Haunted Mansion ride review

Haunted Mansion” by HarshLight licensed under CC BY 2.0

Foolish mortals! Welcome to my Haunted Mansion review. There is so much love for this timeless attraction.

When I first went on the attraction as a kid, I didn’t even open my eyes long enough to notice that the ride is not aimed to be frightening, but welcoming. In Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and in Disneyland, The Haunted Mansion is home to 999 happy haunts, all waiting to make your acquaintance. There was a lot of work that went into this ride, and many people who contributed. Knowing this, why don’t we take a look at the history of the attraction and highlight some of the key Imagineers of WED Enterprises who worked on it’s creation over in Disneyland.

History of the Haunted Mansion

Let’s first begin with Ken Anderson.

  • Ken Anderson

Anderson was not only an Imagineer, but also an animator for Walt Disney’s animated feature classics. When Walt Disney assigned the Haunted Mansion project to Anderson in 1957, the Imagineer dove into researching what could go into the attraction. One aspect of the ride to develop was obviously its exterior.

He settled on getting inspiration from a one-hundred and fifty year old property in Baltimore, Maryland. Yes, The Haunted Mansion is in the New Orleans Square section of Disneyland, but a Northeastern building helped create the plantation-style mansion. He also got inspiration from an attraction in San Jose, CA called the Winchester Mystery House.

It was a walk-through attraction opened by the widow of a gun-making legend who claimed that the ghosts of people killed by her late husband’s guns haunted the house.  The “Mystery House” is still open today! From this research, Anderson was able to also come up with a story that might have been too disturbing for the attraction at first, but we’ll get that later.

Also, in Anderson’s sketches, he depicted the Haunted Mansion to look rundown, but Walt had another plan. He wanted to mansion to look clean with nothing really out of the ordinary happening on the outside. Walt said that he and the Imagineers would take care of the outside, and the ghost would take care of the inside. And so they did. Seriously, have you been in there? It’s a spiderwebbed ghost town!

  • Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump

I am clumping these two Imagineers together because they were commissioned by Walt to create the special effects for the attraction in 1958. Although Yale Gracey was one talented engineer, he also worked on gags that he used in illusions found in the mansion. Rolly Crump worked on a set of concept art he liked to call the Museum of the Weird.

Crump drew inspiration from the 1946 film version of Beauty and the Beast to create the chilling drawings of his museum. Although Walt found it weird himself, he thought of an idea to create a separate attraction that would be connected to the exit of the Haunted Mansion. Guests would walk through and see displays of weird things collected from around the world. It never came to be, but I think it would be cool if it was featured one day in the parks.

Another thing this duo came up with was the concept called “Pepper Ghost.” It’s an illusion that make certain object disappear and reappear depending on where you are. It is created by using light and glass. Because of this and other innovations, Walt Disney regarded the duo as “Illusioneers.”

  • Claude Coats

Coats had been a key part of the Disney company since 1934. He was even responsible for some of the background art in the animated movies as early as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. When he became part of WED Enterprises as an Imagineer, he started working on some special effects that would be visionary in the attractions. He decided to use ultraviolet light in the Haunted Mansion.

Coats focused on creating an accurate environment for the attraction full of shadows and eerie spaces. He also had a big hand in how the attraction’s big graveyard scene was staged. Sketching the rundown graveyard as a playground for the ghosts was a believable landscape that should credit the genius of Coats.

  • Marc Davis

As another regular to the Disney animation department, and one of Walt’s famous Nine Old Men, Marc Davis was asked to create designs for the attraction’s characters. After creating such characters as Tinker Bell from Peter Pan and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, this would be another opportunity for Davis to create more characters that guests would love. Davis drew up many ideas for characters, but the ones that stand out as popular are the mansion’s Caretaker and his dog, along with the Hitchhiking Ghosts and the Singing Busts.

