The Haunted Mansion

UK release date: Sep 8 2009

cast list

Eddie Murphy
Marsha Thomason
Terence Stamp
Jennifer Tilly

directed by
Rob Minkoff

If you add up the box office receipts of all his films, Harrison Ford is by some distance the biggest star of all time. Eddie Murphy currently sits fifth in this table, which might explain his recent focus on big studio family films.

With no apparent interest in writing or directing after the disastrous Harlem Nights, perhaps his motivation is simply to entertain more people than anyone in history. Then again, it could be the $20 million he gets for each film…

It seems charitable to come up with some excuse for his participation in The Haunted Mansion, for there’s nothing in the script to recommend it. Murphy plays Jim Evers, a cheesy estate agent who neglects his family to focus on work. Jim promises to take his family away for the weekend, but on the way he makes them stop at one last call, a baroque mansion which has just come on the market. Naturally, complications arise, and before long he and his family are trapped in a nightmare involving ghosts, secret passages, and an ancient mystery.

The Haunted Mansion is based on a Disney ride, but this is a creaky merry-go-round compared with the thrilling rollercoaster that was Pirates Of The Caribbean. Murphy’s character is prissy and vain, a man who avoids getting out of his car in case his shoes get dirty. Marsha Thomason, Shazza in TV’s Playing The Field, is stunning but bland as his wife, and the comic turns (Terence Stamp, Wallace Shawn and Jennifer Tilly) are left embarrassingly adrift by a humour-free script.

This is, of course, a kids’ film, but kids are just as sensitive to weak storytelling and non-jokes as adults, and possessed statues singing barbershop quartets is a non-joke.

What’s perhaps most troubling is Disney’s apparent policy of discreetly including racial tension as a plot element in its films. The Lion King‘s hyenas were clearly identified as being black, in a move that seemed purely designed to reinforce the antagonism between the two sets of characters.

Here at least the subtext is slightly less inflammatory; the reason the family are trapped in the mansion is because Murphy’s (black) wife is the spitting image of the woman who had a love affair with the owner centuries ago, but could never marry him because "they were from two different worlds" – Disney-speak for ‘she was black’ apparently.

The Haunted Mansion is just a kids’ film, but it’s a rubbish one. Treat the family and rent Robin Hood instead.

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