Pirates of the Caribbean — a film franchise based on a theme park ride — seemed like such a novel idea in 2003 when the first entry knocked my socks off and immediately became one of my all-time favorite action-adventure movies.
Disney, not a company to let good intellectual property go to waste, quickly followed up on this unexpected hit with the Eddie Murphy-led The Haunted Mansion, which by all accounts (I never saw it) not only failed to capture the spirit of the ride it was based on (pun intended), but just wasn’t good overall.
Now, twenty years and one adaptation of Jungle Cruise later, the reboot rules tell us that the time is right to once again dig up the idea of bringing these 999 spooks to the big screen and try again for that old Pirates success; unfortunately, the result is much the same, as 2023’s Haunted Mansion is, simply put, not that great either.
As a big fan of the ride, most of the enjoyment I got out of the film was recognizing all of the little references to its source material that are sprinkled throughout, but that mild joy eventually fizzled out because the framework propping up these references turned out to be as rickety as the mansion itself.
Haunted Mansion has a great cast full of funny people, but the script that they are beholden to is not particularly funny, nor are the frights that they are subject to particularly frightful. The characters themselves are weak, and only the lead, LaKeith Stanfield, has anything interesting to work with — the rest are boring stereotypes smashed together that claim to be a found family by the end of the film with absolutely no reason for us to believe that is true (and as much as I love Danny DeVito, did that character really need to be in this movie?)
Overall, Haunted Mansion is just plain boring, the lack of excitement and laughs that amount to anything more than a slight chuckle making the two-hour runtime feel like an interminable slog. By the time it was finally over I wasn’t even enjoying the easter eggs, instead wishing that I was at my own home watching something else without the loud family sitting next to me.
There are some good things about the film. As I said earlier, LaKeith Stanfield does a particularly good job as he does the vast majority of the heavy lifting as our sorrowful lead, and the themes of grief and acceptance in Haunted Mansion are actually done quite well. These give the film a nice emotional heart that it does not feel like it deserves given the state of the rest of the movie.
Maybe Disney will have something better to show in another twenty years. We may even finally have a great Haunted Mansion by the year 2043, if we’re not all permanent residents of the Mansion itself at that point. You should not lose any sleep if you skip this one, though.
Haunted Mansion is exclusively in theaters.