Muse #10: The Timelessness of The Haunted Mansion

“Your cadaverous pallor betrays an aura of foreboding!”

Haunted Mansion

Usually, I do not support paranormal entertainment. I avoid watching the Twilight series, for instance, and I refrain the jump-scares of Halloween. However, The Haunted Mansion is among my exceptions to that rule (with other exceptions including Shakespeare’s ghosts and The Twilight Zone). Indeed, I rank it as one of the most elegant and evergreen attractions at Magic Kingdom. But why does it settle so well with my convictions and love of intricate storytelling?

Firstly, this attraction fits well in Liberty Square, but it also fits within other Disney parks around the world with a perfect balance of familiarity and uniqueness. For instance, the Disneyland Paris website describes Phantom Manor (the Haunted Mansion equivalent in France) as the former “home to one of Thunder Mesa’s founding families.” Although Paris’ Phantom Manor is situated in Frontierland and thus has some retheming, every Haunted Mansion fan can recognize the signature trademarks of the U.S. versions. These trademarks include the stretching room, “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” the ghastly bride, Doom Buggys, and much more. Thus, one could ride each iteration of The Haunted Mansion and still recognize each one as having the same concept while feeling like he’s ridden a different attraction at the same time. To witness this paradox, please view the video below:

Secondly, Haunted Mansion is a more immersive and concrete version of a choose-your-own-adventure book. Some fans theorize the riders are alive at the end of the attraction. This is mainly corroborated by the line, “Be sure to bring your death certificate,” and its placement at the very end of the ride. Others speculate that once Constance Hatchaway (the bride) throws the riders out of the attic, the riders are dead, as evidenced by the look of horror on the graveyard guard’s face. Personally, I lean toward the riders being alive, but I can see sound arguments for both sides. Typically, Imagineers and designers for other theme parks structure rides so that the plot and meaning is undeniable—and it’s far easier that way. The Haunted Mansion, however, plants a seed of doubt and is enjoyable no matter how one interprets it.

Lastly, Haunted Mansion relies on a far more elaborate style of writing and showmaking than almost all the earliest rides at Magic Kingdom. Sure, the Ghost Host makes frequent dad jokes, but they rest (in peace) among the refined language of such lines as, “Your cadaverous pallor betrays an aura of foreboding.” Additionally, the Pepper’s Ghost effect, Madame Leota crystal, and other illusions still look equally believable after fifty years as when the ride first opened. And seriously, “Grim Grinning Ghosts” still gets stuck in my head.

In short, The Haunted Mansion allows true Romantic-era storytelling (think Frankenstein) to flourish in a theme-park setting and provides a unique and consistent tone. The details are so intricate that even I am not convinced I’ve seen everything the Imagineers have included on the attraction. Every time I board a Doom Buggy and watch a ghost follow me home, I am truly a happy haunt:)

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