Review: The Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom
By Dave Shute
I review rides only when they are new or after they have changed, on the theory that first time visitors ought to try them all and hence don’t need reviews.
(For those without the time or energy to try them all, there’s a
comprehensive guide to Disney World rides and attractions here and also a list of Disney World rides that might be skipped here.)
The Haunted Mansion has had a couple of recent changes, to its queue and to some of the business of the ride at the end.
Some have objected to them–the queue enhancements in particular–for messing with the ride’s coherence.
That’s a stretch, as this ride has no coherence other than (mostly!) being set in and around a building.
The changes–to me at least–are fun, and make a great (incoherent) ride even better.
They also help further set the Magic Kingdom up for future FASTPASS changes related to Disney’s NextGen project.
THE HAUNTED MANSION AFTER THE MOST RECENT CHANGES
First things first: the changes don’t affect the ranking of the Haunted Mansion as a “favorite” for older kids and adults and “avoid’ for pre-schoolers.
(While “avoid” is a little harsh, there are components to this ride that could scare the pants off of a little one. Moreover, these are concentrated into the first half of the ride, creating the reasonable thought on the part of little ones that it will get even more scary…)
The Haunted Mansion is one of the Magic Kingdom’s original rides and was part of its 1971 opening.
Based on the version that opened in Disneyland two years earlier–in fact the props and interiors for the two rides were built at the same time–it was an immediate and lasting success.
This despite the fact that at both locations the story is an incoherent mess!
The Haunted Mansion was the first Disney ride “designed by committee” in the bad sense of the phrase.
Marc Davis and Claude Coats had a remarkable success working together on Pirates of the Caribbean, with Davis’s characters, gags and staging seamlessly integrated into Coats’ wonderful environment.
Based on this success, the two were named by Walt Disney as the lead thinkers on the Haunted Mansion team.
Coats, however, thought that the Haunted Mansion should be scary, and Davis that it should be funny.
Then Walt died.
A conceptual battle raged–what Jason Surrell describes as “one of the greatest debates ever to take place” in Imagineering. (From The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies)
Davis won, sorta, as the overall tone of the ride is much more comic than scary.
But in fact Coats essentially got the first, scarier half of the ride, and Davis the second, funnier half. No single vision guided the total intended effect, or the step by step build of guest experiences towards this vision. Ride design by committee.
Only the most Aristotelian of observers cares much about this lack of unity. After all, the ride works, and works well!
Coats’s scenes are coolly scary. Davis’s scenes are silly and fun. And the contributions of other key imagineers–especially X. Atencio on writing and lyrics, and Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey on key gadgets and effects–make the attraction sing.
The ride had a major rehab in 1997, with a number of busted effects fixed, a greatly enhanced sound system deployed–and a couple of more adds that made the ride even more incoherent.
One of the swirl of story elements that already existed on the ride–Constance, the murderous bride–was given more prominence, but largely in only one of the many sets, thus having a centripetal effect on the overall vision, rather than a unifying one.
Moreover, one (admittedly weak) section of the ride was swapped out for a Escher-based set that impresses but no longer makes sense as taking place in or near a real house–breaking the only thematic unity that the ride had had up until then, its setting.
THE MOST RECENT CHANGES TO THE HAUNTED MANSION
One greatly improves an already fun bit of business near the end of the ride.
The other, more extensive, splits the waiting line into two queues, and adds to one of these two queues a lot of interesting and fun (Davis, not Coats) interactive stuff to do while waiting in line.
Those who choose the fun new queue will actually end up waiting in line longer than those who stay in the unmodified queue.
I’d advise doing the new queue anyway, as it is fun, but it has raised questions by many as to why on earth Disney would improve the experience of waiting in line by making the wait longer…
The answer to this is obvious to me–as part of NextGen, Disney will eventually be re-instituting FASTPASSES at the Haunted Mansion, and the “faster” current line will become the new FASTPASS line, and the new, more fun, but longer queue will become the stand-by line.
NEXTGEN AND THE HAUNTED MANSION QUEUE
Queue enhancements, part of Disney’s NextGen project, having been going on at the Haunted Mansion dating back to 2002, when Madam Leota’s interesting eyes were added to the queue. Improving the experience of waiting in line is not purely a NextGen issue.
But part of NextGen will be the ability to reserve FASTPASSES for a specific time in advance, from home.
I believe–building on ideas Jim Hill first shared years ago–that there will be daily limits to how many such FASTPASSES families will be able to reserve in advance, and that Disney resort hotel guests will get special privileges regarding these reserved FASTPASSES.
For this to work, Disney has to solve both operational and political problems.
The operational problem is not enough FASTPASSES to go around, and the answer to this is to add more rides–such as the Haunted Mansion–to, or back to, the FASTPASS list.
The political problem is that the penalty for doing a first-time Disney vacation without help and guidance will be even higher.
Post NextGen, some families will continue to show up at the parks not even knowing what a FASTPASS is, much less that they are free, and that they could have reserved them months ahead. Others will know all this, but feel treated as second class citizens for not staying in a Disney resort hotel–or in the wrong one.
To me, the real role of queue enhancements in the NextGen strategy is to address this political problem….to both make waiting in line more fun, and to show investments in the well-being of those who do not, or cannot, access all the new privileges that NextGen provides.
(For much more detail on and many more photos of the new queue, see this Todd Perlmutter post at TouringPlans.com.)