Haunted Mansion (2023)

Movie Review

Haunted Mansion (2023)

Reviewed by:
Luke Bonanno on July 28, 2023

Theatrical Release:
July 28, 2023

The laughs outnumber the thrills, but that's in line with the Disney ride and in 2023 it's simply nice to encounter characters and a story you don't already know from a better animated movie made decades ago. Jump to review ↓

Running Time123 min

RatingPG-13

Running Time 123 min

RatingPG-13

Justin Simien

Katie Dippold

LaKeith Stanfield (Ben), Tiffany Haddish (Harriet), Owen Wilson (Father Kent), Danny DeVito (Professor Bruce Davis), Rosario Dawson (Gabbie), Chase W. Dillon (Travis), Jamie Lee Curtis (Madame Leota), Jared Leto (Hatbox Ghost), Winona Ryder (Pat), Hasan Minhaj (Sketch Artist), Dan Levy (Vic), Charity Jordan (Alyssa)


“Haunted Mansion (2023)” Movie Review

by Luke Bonanno

It was twenty years ago this summer that Disney discovered the great potential value in giving beloved theme park rides the feature film treatment. It was then the studio released the first of thus far five Pirates of the Caribbean movies that have grossed $4.5 billion worldwide. Later that same year, Disney discovered not all attraction-to-movie adaptations were destined for such success and longevity. On the eve of Thanksgiving 2003, the Eddie Murphy-headlined The Haunted Mansion opened to cool reviews and ultimately failed to earn back its $90 million budget domestically. Haunted could only be deemed a success when compared to 2002’s easily, deservingly ridiculed The Country Bears.

Twenty years later, with Disney’s belief in brands at an all-time high and consistently rewarded, the studio takes another stab at turning the popular old Disneyland ride into a popular new feature film. Creatively, they have a little more success, with director Justin Simien (Dear White People, Bad Hair) and screenwriter Katie Dippold (The Heat, “Parks and Recreation”) giving us something consistently entertaining. Commercially, they’ve got a tall task ahead of them, with this new Haunted Mansion opening just one week after the historic 1-2 punch of Barbie and Oppenheimer.

In Disney's 2023 "Haunted Mansion", four strangers (Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, LaKeith Stanfield, and Owen Wilson) come together to deal with a haunted mansion.

The New Orleans-set film opens with a New Year’s Eve meet-cute between astrophysicist Ben (LaKeith Stanfield), and ghost tour guide Alyssa (Charity Jordan). We jump ahead to the present day to find Ben depressed and antisocial. The cynical young widower is giving ghost tours of the storied neighborhood with a bare minimum of satisfaction and joy. Early one morning, he gets startled awake by Father Kent (Owen Wilson), a visitor who offers him an opportunity to use his famed spirit camera to photograph a haunted mansion.

The large mansion is the new home of Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her socially awkward tween son Travis (Chase W. Dillon), who are planning to operate a bed and breakfast there. They soon discover what should be obvious from the title that is shared with the 54-year-old attraction: the place is haunted. Hiding the fact that his camera’s battery is dead, Ben stumbles through the place quickly, dismissing its threat to the mother and son. When he returns home, though, he find himself personally haunted by one of the mansion’s ghosts insisting that he return to the mansion.

There, a makeshift family is starting to form in Gabbie and Travis, Father Kent, and now Ben. They round up two others: an old professor (Danny DeVito) with heart issues and Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), a dubious medium with solid Yelp reviews. This group must band together to stop the house from getting the willing 1,000th soul it needs to fulfill its destiny.

Fresh off her Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actress, Jamie Lee Curtis gets to play the iconic role of Madame Leota, but mostly as a creepily computer-animated head in a glass ball.

Narratively, Dippold’s screenplay is a little shaky. But it has its heart in the right place and it stays fun and spirited throughout. At two hours, it runs a little longer than it needs to and it comes close to stumbling with some awkward throwaway gags you aren’t sure are product placement and one that most definitely is. Despite the PG-13 rating and the fact that Simien’s background is in comedy with social commentary, the movie never has any allusions that it is anything but a summer popcorn movie, a fact that it embraces. In recent years, that class is largely defined by random, superfluous stops in foreign cities where the movie is hoping to do strong business and the maximum computer-generated visual effects necessary.

Fortunately, Haunted Mansion does not fatally succumb to either of those pandering practices. It completely stays put in New Orleans with an all-American cast, all of whom are enjoying and elevating the material. And while it inevitably dabbles in some visual effects, least agreeably a computer-animated Jamie Lee Curtis head inside a glass bowl as the iconic Madame Leota. But even if you have concerns with the effects, the most prominent of which is our villain, a fully CG and fairly scarce Hatbox Ghost voiced by Jared Leto, you will likely forgive them on account of just how nice the lighting, cinematography, and production design is throughout. Whether you notice it or not, this is one good-looking movie and its stellar production values makes it much more palatable, especially compared to the ’03 movie that I revisited a night earlier.

"Haunted Mansion" (2023) may be destined for commercial failure, but it sure looks good.

The laughs outnumber the thrills, but that’s in line with the Doom Buggies ride and audience expectations. There’s no expectation that a new franchise will be born here, but in 2023 it’s simply nice to encounter characters and a story you don’t already know from a better animated movie made decades ago. Wilson and Stanfield, the two actors you least expect to find here, are most responsible for the movie’s appealing comic energy. Wilson, in particular, reminds us of how he rose to star status more than twenty years ago with his ability to casually steal scenes with wickedly funny asides. It takes this charming supporting turn to remind us how much this Wilson has been missed in recent years.

Sadly, a standalone diversion like this feels like an outlier among Disney’s new live-action output, almost all of which now can be classified as progressive live-action remakes of animated classics or the work of an outside company (Marvel, Lucasfilm, Fox) they simply gobbled up with their deep pockets and cavalier attitudes towards intellectual property. Shareholders are content for the time being and the well of remakable masterpieces is at least a few years from running dry. Some commercial success here would remind the studio of its history and the imminent need for original movies, but with a steep reported $158 million budget and the most formidable box office competition in well over a year, that seems most unlikely.

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