Haunted Mansion Could Mark a Shift Toward Disney Movies for Adults

Are a star-studded cast, thoughtful set pieces, and spooky special effects enough to win over a new audience?

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The grinning ghosts of Walt Disney World’s iconic Haunted Mansion are nowhere to be seen — and certainly not keen on socializing — in the latest ride-to-screen adaptation.

Unlike the 2003 Haunted Mansion movie starring Eddie Murphy, 2023’s Haunted Mansion seems less like a remake and more like a grown-up re-imagination of Disneyland’s iconic ride. Totally ignoring its 2003 predecessor’s predominant family-friendly tone, this redo is catering to Millennials and the older Gen-Z crowd with spooky special effects, thoughtful set design, and a star-studded cast that could lure fans to theaters.

LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, and Tiffany Haddish are among the unexpectedly distinguished cast members. These are the stars you’d expect in an arthouse indie horror, or a racy comedy. But it seems like the new Haunted Mansion will live up to its stars’ cred, thanks to some spooky jump scares and genuinely scary-looking ghosts.

A teaser for Haunted Mansion dropped earlier this week, showing off the movie’s remarkable ability to whiplash between the supernatural, comedy, and horror genres. And while canonical elements from the ride’s narrative (Madame Leota and her crystal ball, the Stretching Room, the Hat-Box ghost) appear, the notable thing about this Haunted Mansion remake is that there are a respectable amount of creepy ghosts, light jumpscares, and eerie dread. The design of the ghosts is especially promising — is that blood we see? This ain’t your parents’ Haunted Mansion, the movie seems to say, because your parents’ Haunted Mansion wasn’t scary.

Admittedly, Haunted Mansion could’ve been even scarier. A script was written in 2010 by Guillermo del Toro, who targeted a PG-13 audience and described his screenplay as being "scary and fun at the same time, but the scary will be scary” in an interview with MTV. However, Disney scrapped Del Toro’s work in 2013 because the company deemed it wasn’t fit for families to watch together.

Still, Ghostbusters reboot scribe Katie Dippold appears to have picked up the gauntlet from del Toro to deliver a movie that might not make kids cry, but could make them afraid of the dark for a night or two. That’s not just good for Disney adults, but also for adults who enjoy a solid horror and comedy blend.

The Inverse Analysis — Disney has a reputation of being a family company to the point that their streaming platform, Disney+, has been under fire for retroactively censoring movies or canceling shows that were deemed too risqué for their audience. To see them try their hand at an adult horror-comedy is therefore a little surprising. Admittedly, they’ve dipped their toes in the adult drama pool before with their adult-targeted labels like Touchstone Pictures, which produced films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Signs, Dead Poets Society, and Pretty Woman from the ‘80s through to the early 2000s.

But Disney has become remarkably risk-averse, leaving the adult themes to be tackled by 20th Century Pictures or hidden in their Pixar movies. Maybe a relatively mature remake like Haunted Mansion could indicate a shift to more adult fare. At least, unlike the photorealistic duds of yesteryear, it may actually be worth buying a ticket for.

Haunted Mansion ominously floats into theaters on July 28, 2023.

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