It’s been nearly 20 years since Eddie Murphy’s box office flop, Disney’s The Haunted Mansion. Now, another trip to our favorite haunt is in order. With director Justin Simien (Dear White People) at the helm, and writer Katie Dippold (Parks and Recreation, The Heat, Ghostbusters), this Haunted Mansion wears its PG-13 rating on its sleeve with plenty of boo moments, surprising suspense, and jokes that will fly over younger audiences’ heads.
Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield) is an alcoholic-grieving widower who just can’t stop hosting his deceased wife’s New Orleans ghost tours despite the fact that he doesn’t believe in them. Ironically, he’s also managed to create a camera that can capture pictures of them, something that comes in handy when Father Kent (Owen Wilson) comes knocking.
Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) has just moved into the titular mansion, with her son Travis (Chase W. Dillon), and needs help to get rid of the spirits before the Hatbox Ghost (voiced by Jared Leto) claims his 1,000th soul. Armed with help from Matthias and Father Kent — along with Professor Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito), psychic Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), and the head of Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis) — they set out to stop the Hatbox Ghost and save the rest of the souls stuck inside.
While Murphy’s outing remains perfectly harmless gateway horror, this time the trip was definitely worth the wait. The cast provide plenty of laughs and make you really care for their relationships, especially among Matthias, Gabbie, and Travis. Dillon in particular manages to be yet another wise-beyond-his-years child star. Dippold treats them to a hilarious screenplay that zig zags its way from joke to scare at the drop of a hat and Simien never falters. He also whips up some impressive camerawork with cinematographer Jeffrey Waldron, and Kris Bowers provides a fantastically jazz infused score.
Thankfully, Haunted Mansion doesn’t coast along on nostalgia alone. Anyone who wants to ride their favorite ride can literally do so whenever they want. For the rest of us, it’s nice to have something that reminds us of why the ride is so much fun when there’s no telling when one may make it to the park. There’s plenty of frights to go around in the theater right now, and to have one of them more family oriented should help get audiences of all ages into something spooky.