Friday, August 11, 2023

Mousey Movies - Haunted Mansion

Haunted Mansin movie poster showing the cast hovering over a crystal ball which contains a haunted house inside.

As Disney parks fans we have waited for years for a new Haunted Mansion movie. Many fans have mixed thoughts on 2003’s The Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy. Personally, I don’t like scary things so a more comical version was more than fine with me. We need to remember this is an attraction that creators debated scary versus funny. That debate led to a story that was a mix of both and we loved it. But it has seemed to me that the movie reboot debate has been let’s get something really different from Murphy’s take and make it scary, and that’s a no-thank you situation for me. Much like the first time I entered the Haunted Mansion, I was afraid to attend the 2023 movie on opening day…because I don’t do scary! And I heard this was scary,

For comic book fans, my summary is; Night Nurse shares a house with Mobius and the Joker won’t let them sleep!

Gabbie, a doctor, and her son Travis relocate near New Orleans to a dark and dusty Mansion. The two discover quickly that the house is haunted by ghosts they cannot escape. In trying to escape their fate, Gabbie gathers ups a rag-tag crew of a priest, an astrophysicist, a historian, and a medium who all get pulled into Gabbie and Travis’ fate. The group discovers that one spirit has more devious plans than haunting a family, and they must avoid becoming the last ghostly inhabitant of the mansion so he cannot gain his full dark power. Along with the horror comedy of the mansion, the group, such as astrophysicist Ben, struggle with their own grief and what the existence of ghosts could mean.

We came for the movie but stayed for the ride. Haunted Mansion attraction fans won’t be disappointed. The big bad is the Hatbox Ghost. And we mean bad, real bad. He’s not fun at all. There are stretching paintings, busts, and ghosts that all bring us into the ride. They pulled some much of the attraction in that I’m pretty sure I didn’t see it all and will still miss things when I rewatch on Disney+.

Is it scary? We have gotten a lot of questions from friends about can my ten-year-old, and my twelve-year-old watch the movie? You likely know your child’s horror tolerance. The Hatbox Ghost is scary and dark. The ghosts are definitely not always nice. There are a few jump scares. I hate scary, but this movie is well within my scare tolerance. It’s dark and forbidding, but no over-the-top gore and images that kept me from sleeping at night. If anything the Eddie Murphy crypt scene may be scarier than anything seen here in 2023.

Speaking of The Haunted Mansion. Personally, I enjoyed it. I still enjoy it. And I currently just see it as a separate thing in a different universe. There has been so much added over the decades to the attraction, I really don’t see any story as canon. To me, neither The Haunted Mansion or Haunted Mansion are the true and only story of the mansion. And I enjoy them both for what they are without either taking from the other.

We have to give a special call out to Danny Devito as Professor Bruce Davis. The man is a national treasure and must be protected at all costs. He delivers the best one-liners in the film. And while he doesn’t get to play a beloved classic character like Jamie Lee Curtis’ Madame Leota, he is a new fresh, and fun one that gave a lot to the film, especially when a laugh was needed. A member of my group did not enjoy the film as much as the rest but made sure to let us know that Devito was the actor she kept following throughout the film.

Sigh, did I mention Disney+? The box office for this release under performed, by so so much. There are clearly two reasons for this. First, Barbie and her friend Oppenheimer are dominating the box office at release. Having seen Barbie, it definitely felt more fresh and new and it also has a lot of nostalgia. While there are a lot of Haunted Mansion fans, Barbie definitely has more. Second, do you want to see a Halloween-themed movie in July? Disney originally was going to release The Marvels in this slot but switched movies. The July release seems questionable. But, it also allows Disney to add it to Disney+ before the fall holiday. Maybe Disney is playing chess here, accepting that the movie release window would mean less at the theater but maybe have more of an impact when it hits streaming! I enjoyed watching the movie in a theater, mine was actually packed on opening day with that energy, but I would have liked it better in the fall.

I really enjoyed Haunted Mansion. But the question I am getting is do I need to see it in the theater? If you are a Disney Parks fan, Haunted Mansion fan, or even a Halloween holiday fan, I think you really should see it big. But I think of my friend who is a genre fan but not really a Disney fan at all. He likely can wait for it to arrive on Disney+ mainly because the material likely means a little less to him than to me, the guy who showed up in the Hitchhiking Ghost baseball jersey to see the movie. He’s really going to be entertained and enjoy Haunted Mansion, but he’s likely to enjoy his living room seat just as much as a theater seat.


Thursday, August 3, 2023

Between Books - Who Was Walt Disney?

Book cover showing Walt Disney in an Hawaiian shirt standing in front of a castle.

When I was a kid I remember falling in love with history. One of the important moments I remember is a kid’s Albert Einstein biography that I borrowed from the library. I am not huge into Einstein's history today, but I remember the feeling of being fascinated by a true life story of obstacles and triumph. And I hope that kids can still use the pages of books to reclaim that feeling.

Who Was Walt Disney? by Whitney Stewart is a Walt Disney biography for kids ages 7 and up. Along with Stewart’s text are illustrations from Nancy Harrison. The book is a from-birth-to-death biography of Disney. It glances over all the big moments but does not go deep into many topics. With around 100 pages there is only limited space to discuss in depth a full life. This is especially true when many of the illustrations are full or nearly full-page spreads with a medium-sized font.

For a child in the 7 to 10 age range, I think this is a fine biography to introduce a child to Walt Disney or help grow Disney excitement in a young fan. As a biography there are a few moments where I was like, no that’s not right. And I mean a few handfuls of moments. As I looked back at them, it was really items that were actually true, but being the person who can be asked a question and then answer for 30 minutes, items of omission. There is simply just not enough room in 100 pages for a comprehensive take on Disney. But hey, we have really long Disney biographies for those adult fans. Even with it being brief, Stewart does introduce kids to the major themes of Disney’s life. For example, Stewart captures Disney’s emotional change as the studio grew and the animator’s strike in the 1940s showed him that his company was no longer a tight family.

Some of the illustrations don’t feel to be fully on model. But this is also an unauthorized biography. The publisher does need to be cautious in the handling of Disney images. And how many 8-year-olds are really going to be worried about if Roy O. Disney looks just like his photos?

Who Was Walt Disney? by Whitney Stewart is an accurate introduction to Walt Disney’s life and legacy. Hopefully, kids can find excitement in triumphs in the face of obstacles in the book. And maybe it will help foster the next generation of history nerds, if it be here or another of the volumes in this very successful series. 

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