impressive scenes exclusive to Phantom Manor. The grand staircase loading area is Phantom Manor's step up to Disneyland's still existing problem of the massive empty space that sits between the Loading Belt and the Endless Hallway in the floor plan. Not so impressive is the Staring Bust illusion, which is lit to heavily and is less then convincing. Sure, it doesn't help knowing how the gag is executed, but it's been effect still when seen at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Speaking of lighting; due to the real windows in the foyer, Phantom Manor gradually takes you from a naturally lighting into darkness; unlike Walt Disney World, where you step into darkness and have to pause to let your eyes adjust to the drastic change. One thing I noticed is that until you step onto the loading belt, you can't hear the Loading Area Music; instead, the Portrait Hallway music is clearly audible.

So, we board our Doombuggies... excuse me, carriages; there is never a mention of the word doombuggy in Phantom Manor. These Omnimovers, built in the early 1990's are a bit different from the versions used at the Mansions. These Vekoma cars have no speakers, as Phantom Manor was never intended to contain narration during the ride-through portion of the attraction. And so, we board the cars and venture off into the dark bowels of Phantom Manor...

I leave you now, but I'll be waiting for you on the other side...

(TBC - Part 2 Coming Soon)