Moving Pictures
Aug 11, 2023, 05:55AM

Ghostly Winks

Product placement hides in plain sight during Disney’s Haunted Mansion film.

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I was really excited to go see Disney’s Haunted Mansion not only as someone who raised her kids in an actual haunted Victorian mansion, but also as a huge fan of the Disneyworld Haunted Mansion attraction and all its accoutrements. I love the history of the amusement park ride (born in 1969 like me!), and what about the fact that the mansion house itself was modeled after a house in Maryland?!

I was concerned the film wouldn’t go well for Disney. The first Haunted Mansion film starring Eddie Murphy back in 2003 had lackluster reviews, and with its poorly-timed release amidst huge summer blockbusters Barbie and Oppenheimer (Barbie just became the first billion-dollar movie—in 17 days—with a solo woman director), this one didn’t stand much of a chance. A Halloween release would’ve made more sense; maybe spooky-season streaming is what was intended.

The reviews of this new film make the ones for the ’03 film look like Citizen KaneThe New York Times sneers “There is a mansion, it is haunted, boo, blah, the end.”

Rolling Stone dismisses the parallels between the amusement park ride and the movie as “a million other familiar details and soulless callbacks that aren’t worked into the story so much as shoved into the frame for quick recognition,” continuing with this ghastly blow: “Disney, you can do better than this, even with somethinbased on an amusement park staple. Haunted Mansion doesn’t have one-tenth of the wit or imagination of that decades-old attraction. You will, however, definitely feel like you’ve been taken for a ride in the worst possible way.”

What I’d hoped for was the movie would be a fun/spooky, campy ride with lots of silly references to the amusement park icon and for the most part it delivers. But the film has an identity crisis. It doesn’t know when to be scary, funny, or dark and morose, and so the vibes are chaotic. Owen Wilson plays himself as usual so we expect him to accidentally say Kachow at any moment. LaKeith Stanfield is good but overly gloomy as Ben, the astrophysicist ghosthunter, Rosario Dawson as Gabbie the mansion owner wears only oddly sepia-toned clothes that are perfect for a “Haunted Mansion Barbie” character. There are good moments from supporting cast members Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, Jared Leto, Winona Ryder with a Beetlejuice shout-out, and Jamie Lee Curtis as Madam Leota.

There’s an obnoxious, ridiculous overabundance of product placements in the film. Though moviegoers have come to expect that, as seen in recent films like Barbie (that whole movie is a product placement), The Haunted Mansion has over a dozen, and includes them as one reviewer called it, “with all the grace of a pair of Crocs.”

From a center-framed Burger King bag in the car to mentions of CVS receipts and saying Baskin-Robbins ice cream is “to die for,” you’d be wasted if you had to drink every time a product was hocked; it couldn’t be more annoying. The one that really got me as a candlemaker was the prominently-placed Yankee Candle in the middle of the séance table. I noticed it immediately because it didn’t belong. Cinematically, the film is great, so there are ghostly chandeliers floating around the mansion with the wispy ghosts, and suddenly there’s a modern basic-bitch Vanilla Yankee Candle on the table that Dawson declares is there because she “forgot to cancel her Amazon subscription,” adding yet another product reference.

It’s the feeling when you’re watching a movie on a cable channel that you pay a lot of money for and now you’re watching commercials. Come on Disney, didn’t we pay for a movie ticket; how many commercials should we have to watch during the film? Also, as a small candlemaker, I’d like to remind everyone to support their local handmade soy candle company. Big box candles are made from paraffin, which is petroleum and can be filled with awful toxins and chemicals you don’t want burning in your home.

My recommendation is stream the film at home around Halloween where you can enjoy some cool special effects and drink every time you see a commercial hiding in plain sight.


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