Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” is an Uneven But Fun Ride – Movie Review

Haunted Mansion still.
(L-R): Rosario Dawson as Gabbie, Tiffany Haddish as Harriet, LaKeith Stanfield as Ben, and Owen Wilson as Father Kent in Disney’s live-action HAUNTED MANSION. Photo Jalen Marlowe and used courtesy of Disney Enterprises.

Grief takes a ride on the Haunted Mansion as humor tries to mask the tragedy within the walls of Gracie Manor.

Let’s get the elephant noticed: releasing this movie in July was an… interesting choice. Admittedly, there’s precedent: Hocus Pocus was released in July. And Talk to Me is getting praised for ‘breaking the mold’ and releasing in July. Not to mention that Disney may have done that because – as fans of the ride know – the actual Haunted Mansion ride in California gets a Nightmare Before Christmas re-skin in October. So, their reasoning may have been either to not compete against that or to have the digital version out on Disney Plus by October. But either way, July is an odd choice for what’s supposed to be a scary movie.

That’s just one of many uneven aspects of what is ultimately a mostly enjoyable – but not great – film.

Warning: Spoilers abound below!

This version of Haunted Mansion has Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her son Travis (Chase W. Dillon) move into the creepy-looking house in New Orleans that seems to be a combination of all the Haunted Mansion rides throughout the world. They are quickly scared by a walking suit of armor (Gabbie’s ‘And we’re out!’ after the initial – and obligatory – ‘there are no such things as ghosts’ type of dialogue is perfect) and run for their lives.

But wait – the movie skips to Father Kent (Owen Wilson) talking to ghost tour guide Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield) into coming to help get rid of the ghosts. Turns out that the spirits didn’t want Gabbie and Travis to leave (or, for that matter, Kent and eventually Ben) and haunt them if they leave, forcing them to come back. Danny DeVito, Tiffany Haddish, Jared Leto, and Jamie Lee Curtis round out the cast, as the story follows the group researching why the house is haunted in an attempt to de-haunt it.

The cast is great! Stanfield takes the lead without any problems, and he and Dawson make the movie as good as it is. Wilson is basically Owen Wilson, and even Jared Leto was decent as the Hatbox Ghost. It’s one of the few things that make the film as enjoyable as it is.

Jamie Lee Curtis' head in a crystal ball.
Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota in Disney’s HAUNTED MANSION. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises.

Director Justin Simien and writer Katie Dippold seem unsure as to what they want to accomplish with Haunted Mansion. It’s neither a horror with comedy elements nor a comedy with elements of horror. The comedy – while great – seems out of place too many times for it to be an outright scary movie. However, my wife – who is a huge fan of the ride – loved all the references (apparently, there are shoutouts to not only California and Florida’s version, but the ones in Paris and Tokyo as well).

The theme is about how grief can overwhelm you. The whole reason the ghosts exist is because a character was trying to connect with someone who was dead. Ben’s reason for being a tour guide who drinks is due to grief. And the bad guy’s plot involves having someone so willing to go to the other side that they join willingly.

Haunted Mansion is enjoyable enough. I laughed plenty of times and came out of it glad I went. However, it’s an uneven beast that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, and – like the ride it’s based on – breaks down in places for no apparent reason.

I personally enjoyed the Muppets version much more, because it never takes itself seriously. But I feel it’s a better movie than the Eddie Murphy version.

If you’re a Disney fan (and especially if you’re a Haunted Mansion fan), you’ll enjoy it – but it’s not something that’s going to spawn much of a cult following outside of Disney adults.

Haunted Mansion was released in the USA on July 28, 2023.

Have you watched it?

Let us know.

Author: Angie Fiedler Sutton

Angie Fiedler Sutton is a writer, podcaster, and all-round fangirl geek. She has been published in Den of Geek, Stage Directions, LA Weekly, The Mary Sue, and others.

She also produces her own podcast, Contents May Vary, where she interviews geeky people about geeky things. You can see all her work (and social media channels) at angiefsutton.com.

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