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Review: Disney’s ‘Haunted Mansion’

Disney’s latest endeavor to bring their theme park attractions to life on the big screen, “Haunted Mansion,” arrives in theaters as a striking blend of comedy and scares. Drawing inspiration from its theme park ride counterpart, this film is brimming with clever nods and Easter Eggs that not only pay homage to the attraction but also enhance the viewing experience. Its well-established ties to the beloved attraction promise to create a resonant impact on the diehard fans, while also offering a fresh and engaging introduction to those new to the franchise.

In the directorial seat, we have Justin Simien, acclaimed for his work on “Dear White People” and “Bad Hair.” Simien’s signature touch in blending comedic and horrific elements shines brightly in “Haunted Mansion.” Working hand in hand with him is the talented Katie Dippold, whose screenplay manages to weave together a vast array of elements— the frightening, the hilarious, and the emotional—into a cohesive story that is sprawling yet captivating.

The plot unfolds around LaKeith Stanfield’s character, Ben. Once a passionate engineer pursuing the scientific exploration of paranormal activities, Ben’s life takes a downward spiral after the tragic loss of his wife. His grief pulls him into a state of apathy where he rejects his past, his career, and even his belief in the supernatural. It’s within this frame that his journey leads him to a haunted mansion.

The mansion, purchased by single mother Gabbie, played by Rosario Dawson, and inhabited by her 9-year-old son, Travis (Chase W. Dillon), is teeming with supernatural residents. The setting amplifies the film’s spooky atmosphere, transforming the mansion from a mere backdrop into an active participant in the narrative.

The ensemble cast makes the film a veritable roller-coaster ride. On one side, we have the broad and larger-than-life laughs brought by the talented trio—Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, and Owen Wilson. On the other, we have the grounded performances by Dawson, Dillon, and particularly Stanfield, who offer a contrast with their poignant acting. This duality in performance styles lends a dynamic texture to the narrative, beautifully striking a balance between the boisterous, semi-scary fun and the deep, emotional moments.

Among the crowd, young actor Chase Dillon’s performance is a standout. His portrayal of Travis offers a charming depth and refreshing innocence to the story, which peaks when he forms a connection with Ben. This camaraderie between the duo brings a heartwarming layer to the otherwise ghostly narrative, offering respite amidst the chaos.

The visual elements of the film deserve special mention. The cinematography and production design brilliantly echo the spirit of the Disneyland ride. The mansion, the ghosts, and the overall eerie ambiance meticulously mirror the ride’s allure, turning the movie into a visual feast.

“Haunted Mansion” also makes the most of its antagonist, the Hatbox Ghost, voiced by Jared Leto. As a shape-shifting entity with an insatiable hunger for souls, the character brings a chilling edge to the narrative. However, his final transformation, more comical than scary, ends up rounding off the movie perfectly.

Even though the plot leans more towards Ben’s story, leaving room for better development of Gabbie and Travis’s narrative, “Haunted Mansion” holds its ground as an engaging watch.

Without a doubt, “Haunted Mansion” isn’t designed to be a conventional horror film, obviously. Instead, it embraces its Disney heritage, presenting a cocktail of eeriness, entertainment, and touching instances. The film, with its diverse ensemble of characters, compelling visuals, and a storyline that respectfully nods to its theme park inception, stands out as a family-friendly cinematic adventure that’s unquestionably worth the trip.

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