Eddie Murphy stars as a sleazy realtor named Jim Evers, who along with his wife Sara (Marsha Thomason), have built one of the most successful real estate practices in New Orleans. Jim has closed a record seven deals in the last month alone, yet despite the success, Sara has grown tired of Jim's absence from their children's soccer games and team barbeques. Deciding it is time for a vacation, the Evers set out on a road trip. But before they leave town, Jim must make one last deal at the sprawling Edward Grace Estate.
Upon arrival, Ramsley the butler (Terence Stamp), greets the family at the door and quickly shuffles them to the dining room where they will dine with Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker). As they eat in front of a massive fireplace, a torrential rainstorm blows over the estate that floods the grounds and forces the Evers to spend the night. At first, Jim promises the clan that he will only need about 20 minutes at the mansion; yet, once the family finds out the true meaning of their visit, getting out will be a much more difficult task.
Fresh from the Disney writers' program, David Berenbaum pens a hokey script where the Evers find themselves dealing with the ghost of Gracey's grandfather's true love who died on her wedding day and has now come back to haunt the mansion. Mild themes regarding courage and better parenting are addressed on the surface, but are never fully explored like in other Disney films. The story's only real purpose is to allow Murphy time to flash his phony smile, tell listless jokes, and run around the estate like a chicken with its head cut off. Simply add this film to Murphy's growing list of bad movie choices, where a more viable supporting cast upends his performance.
Murphy doesn't completely kill the entire movie - two performances are particularly memorable. Jennifer Tilly is amusing as a gypsy woman psychic whose head lives inside a crystal ball and spouts complicated instructions to the hapless Murphy. Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride) delivers some of the funniest moments as a ghostly servant whose quick wit and dry humor is delivered to perfection in his trademark deadpan tone.
The real star of Mansion however is the house and its inhabitants as created by the famous creature creator Rick Baker. There are secrets in each room and hallway - sliding walls open to reveal lost passageways; tombs cover entrances to elaborate underground caverns filled with zombies; statues and paintings come alive to reap a playful havoc. The heads of one particular group of statues slows down Jim Ever's chicken race by singing entertaining tunes like a barbershop quartet would.
The Haunted Mansion provides only a few moderate scares as you might expect, and there is just enough charm to give this attraction a marginal recommendation. Of course, when you think about it, it'll cost you much less to take this route to the theme park, and now you can tell Disney you visited.
DVD extras are exhaustive but only so-so in quality; a single deleted scene and gag reel are skippable, various videos, making-of docs, and commentaries are also not really standouts. That said, the DVD production -- particularly the sound design -- is exemplary. Check it out.
Run time: 88 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 26th November 2003
Box Office USA: $75.8M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 13%
Fresh: 18 Rotten: 117
IMDB: 4.9 / 10
Director: Rob Minkoff
Screenwriter: David Berenbaum
Starring: Eddie Murphy as Jim Evers, Terence Stamp as Ramsley, Nathaniel Parker as Master Gracey, Marsha Thomason as Sara Evers, Jennifer Tilly as Madame Leota, Dina Waters as Emma, Wallace Shawn as Ezra
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