At least this movie is better than the last time Disney tried to turn this ride into a feature film!
Set in New Orleans, Haunted Mansion follows Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield), an astrophysicist turned paranormal tour guide, as he tries to get to the bottom of a peculiar haunting that has kept new homeowners Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her young son Travis (Chase W. Dillon) stuck firmly on the grounds of the house. Soon trapping Father Kent (Owen Wilson), psychic Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), and college professor Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito) inside its walls as well, it isn’t long before our protagonists realize that the mansion is overrun by hundreds of ghosts, led by the terrifying Hatbox Ghost (voiced by Jared Leto), forcing them to find a way to defeat these ghouls and bring an end to a spine-chilling experience that if they’re not careful, they might not even survive.
About as good (or bad, depending on your opinion) as Disney’s last ride-to-film adaptation in 2021’s Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion is a movie that I enjoyed more than I expected, even if I don’t remember much about it after the credits rolled. Genuinely funny in spots thanks to the absolutely stellar casting (LaKeith Stanfield needs to be in way more movies) and a script that’s far more put-together than I expected, this film delivers some fun family-friendly scares thanks to a solid sense of direction and spooky production design, making it a light piece of summer entertainment that can’t be faulted for trying and succeeding at being just that.
Hitting more than it misses, Haunted Mansion does fall a bit short of being the runaway success it had the potential of being, with its flaws mostly coming from the execution of certain aspects of the movie rather than there being an overarching issue with the film overall. Exciting to watch in spurts, there are also a lot of middling and less interesting things happening throughout that felt unnecessary, cringe, and even forced at times. The relationship between Ben and Travis, while appreciated, works only half the time, with some of the other more emotional and jokey beats of the film not always landing in the way the filmmakers clearly intended. Throw in a few pacing issues and an averageness that permeates the film a bit more than I’d have liked, and this movie is admittedly a must-see for families looking for some breezy summer scares, but for everyone else, it’s okay to catch it on Disney+.
So while this movie mostly has the right tone, look, cast, and story I had hoped for, there’s just not enough elevated material here to make this one anything more than a fun yet forgettable film that, judging by its lukewarm box office performance, probably should have avoided the summer movie season altogether and shot for October when spooky thrills like this are an absolute must. That being said, I enjoyed a lot of what I saw in this one despite its handful of flaws, so although Disney may be perpetually chasing the formula that made Pirates of the Caribbean a billion-dollar success by making movies like this, Haunted Mansion at least takes them one step closer to replicating that same magic, even if they still have a way to go in capturing that lightning in a bottle once again.