Plot: What’s it about?
Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) runs Evers & Evers, a real estate firm that works round the clock for the clients. In fact, Evers works so much for his clients, his wife is tired of being left at home and his kids want more time as well. Of course, Evers loves his family and wants the best for them, which is part of the reason he works so hard. But enough is enough, so his wife demands he take some time and spend a weekend with no work involved. Or at least, not much work. A quick stop on the way is scheduled, to look at a massive mansion that is soon to be on the market. Evers wants to be the agent to make the sale happen, though it was his wife, not himself, that was requested. The mansion is on a huge estate, but the place looks vacant and worn down. Evers insists on going inside however, even when his family wants to leave. What was supposed to be twenty minutes at most turns into an overnight stay, thanks to a heavy rain that floods the bridge. The eerie butler (Terence Stamp) leads the family to their rooms, but all four soon leave the beds behind. Jim is called to a meeting, only to be lost in hidden passages, while his wife is wooed by the mansion’s owner, and the children have to deal with the mansion’s ghostly residents. Will the Evers manage to escape the haunted mansion, or will they be the newest ghostly additions?
A movie based on an amusement park ride? After the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, the idea isn’t such a shock, but could The Haunted Mansion continue that success? Eddie Murphy has been hit and miss in his recent films, so his presence isn’t a lock to ensure a hit, but his family aimed pictures have done well. And with Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) at the helm, the potential seemed high and perhaps The Haunted Mansion could be a smash. But all those elements weren’t enough, as The Haunted Mansion was greeted by harsh critics and lukewarm audiences, and the film failed to turn much of a profit. The cool ghosts, the tie-in with Disney’s great ride, Murphy’s comedic efforts, and Minkoff’s direction, all washed down the tubes thanks to the screenplay, which is as tepid as can be. This could have been a sharp, eerie picture with ample laughs and scares, but instead, The Haunted Mansion is dull and lifeless. I wouldn’t say the movie is bad, its just not good and offers minimal entertainment. Murphy is passable, but has few memorable lines and seems to just be going through the motions. Then again, with material as thin as this, you can’t expect much more from the performers. If you’re desperate for family films, then The Haunted Mansion is worth a rental, but a purchase is a stretch.
Video: How does it look?
The Haunted Mansion is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. If you’re going to nab this release, be careful, as Disney has issued dual widescreen and pan & scan editions. This widescreen version is the one to grab of course, as it shows the full image and looks quite solid. The print does have a few more defects than I expected, but looks clean on the whole, so no serious complaints. The film’s wild color scheme is well presented, with bright and bold hues throughout, while flesh tones remain natural at all times. The black levels are sharp and provide excellent contrast, so no detail is lost in this one. While not quite as impressive as I had anticipated, Disney has still delivered a good looking effort here.
Audio: How does it sound?
The soundtrack here is more than solid, but lacks the punch and presence I expected it to possess. The music sounds good, with ample depth, but aside from that, the surround presence is minimal. The rear channels spark in from time to time, but not too often and when they do, the result isn’t too memorable. This does not ruin the experience, but with such a fun, vibrant movie, I think a more active soundtrack would add to the entertainment. The dialogue is pretty smooth however, with no muffled or distorted vocals in the slightest. This disc also includes French and Spanish language tracks, as well as subtitles in English and Spanish.
Supplements: What are the extras?
We’ll start off with not one, but two audio commentary tracks, although only one is listed on the case’s list of supplement. Don Hahn, a producer on the film, is joined by visual effects supervisor Jay Redd and writer David Berenbaum on the first track. The second, the one not listed on the case, is with director Rob Minkoff and costume designer Mona May. I found both to be worthwhile tracks, but Minkoff’s session is the better of the two. The film’s shortcomings are glossed over for the most part, but some of the rough spots are discussed. In the end, both are worth a listen if you like these kind of bonus audio tracks, even though the movie is lackluster. This disc also includes two brief behind the scenes featurettes, a deleted sequence, a reel of outtakes, a Raven music video, and a very cool virtual tour of the haunted mansion.