Monday, September 29, 2014

Disney's Haunted Mansion: Part II

The Haunted Mansion has become a favorite ride for many park attendees over the years, so much so that Disney built it in every park they operate. There is a Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom inside Disney World, and also a Haunted Mansion in Tokyo Disneyland. There are two more version of Disney's Haunted Mansion in the world, but they go by different names. Phantom Manor is in Disneyland Paris, while Mystic Manor is in Hong Kong Disneyland. So what are the biggest differences between the rides? Well, every attraction is almost exactly the same, except for Mystic Manor and Phantom Manor. Phantom Manor is considered the scariest of any of the rides, featuring a lot of differences from the original ride, including different portraits for the stretching room, and way more appearances of the Bride. The architecture of Phantom Manor is Western Victorian. Mystic Manor is part of the Haunted Mansion family, but barely. It is closer to a ride based on The Adventurer's Club in Pleasure Island than a Haunted Mansion ride. OK, so that's not completely true, but it certainly feels like it. The story in this house is that you are visiting Lord Henry Mystic and his monkey Albert, who have just discovered a mysterious music box said to be cursed. Albert opens the box, ala Abu in the Cave of Wonders and everything in the house comes alive. The spirit of the Haunted Mansion is in this ride and there are winks here and there to the original, including some of the same changing portraits, like the Medusa. This ride just opened, and it honestly looks pretty cool. If you don't plan on going to Hong Kong anytime soon, then you can watch a POV video here. The architectural style of Mystic Manor is Victorian.

The Haunted Mansion in Tokyo Disneyland looks almost exactly like the Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom, outside and inside, so I won't compare those two. Disney World's Haunted Mansion is a Gothic building, and is was purposefully made to look creepier and more run-down than Disneyland's Mansion. Don't get me wrong, the mansion still looks good, but the webs, cemetery, and long grass add to the mystique of the Mansion. Probably one of the most famous parts of the Haunted Mansion is the Stretching Room. Funny enough, this was created as a necessity for the Disneyland version. To get to the actual ride, guests have to go down a level, but Disney ideally didn't want the guests to notice. So, they created the Stretching Room, where portraits seemed to stretch to show ghoulish sights, though it's just a glorified elevator. Guests then go down a long hallway where they see various changing portraits, from a cat-lady, to a knight on horseback. They are then able to finally get on the "Doom Buggies" and see all the happy haunts. The Disney World's Haunted Mansion needed no such elevator ride to get guests to the loading area. The Stretching Room was very popular, so they decided to instead have the ceiling go up to create the same effect. In both mansions, the actual ride is not inside the literal mansion, but inside a building behind it. You can only see this building if you ride the monorail, otherwise they've hidden them pretty well. The queue for Disney World's Mansion has been re-done recently, so you're bound to be entertained as you wait for the ride. Probably the only other big difference between the two is the audio that plays during the ride. The Ghost Host for each ride is voiced by Paul Frees, though the audio is abridged for the Disney World version. One leg up that Disneyland's Mansion has over Disney World's is its transition to Haunted Mansion Holiday, where the Mansion is completely turned into a Nightmare Before Christmas themed ride starting in October. Tokyo Disneyland also takes part in Haunted Mansion Holiday. I've watched footage of that edition of the Haunted Mansion, and though I love Nightmare Before Christmas, I love the original ride more.

Part of the reason, or most, depending on who you talk to, that the Haunted Mansion is so popular, is because of the notable haunts. There are many versions of the story behind the Haunted Mansion, but the original story involved a sea captain named Captain Gore, who built the mansion to house himself and his wife, Priscilla. After he was finished, he had to go back to sea, and told his love that he would be back someday, but warned her never to go up in the attic. Her husband had been gone quite a long time, and she grew more curious about the contents of the attic. She went up to explore and found inside some trunks evidence that her husband was actually a bloodthirsty pirate. She didn't have time to react, as she was promptly killed from behind. It was her husband back from the sea, though in his rage in finding someone snooping in his stuff, he didn't realize that he had just murdered his own wife. In his grief, he went to the entrance hall and hung himself from the rafters. The Ghost Host is none other than Captain Gore, and the Bride in the attic is Priscilla. The story has been changed, with the Bride being changed to Constance and her identity changed to the woman in the Stretching Room who has murdered each of her five husbands. The Ghost Host's portrait can be seen in various locations inside the Mansions, and look like a menacing,gaunt-looking man with a noose hanging around his neck. Perhaps the identity of Master Gracey has caused the most confusion. The names on the tombstones are for the most part named after Imagineers and their family. Most who saw the name Master Gracey figured that that meant Gracey was the literal master of the house, though Disney meant it as the title of a young man, or boy. The confusion was so widespread that it slowly became canon, culminating in the Haunted Mansion movie having the owner of the house being Gracey. Disney has by now accepted this as canon now, and Gracey is now the owner of the house, not the Ghost Host. Though not intended to be any character in particular, the portrait where a young man slowly changes into an old man, and then into a skeleton, became Master Gracey because fans willed it to be.

