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‘Haunted Mansion’ Review: Disney Reboot Channels the Original Ride



For a number of years there again within the early ’80s, Disney took a flip to the darkish facet, releasing live-action motion pictures like “The Watcher in the Woods” (that includes a creepy late-career Bette Davis) and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (from the thoughts of Ray Bradbury) that had been intense sufficient to encourage nightmares — in children, at the very least. The children of that point are actually dad and mom, and a few are absolutely asking themselves how far they’ll belief Disney to not traumatize one other technology when a film like “Haunted Mansion” comes alongside.

Reality be advised, the PG-13-rated function — which marks the studio’s second big-screen adaptation of its spooky theme park attraction — isn’t actually that scary. Director Justin Simien (“Dear White People”) leans extra on comedy than horror, bringing collectively a handful of humorous stars to take care of Gracey Manor’s ghost drawback. The result’s definitely rather a lot much less horrifying than the prospect of getting to revisit the 2003 Eddie Murphy model, which paled as compared with that yr’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” on all fronts (however didn’t appear half as determined as 2002’s “Country Bears”).

Nowadays, virtually each Disney film appears to be haunted by the specters of what got here earlier than, as the corporate retains exploring methods to faucet into its current IP. You realize the fairytale/animated function/journey, now see the film — or so goes the pitch, because the studio counts on audiences to make the connections between every movie and no matter impressed it. “Haunted Mansion” advantages from the instance of “Pirates,” taking what parkgoers love concerning the journey (intelligent sight gags and imaginative ghosts, on this case) and treating these as Easter eggs in a reasonably compelling stand-alone story.

Whereas the visible results are surprisingly weak for a movie of this scale, the script (from “Ghostbusters” author Katie Dippold) proves much better than anybody would possibly anticipate, establishing an emotional basis for what would possibly in any other case be a gimmick-driven haunted home film. The movie opens on a meet-cute between a skeptical astrophysicist, Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), and a lady who places way more religion in all issues supernatural (performed by Charity Jordan), then skips ahead a number of years, after tragedy has lower their marriage quick.

Ben has change into a surly alcoholic, rescued from his downward spiral by a go to from Father Kent (Owen Wilson), an eccentric priest who appears like somebody’s dime-store Halloween-costume model of a personality from “The Exorcist.” Ben wants one thing to consider in, and the film will give him that, not a lot within the type of ghosts — although the phantoms are undeniably actual to its characters — as by his connection to single mother Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her 9-year-old son, Travis (Chase Dillon), who’s nonetheless mourning the lack of his dad. Father Kent enlists Ben in utilizing his scientific background to establish the spirit haunting Gracey Manor, an enormous previous Louisiana home with a really sophisticated historical past.

The film’s first few paranormal illusions are pretty efficient, as Simien takes his cues from the Disneyland journey. (Come to search out, Simien really labored on the park one summer time in movie college.) However because the movie unfolds and different characters be part of the ghost-busting operation — together with a loudmouthed medium named Harriet (Tiffany Haddish) and Bruce (Danny DeVito), a dyspeptic Tulane professor who makes a speciality of all issues supernatural — “Haunted Mansion” begins to require extra elaborate CGI, and visible results supervisor Edwin Rivera and the crew at Industrial Gentle & Magic appear overwhelmed. In the meantime, Al Nelson’s sound design provides an invisible however important increase to the ambiance.

As mystical Madame Leota, Jamie Lee Curtis seems awkwardly superimposed on a crystal ball, trying like one thing out of a low-budget “Goosebumps” episode. And Simien took the difficulty to forged Jared Leto because the headless Hatbox Ghost, who’s intriguing when glimpsed in silhouette or fast flashes right here and there, however disappoints when lastly revealed as a subpar CG ghoul with cartoonish options. Even so, the movie’s single funniest scene entails Stanfield (because the movie’s sullen straight man) and DeVito (who took a shining to horror within the early 2010s, tapping into that darkish streak right here) describing stated apparation to a police sketch artist.

The extra this overlong film depends on ghosts, the much less partaking it turns into, and although Simien presents a number of optical illusions — comparable to infinite hallways and a stretching room modeled after the journey’s trompe l’oeil antechamber — the concepts are extra fascinating than the execution. Whereas a lot of the forged will get laughs by bickering, Ben and Travis ship the movie’s extra critical message (this can be a Disney film, in any case). Each characters have misplaced family members and could be tempted to affix them on the opposite facet. “Haunted Mansion” honors their grieving course of, even because it makes an attempt to place smiles on audiences’ faces.

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