  • Bob Gurr

Walt Disney preferred The Haunted Mansion to be a walk-through attraction, but when he died in 1966, Imagineers started to develop other ways to make the attraction more efficient. The way they went with was by using an invention by Imagineer Bob Gurr called the Omnimover. He developed the idea after working on the late Tomorrowland attraction Adventures Thru Inner Space at Disneyland. The Ominimover would have the ability to move guests, and their “Doom Buggies,” in any direction needed in order to tell the story in the most efficient way possible.

  • X. Atencio

This Imagineer was responsible to creating the Haunted Mansion script for the attraction. He also wrote the lyrics to “Grim Grinning Ghosts (The Screaming Song)” with music by Buddy Baker who has composed over 200 scores for Disney in their movies, television shows, and theme parks. X. Atencio also worked on the scripts of Adventures Thru Inner Space and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Walt Disney never got a chance to see the Haunted Mansion come to be because of his death in 1966. The attraction, after being delayed many times, finally opened in 1969 after almost twelve years of being in development.

Famous Voice Over Artists

It’s always fascinating to see who voiced the beloved characters in Disney animated features and theme park attractions. Paul Frees, who performs as the Ghost Host, is an icon in the voice over world.

He was known for being such a genius in a recording session, that he only needed one take to get what the Imagineers needed. He is also credited as playing nutty Professor Ludwig Von Drake and the voice of “dead man tells no tales” in Pirates of the Caribbean.

There is also the voice of Madame Leota. Although this character was modeled after her namesake, Imagineer Leota Toombs, she was voiced by Eleanor Audley. You might be able to recognize her as the voice of Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella.

Story in the Attraction

Ken Anderson’s story ideas for the Haunted Mansion makes it one of the best rides at Disney World and Disneyland.  However, I’m perplexed about how I feel about there not being an official story of the Haunted Mansion.

Sure, there is the movie version, a Marvel comic book spinoff, and fan theories that pepper the internet, but what actually happens in The Haunted Mansion? Every attraction, more or less, has a story embedded in it, and the Haunted Mansion in theory has the most intriguing tale. There seems to be different storylines that the Imagineers have created, but most people go off of the original concepts of the ride created in 1957 by Ken Anderson.

A pirate named Captain Gore who had owned the mansion got married to a woman named Priscilla. Apparently, Priscilla was a happy woman who knew nothing of her husband’s past. On the day of their wedding, the captain warned her not to go into the attic where he kept his keepsakes. However, unable to cooperate, the bride went up to the attic to see what all the fuss was about. There, she saw the physical memories of her husbands past as a deadly pirate. When the captain found out what his wife had done, he pushed her out of the attics window, leaving her to die when she fell to the ground.

Creepy right? It’s gets crazier. Anderson then elaborated on this idea, drawing pictures of the ghost of Priscilla. After her death, she haunted her husband to the point where he committed suicide by hanging himself. This does explain the man hanging from the ceiling when you enter the haunted room with no windows or doors at the beginning of the attraction. Some even see Captain Gore as the Ghost Host, our guide through the mansion. This is speculated after we see the hanging man after the Host to says, “Of course, there’s always my way.”

There are still some holes in the plot of the attraction, seeing that the storyline is not totally laid out to us like in other attractions. You wouldn’t know the story of the Haunted Mansion if you were a first timer to the Disney Parks. Perhaps the Imagineers just wanted us to use our imaginations to fill them in. Yes, it is a little annoying to a super fan like me who wants to know everything about the attraction, but as someone who uses her imagination frequently, I accept their fantastical challenge.

Ride Overview

As creepy cast members dressed as maids and butlers welcome you into the mansion, you are first placed in front of a portrait. You might be wondering, is this the master of the house? Before you could wonder anymore, the painting of the man starts to decay, becoming a skeleton before your eyes. You are then moved to the same windowless and doorless portrait room that I had mentioned before.

A disembodied voice introduced himself as the Ghost Host. He then initiates the room to start stretching, revealing a creepy hidden surprise under the four portraits that hung on the walls. How will you get out? Only the Ghost Host knows. He then opens a secret doorway to the constant moving Doom Buggies where eerie cast members are helping the guests on the ride.

