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Review: 'Haunted Mansion"

Disney released The Haunted Mansion 20 years ago back in 2003. It starred Eddie Murphy, Marsha Thomason, Jennifer Tilly and Terence Stamp, and was not the box office hit that Disney hoped it would be. About all it succeeded in doing was to remind people that there was a Haunted House amusement ride at Disney World.

Another popular Disney amusement ride was Pirates of the Caribbean which was turned into a very successful movie franchise. It achieved what The Haunted Mansion couldn’t.

And so, Disney went back to the drawing boards in an attempt to correct all that went wrong with the original Haunted Mansion movie.

It hired an all-star cast including: LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Jamie Lee Curtis and Oscar winner, Jared Leto, and they served up all the state-of-the-art scary special effects that the studio could offer.

It seemed like a fool-proof plan—a rare opportunity in Hollywood-- to get a second chance and hopefully make the most of it, fixing all that had gone wrong before.

But despite the stars and special effects, the Haunted Mansion remake also turned out to be a disappointment. It is a movie that struggles but falls short of the level of entertainment that audiences might have been expecting.

For starters, it is not particularly funny or scary. At best, it’s amusing, but far, far below the kind of energy of anything we saw in any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies which represent the gold standard when it comes to movies inspired by amusement park rides.

By contrast, Haunted Mansion is one long, dark, gloomy experience that never seems to find its direction. Granted, the new cast is an improvement over the cast of the original movie, but they seem to strain under the weight of a story that barely gets off the ground.

Newcomer Chase Dillon steps up in his role as Rosario Dawson’s character’s young son. He holds his ground with his celebrity co-stars, and turns in a solid performance.

What’s puzzling is the casting of Jared Leto as Crump, the mansion’s most evil presence, Crump. Leto is virtually unrecognizable having extensive digital modifications to both his face and voice, begging the question of why he was hired in the first place. Virtually (no pun intended) anyone could have played this role, though his casting added his name to the credits and another marketing carrot to dangle in the faces of movie fans.

Maybe Haunted Mansion is one of those projects that simply can’t be made into a successful movie, despite all the movie-friendly elements. There are other examples of material that defies Hollywood’s best efforts over the years. The Great Gatsby is always at the top of my list. A brilliant F. Scott Fitzgerald novel that seems impossible to successfully adapt to the big screen. It’s been attempted a number of times.

In the end, maybe not every great novel is a potentially great movie and maybe not every popular amusement park ride is a potentially fun, spin-off movie.

Haunted Mansion seems to be a victim of that curse.

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