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The Haunted Mansion (2003)

Disneys The Haunted Mansion

Check your pulse at the door... if you have one.

Directed by:

Rob Minkoff

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 87 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

Country: United States

Once upon a time, Eddie Murphy was a standup comedian who talked fast and foul. Hollywood, always on the lookout for anything which might give their essentially conservative product a certain ‘edge’, was quick to co-opt and celebrate Murphy’s street credibility in Beverly Hills Cop. Yet after two sequels and countless other bland vehicles, Murphy was no longer convincing in the rôle of Hollywood outsider, and needed a new calling card. Hence the rash of children’s comedies like The Nutty Professor, ‘Dr Doolittle’ and (best of all) Shrek, where, let’s face it, just being an adult makes Murphy an outsider, and where he brings undeniable charisma and perfect delivery to some relatively tame toilet humour, while still holding out for the adults in the audience the promise, never quite delivered, that he might at any time burst into one of his far cruder ’80s routines.

Take ‘The Haunted Mansion’. ‘Look at the size of these knockers – have you ever seen anything like these before?’, asks Jim Evers (Murphy) as he arrives with his family at the mansion’s huge front door. The requisite answer to this question (obvious to anyone who has seen Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein) never in fact materalises, this being a wholesome Disney film, but it does not need to, thanks to the presence of Murphy, who, even if he has discarded the uncensored rudeness which once made him notorious, still retains that knowing twinkle in his eye, endowing a child-friendly script with something like adult subtitles.

In ‘The Haunted Mansion’, workaholic realtor Jim Evers interrupts his family’s weekend holiday to visit the vast gothic property of Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker), sniffing a big sales profit. Only Gracey is in fact a ghost eternally searching for his lost love Elizabeth, and she just happens to be the spitting image of Jim’s wife Sara (Marsha Thomason), all of which leads to a flurry of levitation, crystal balls, CGI spectres, mobile skeletons, and animated suits of armour – and a salubrious message about the importance of spending quality time with one’s family that never quite fits the rest of the material.

A bit like one of its ghostly inhabitants, ‘The Haunted Mansion’ is impressive enough to look at, but lacks any real substance or vital pulse. Reviving a bunch of old haunted house clichés that might better have been left buried, it never manages to achieve the fresh pace or razorsharp pastiche of Shrek, but instead shambles along zombie-like through its hour and a half, piling on the special effects (not that they are so special) to distract from its barebones plotline and threadbare jokes. Eddie Murphy is quite funny, Terence Stamp (as snobby butler Ramsley) does a reasonably good impression of Grady from The Shining, and the Disney-style morality is decidedly black-and-white – except, ironically enough, when it comes to racism and interracial marriage, issues which certainly cast a shadow over ‘the Haunted Mansion’, but instead of being addressed directly, remain skeletons hidden deep in its closet.

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It's Got: A house with hidden doorways, secret corridors, and a cemetery in place of a garden. A riddling medium (Jennifer Tilly) living in a crystal ball. A barbershop quartet of stone busts. A mausoleum full of grasping skeletons.

It Needs: Originality, pace, and not to lose sight of the story amidst all the gags and special effects.

Alternatives:

Beetlejuice, Casper, The 13 Ghosts, The Frighteners, Young Frankenstein

Summary

A bit like one of its ghostly inhabitants, 'The Haunted Mansion' is impressive enough to look at, but lacks any real substance or vital pulse.

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