Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Haunted Mansion review: Another frightfully unfunny Disney ride

LaKeith Stanfield shines, but Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, and Tiffany Haddish are just foolish mortals in the latest attempt to adapt this Disney attraction

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, LaKeith Stanfield, and Owen Wilson in Haunted Mansion.
Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, LaKeith Stanfield, and Owen Wilson in Haunted Mansion.
Photo: Jalen Marlowe

It would be interesting to see the version of Haunted Mansion that star LaKeith Stanfield seems to think he’s in—one where his jaded, grieving, scientist-turned-wannabe believer in ghosts could see his grounded performance matched by an equally compelling setting, story, and fellow cast members. This, unfortunately, is not that movie. Only Jared Leto, who presumably did most of his work on a motion-capture stage as the unabashedly evil Hatbox Ghost, offers an equivalent level of commitment, imbuing his decapitated avatar with the sort of theatrical flourishes fans wished he had as Morbius. Director Guillermo del Toro would have made that character the protagonist; Justin Simien effectively makes him the ride’s Ghost Host, which may play as blasphemy to die-hard theme park geeks.

Director Rob Minkoff’s 2003 film version of the Disney ride gets unfair amounts of hate, much of it due to poorly edited trailers that made Eddie Murphy’s lead performance look more Jar Jar-level than it actually was. But like Hocus Pocus, it seems to have aged well by keeping things simple—the goal of the Haunted Mansion should be to find a way out. Even the 2021 Muppet version for Disney+ understood this. In Simien’s new film, characters can come and go as they please—they’ll just be followed home by ghosts who will harass them into returning, like a sort of PG take on Ju-on: The Grudge.


For a ride set around New Orleans, the Haunted Mansion has always seemed extremely white, so the introductory scenes of the new movie showing New Orleans as the diverse city that it is feel like a much-needed counter-narrative strike. Unfortunately, they don’t last—after scientist Ben (Stanfield) meets ghost tour host Alyssa (Charity Jordan), the movie skips ahead; she’s been fridged, and Ben has buried his grief in booze and B.S. Accepting an offer from alleged priest Kent (Owen Wilson), he takes a $2,000 fee to investigate the spooky residence in question, only to find his skepticism quickly dissipate in the face of grim, grinning ghosts who seem more interested in hostility than socialization.


The original Disneyland ride manages an expert tonal balance, spooky but seldom outright scary. That’s tougher to pull off in a movie, which requires more jeopardy. Riders know they’ll leave the mansion at the end, but they have to believe the onscreen characters might be doomed. Will you care? With this bunch, not really. Wilson, Danny DeVito, and Tiffany Haddish barely commit to their shtick, while Jamie Lee Curtis half-asses a vague “gypsy” accent as crystal ball-encased psychic Madame Leota. We cinephiles love Curtis, but Jennifer Tilly took the same floaty-headed character more seriously in the 2003 version.

Disney adults will see plenty of Easter eggs to point at—the floating candelabra! The bride’s lair in the attic! A character named after Imagineer Rolly Crump! The same five minutes of music from the ride basically played in a loop for two hours! If a reference-fest is what you want, Muppets Haunted Mansion did it better. If it’s a story with actual escalating tension you seek, the 2003 film has superior pacing. Haunted Mansion (2023) looks real pretty, with the best CG money can buy, but primarily feels like the most calculated of corporate products. Frequent Paul Feig collaborator Katie Dippold seems to have been ordered to shoehorn as many references as possible into the script—including weird plugs for the likes of CVS and Burger King—rather than telling a coherent tale.

Haunted Mansion | Official Trailer

As a result, the movie at times feels like an eternal cycle of the nine-minute ride, which loses its luster after 123 of those minutes. It offers you this chilling challenge—find a way out! Better yet, refrain from being the mortal foolish enough to enter in the first place. Incidentally, that brings up a weird issue with the movie overall; characters have to trick others into entering the house and becoming cursed, and they later assist at least one ghost in grand theft. The concept of informed consent is treated as a disposable, ends-justify-the-means formality. At first, this is actually commented on, but later it becomes an uncomfortable pattern played for laughs.

Kudos to Stanfield for not behaving like a dead man walking, and giving it his all opposite things he couldn’t possibly have seen on set. If the ghosts follow him home, it’s only because he’s more interesting than anything in their house.

The Haunted Mansion opens in theaters Friday, July 28