Based on the popular Disneyland attraction (Disneyland? Walt Disney World? Pardon me if I've picked the wrong park, I've not been to either and I bitterly regret the loss to my childhood), The Haunted Mansion is a fun family horror movie that will entertain children for the duration. Unfortunately, it's not enough fun for anyone older.
Eddie Murphy and Marsha Thomason play Jim and Sara Evers, a married couple who are also successful realtors. Work has been getting in the way of their married life lately, but they plan to make amends for that with a nice weekend away. Just the two of them, plus their two children (Marc John Jefferies and Aree Davis). The start of their weekend away is interrupted, however, when Sara is invited along to a mansion that the owner wishes to put up for sale. Determined to just make a quick stop en route to their weekend destination, the family soon find out that they may be stuck in the mansion for longer than planned. A LOT longer.
With plenty of little touches that will be recognisable to those who have experienced the real-life attraction (which doesn't include me . . . . hmmph . . . . sorry, I'll try to leave my bitterness here) and lots of spooky spectacles in every scene that occurs after the mansion reveals its true colours, this is an easy film to sit back and enjoy, from an aesthetic point of view. The quality of the production design here can't really be faulted, even if some viewers may be as disappointed as I was by the lack of actual kid-friendly scares. There are a few, especially during the initial sequence in which most of the Evers family discover that the mansion is haunted, but those are soon abandoned in favour of standard escapades that could take place in any Disney movie.
Director Rob Minkoff does an okay job, it's certainly all pitched perfectly towards younger viewers, and David Berenbaum's script draws everything together nicely in a way that gives everyone a decent part in the unfolding mystery (yes, of course there's a mystery). Yet, it's strange that the leading man isn't allowed to get more laughs, and it's even stranger that so many moments don't feel as if they make the most of the setting.
Murphy is fun in his role, and Thomason makes for a lovely leading lady, but the supporting cast provides the most enjoyment. Terence Stamp is a delight as a creepy butler, Dina Waters and Wallace Shawn are both wonderful as some deceased servants, and Jennifer Tilly has some fun in a small role, playing a character who simply appears as a head in a crystal ball. Nathaniel Parker has a bit of a thankless role, he's the master of the mansion (and mourning a lost love), but he does fine with it, I guess, and young Jefferies and Davies are both likable enough as young Michael and Megan, respectively, with both adapting surprisingly well to the ghostly activity.
Not really worth your time if you're an adult, but it's a perfectly fine choice if you want to introduce young kids to the pleasures of ghosts 'n' ghouls and things that can go bump in the night. Because it's not always advisable to sit them down in front of The Exorcist. Baby steps are required, baby steps.
For another, more adult, movie choice for today (and most days in October) do get yourself over to this great blog written by Christianne Benedict. I am often bad at sharing the love for other writers, but Christianne is often very good at it, and it's about damn time I returned the favour. Even if she's a much better writer than I am.