Madame Leota is probably one of the more popular and well known characters inside the mansion. Though she appears for just a few seconds in the ride, it a memorable span of time. The new Haunted Mansion store in Disney World will have many of it's wares featuring Madame Leota. Favorite portraits inside the mansion include the five changing pictures, including a cat-lady, the Black Prince, the Flying Dutchman, Master Gracey (based on The Portrait of Dorian Gray), and a Medusa. The Sinister Eleven portraits are found throughout Disney World's Mansion, and include the Ghost Host, the April-December Woman, and characters based on historical people like Jack the Ripper and Rasputin. There are many, many more characters inside the Mansion, but the most recognizable are the Hitchhiking Ghosts. Each were never given names, though fans didn't mind making up their own. There is Gus (Prisoner), Ezra (Skeleton), and Phineas (Traveler), and together they have become the Haunted Mansion's mascots. They appear near the end of the ride and seem to hitch a ride with you in your Doom Buggy. The one haunt that you won't see inside the mansion is the legendary Hatbox Ghost. He was first installed in Disneyland in the attic next to the Bride. His head was supposed to disappear and re-appear inside the hatbox. The Imagineers couldn't quite get the effect to work, so they had to get rid of it. Rumors still come up that the ghost was too scary for the ride, but most people buy the official story. The Hatbox Ghost has become such a hit with fans of the mansion that Disney finally added pictures of the spook in the Corridor of Doors inside the Disney World Mansion. Guillermo Del Toro is a huge fan of the Haunted Mansion and is currently developing a movie based mostly around the Hatbox Ghost. I can almost guarantee it'll be better than the Eddie Murphy version.

There are a few quirks with the two American Haunted Mansions. In the Disneyland Mansion, there is a giant spider on the glass in front of the ballroom scene. Doesn't seem to unusual, right? The spider, along with what appears to be a web, is in fact Disney's cheap way of covering up a crack in the glass allegedly created by a child hitting it with a rock from a slingshot. It's very hard to see, and you have to be looking for it. People are strange, and they think that it's OK to do whatever they want if their dead relative wished it. People ask all the time to have their ashes dumped inside the various Haunted Mansions. Each time someone does, they have to stop and clean it up, so don't do it! The urban legend surrounding the first instance at Disneyland claims that a boy's ashes were strewn around the inside of the ride, and now the boy haunts the Mansion. The ashes thing is probably true, but not too sure about the real haunting. When you leave Disney World's Haunted Mansion, you may notice that there is a Pet Cemetery on the left hand side. It's very small, but it has a few cute tombstones. If you look all the way in the back and to the left, you'll see a tombstone for none other than Mr. Toad from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Why is he there? Well, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was a popular dark ride in Fantasyland inside the Magic Kingdom up until 1998 when it was replaced by a Winnie the Pooh ride. Disney took the Toad statue above the ride and placed it inside the pet cemetery as a tribute to a fallen ride.