After the ghost Host pulls down your safety bar, he commences the tour of mansion, full of floating candlesticks, dancing, dueling, and disappearing ghosts in the ballroom, Madame Leota’s head in her glass ball, and a threatening ghost bride with an axe in her hand. After her scary greeting, we are turned backwards, almost as if we are being thrown out of the bride’s attic.

Here is when we enter the graveyard where the 999 ghosts are singing “Grim Grinning Ghosts come out to socialize.” We are then warned by the Ghost Host to watch out for Ezra, Gus, and Phineas, the Hitchhiking Ghosts! They steal a ride in the Doom Buggy, squeezing in between guests. At the end of the tour, you are encouraged to “hurry back,” or if you wish, to come again as a permanent resident of the Haunted Mansion.

Influence in Different Parks

There are different versions of the Haunted Mansion around the world, none being exactly alike. Each mansion has a different design, some pertaining to the country in which they are in. Some of the attractions, like the Phantom Manor in Paris, has a storyline that focuses on a bride named Melanie Ravenswood. Another interesting fact is that all of the attractions are in placed in different lands. From New Orleans Square in Disneyland to Fantasyland in Tokyo.

It is also fun to look at the differences between the ride in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. First off, you can tell that the exterior design is different. Like I said, the Disneyland exterior has a southern plantation look, while the one in WDW has more of a Gothic Revival style. There is also a difference in the stretching elevator in both parks. In Disneyland, it is actually an elevator that brings you down to the ride. Since the Imagineers were unable to dig in Florida, they built the room to stretch up,  allowing the guests to stay put on the ground while creating the stretching illusion.

Also, every year for the holiday season, Disneyland recreates the attraction where the characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas take over the mansion. It bums me out that this is not available at Walt Disney World, which it definitely should be. It would be so cool to see another version of the ride in both parks, but hopefully one day, I’ll be able to!

Another thing that isn’t available in WDW is the Hatbox Ghost. He was an original ghost in the Haunted Mansion, but didn’t stay too long. He recently came back in 2015 for Disneyland’s 60th anniversary, but I hope that he makes an appearance in Florida’s Magic Kingdom too! It is such a cool thing to see as his head disappears from his neck and reappears in the hatbox.

Your Experience

Whether you are fan of the the Haunted Mansion ride, or you’ve haven’t had the pleasure yet, you might find it useful to get a Fastpass+ for this ride at the start of your day at the Magic Kingdom.  If you arrive at the park’s opening, you will definitely be able to ride the attraction a couple times with only a five minute wait. I suggest you do this so that you can have time to find little easter eggs that are hidden among the tombstones…

When you find yourself waiting in line and going on the Haunted Mansion, there are definitely some things to look out for. In my opinion, the Haunted Mansion has one of the most interesting line cues on Disney property. They just might be able to help you uncover some clues regarding the attraction’s story:

  1. The bride’s ring that was thrown out of the attic window and trampled by the invisible horse in the courtyard.
  2. The invisible piano player in the Music Room still has a shadow you can see swaying!
  3. The hidden Mickey among the plates in the Ballroom scene.
  4. The Audio-Animatronic raven in the ride. It was actually suppose to be the narrator for the Haunted Mansion’s tour originally, but now we leave that to the Ghost Host. The raven is also a nod to Edgar Allen Poe’s short story by the same name.
  5. The pet cemetery. If you look closely, you might be able to see Mr. Toad among the tombstone to symbolize the death of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, a former Disney World attraction.

If you have young children with you, just know that they might be a little frightened of this ride. It is dark inside, and from what you’ve read in this article, there are elements that can be a little creepy.

However, Walt Disney wanted this attraction to be family friendly. On that note, just make sure you let your children know that the inhabitants of the Haunted Mansion are friendly and happy haunts! They will not touch nor intend to frighten you. You are simply taking a look into they’re way of life. Of course, if you would like to join them at the end your tour, you can always make final arrangements with the Ghost Host.

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