New Fears at The Old Haunt

When I visited the Haunted Mansion on October 4th, I didn't realize I would be one of the last who got to see the infamous tombstones that align the queue outside of the Mansion. When I returned just a few days later, walls were up along the queue blocking the tombstones. By this point, the Twitterverse and Blogosphere were already lit up by mortified souls, with rumors of an "interactive queue" to replace these legendary tombstones. Why tinker with something perfectly in theme with the attraction while also a long-standing tribute to Imagineers?

Sadly it seems in keeping with the odd dichotomy that is the Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World. The attraction has largely stayed true to its origins, a cornerstone of the Magic Kingdom that continues to delight fans new and old for almost 40 years now. When they've done a refurbishment, like the recent one done a few years ago, it was only to enhance the pre-existing effects. It's not like they integrated Eddie Murphy into the storyline!

However, the tombstone removal points towards a need for unnecessary meddling by the current regime. In the old days, part of the experience in the queue was the fear of the unknown that awaited inside. With the gothic mansion looming overhead, and the sound effects luring guests in, the patience on line only lent itself to the haunted theme. Are we so distracted now that we need to be entertained by some interactive games that have already proven to be mediocre enhancements elsewhere? There used to be interactivity in the Haunted Mansion queues: the cast.

Which brings me to my next, sad point. I can still recall my Dad's delight with how dry and spooky the cast members were when my family visited regularly in the '80s and early '90s and it became a highlight for me. "Please drag your bodies to the dead center of the room," a cast member would exclaim with sinister dryness. Outside, the cast were an extension of the fear of what horrors awaited inside. But this seems to have gone completely by the wayside, replaced by cast members who, while still helpful and professional, seem to have traded in the act for a requisite role as an employee going through the motions. I thought the whole point of calling them "cast" members was to imply that they were part of the experience. The problem is that them seemed more likely part of the cast of Clerks than the Haunted Mansion. I assure you, we're haunted.

This all unfortunately undermines what is still a very vital and brilliant Walt Disney World experience. The Haunted Mansion has been there since Day 1 and as I mentioned earlier, is still very much the same ride as it has always been. You can't say that about Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean or it's a small world. It epitomizes what Walt Disney World has always been to me: an experience that transcends carnival rides and amusement parks. As a child, I was horrified at the prospect of a haunted mansion simply because I only ever knew them to be an attraction who's sole purpose was to scare the living daylights out of its visitors. But as we all know, Marc Davis wouldn't have it that way. As a kid, I got over those initial fears and couldn't wait to revisit the Haunted Mansion. Now that's not to say that it gave me no fear…but it gave me enough delight to overcome those fears.

The Haunted Mansion became one of the most anticipated experiences on my recent trip as it had been a long five years since I enjoyed the attraction. As is requisite for certain rides, I made sure to experience the Haunted Mansion both in the daytime and at night. There isn't a whole lot to say here that hasn't been covered ad infinitum. It is very much still the attraction I have loved for nearly 30 years.

I also found the enhanced effects to be perfectly in spirit (pun intended) with the origins of the attraction. The ride felt sharper and enhanced, as if I had traded up from VHS all the way to Blu Ray. The more significant enhancements were wonderful and increased the supernatural quotient nicely. And Paul Frees, as the Ghost Host, has never sounded better.

Will the Pet Cemetery be replaced by a Dead Princess meet-and-greet?

Recent history has shown that no attraction is completely free from major refurbishment so in some ways we are lucky to have Frees still narrating and the rooms at the Haunted Mansion still telling the same storyline. Certainly in the grand scheme of things, the lack of cast charisma and the queue meddling won't affect the actual ride experience. But they were always a very enjoyable extension of that experience and its frustrating to see these things changed or dumbed down.

Why tinker with something just to tinker? There's a reason why lines still happily form outside the old haunt. The substance of the original ride was so perfect that it never needed changing, from the front gate to the exit. Apparently some foolish mortals felt otherwise.


Marilyn @ our cheap disney vacation said...

wha- whaah? It's Haunted Mansion. Meaning there are ghosts = dead people = tombstones.

I remember being totally freaked as a 7 year old going on Haunted Mansion cuz the CM stared me down as I walked onto the ride.