I haven't experienced any other Haunted Mansion than the one in Disney World, so my love is specifically for that ride. I have seen POV videos for the other versions, but I love my version the best. Hopefully someday I can experience one of the others ,but I wouldn't be too crushed if I didn't. All I know is that I'm too excited that I'll soon be riding one of the best rides in the whole world.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Disney's Haunted Mansion: Part I

I remember being very scared. So much so that I wouldn't let my dad take me anywhere near the Gothic style house. He must have really wanted me to experience the ride though, as he eventually convinced me that it would be fun. I must have been around 4 or 5, probably during the second trip my parents took my family to Walt Disney World. All my fear melted away when I finally did go inside and experience the masterpiece that is the Haunted Mansion. It filled me with so much wonder and it really wasn't that scary at all, in fact it was a lot of fun! Needless to say, I will be taking my children on this ride someday, and though they may be scared at first, I hope they embrace the ride just as I did so many years ago. My wife and I are leaving for Disney World soon and I couldn't be more excited. I love everything there, but my pilgrimage is always to the Haunted Mansion. I've ridden it up to three times in one trip. I don't think I've had the misfortune of seeing it under refurbishment while we visited. It wouldn't ruin the trip, but I would be seriously bummed. I know what you're thinking, that this "haunted house" ride shouldn't mean that much to me, but it does. I think it's a combination of things. The Haunted Mansion represents a unique part of my childhood. As far as I can tell, it introduced me to all things spooky. It showed me that just because something had ghosts in it, didn't mean it was scary. It could be fun! I embraced that mentality early on, and led to my love of Halloween. The ride also means a lot to me because I associate it with my father. I don't think I've ridden it with him since 2000, but it was our tradition when going to the park-- that and riding Pirates of the Caribbean. No one else in my family went crazy for it, so if anything my dad and I would ride it by ourselves, and a couple times in a row if time allowed. This ride is special to me, which is why I wanted to write about it. The Haunted Mansion has a ton of devoted fans. There's even a website dedicated to it, so I'm not alone in my love for it. Disney did something right with this ride. There's tons of information out there about the ride and its many different interpretations, so it's easy to learn more if you'd like. I'm just going to give a brief background.

The idea for the Haunted Mansion actually predates Disneyland, as Walt Disney had hired a bunch of Imagineers to help him come up with areas for his new park. One such Imagineer came up with a old broken down antebellum manor at the end of a crooked street leading away from Main Street. The idea was to have a whole land dedicated to New Orleans, and it would include a thieves market, a pirate wax museum, and a haunted house walk-through. So it's evident that they first intended the Haunted Mansion not to be something that you could actually ride, but just walk through. Who knows what that would have been like. Walt Disney liked the walkthrough idea, but hated that they wanted to make the house look dilapidated. Disneyland was supposed to be a nice place! He made the rule that the house could be whatever they liked inside, but the outside would look creepy, but not run down. This is in contrast to the other Haunted Mansions, which were designed after Walt Disney's death, they are notably less nice looking on the outside on purpose when compared to Disneyland's. Ken Anderson was responsible for much of the mansion's design, along with Claude Coates and Marc Davis, among others. Coates wanted the attraction to be more scary, while Davis wanted it to be a light-hearted affair, more in line with the rest of Disneyland. They both got their way, as you can see a noticeable shift in tone from the beginning half of the ride, to the latter half. The beginning has more spooky imagery, the stretching room, the hanging body of the Ghost Host, the rising coffin lid, and many other things. The latter half, starting after the ballroom scene, is a bit sillier, with the graveyard scene being filled with many goofy ghosts doing an assortment of gags and tricks.

The Haunted Mansion was announced in 1961, with a opening date in 1963, or so the handbills passed out to guests at the main gate were led to believe. This opening date would prove to be way off, as the Haunted Mansion didn't actually open til late 1969. So what was the delay? There was a lot of confusion on what was going to be in the ride, and how people were going to experience it. The exterior was finished by 1963, which was accompanied by a sign out front that promised an opening of the ride very soon. Rumors began to fly around about what was housed inside the mansion, with the most wild piece of gossip circling around it being Walt Disney's second home. The ride's design was heavily changed after the 1964-65 World's Fair, where Omni-mover technology was introduced. The Imagineers knew they had their new ticket to a hot ride. With a continually moving vehicle, guests to be spun and directed to look at certain things inside the ride, causing more chances for surprise. Though Walt Disney had liked his walkthrough idea, the Omni-movers were an improvement. After some redesigns after Walt's death in 1966, the Haunted Mansion finally opened in 1969, with it becoming a smash hit with park attendees. Stay tuned for Part II coming soon!