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Jim (Eddie Murphy) and Sara Evers (Marsha Thomason) run a successful husband and wife real estate business. They have a fine house, a luxury car, two young children (Aree Davis, Marc John Jefferies) and not a lot of time for anything outside work. They decide to take a weekend vacation, but Jim insists on a brief detour to meet a prospective client. When they arrive, they are surprised to find a derelict mansion with a backyard cemetery. There's also something peculiar about the master of the estate (Nathaniel Parker), his enigmatic butler (Terence Stamp) and the household servants, not to mention what lies behind the secret passageways and inside the ancient trunks.

Review by Brad Green:
There's not an original bone in the walking skeletons, there's a cliche in every dark corner and the plot has been hanging around forever like an old ghost. Yet I rather enjoyed this Disneyland theme attraction brought to the big screen. If it had any pretensions it would be a shocker (and not in a good, scare-you-witless way), but it doesn't. When what little narrative there is revolves around the fact that the butler did it, we can assume the writers didn't set out to woo us with originality. Instead, the charm comes courtesy of a lavish design, a whimsical score and a romantic sensibility, as well as some freshness added to the formula by casting the phantoms of the mansion straight from a picture book and the unsuspecting intruder from left field.

Eddie Murphy is more or less our eyes and ears in a good old fashioned ghost train ride. Usually you expect the bogeymen to be exotic and the hapless mortal blandly vanilla. But Murphy is perfect here, relying on his natural charisma instead of attempting to chew up the exorbitant scenery. Sure he mugs exuberantly as required. A master puppet maker couldn't craft a face that exudes so much goggle-eyed charisma with a simple raise of the eyebrows, and Murphy's toothy grin and malleable orbs have never been so useful as he goes through the motions of stumbling upon, being scared by, saving his family from, and escaping by the skin of his overexposed teeth from an obligatory assortment of spooks. Not to mention finding the key, quite literally, to the mystery.

If the film has an inherent problem it's that it is a little too creepy, in one climactic crypt scene in particular, for very young children still prone to be genuinely frightened. This narrows the target demographic considerably, because kids who have outgrown fairy tales and traditional ghost stories will find the premise too cute to excite. For children of just the right age and maturity, however, it should prove a slightly scary delight with a feel good ending. Their older escorts will find that the gorgeous look and sound of the film, its self-awareness and its homage to the romantically gothic side of haunted house fables make it a lot more fun to sit through than any gory, teen-oriented schlocker.

Special Features reviewed by Craig Miller:
From the spectre-acular visual effects department led by supervisor Jay Redd, through to the supernaturally talented make-up effects artisan Rick Baker, the work of these maestros of the macabre dominate the extras on this DVD package with everything you would want to know about how they brought to life the wonderfully inspired ghouls, ghosts and zombies of The Haunted Mansion.

The three featurettes along with the DVD's two audio commentaries offer some terrific behind-the-scenes vision and anecdotes regarding the film's stunning visual effects, and there's enough included here to get a real feel for the work that went into transforming this Disney theme park ride into a big screen adventure (small screen in this case!).

Eddie Murphy's mug is all over the outtakes package (some real Murphy magic here) and, for a change, the DVDRom features some really interesting kid-friendly gear including a ghost effects studio, haunting PC material, galleries and printable activities.

Explore this DVD.......... if you dare. MMMwhaaawwwww...hawwww...hawwww!!!!

Published: July 22, 2004

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(US, 2003)

CAST: Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Wallace Shawn, Marsha Thomason, Jennifer Tilly

DIRECTOR: Rob Minkoff

SCRIPT: David Berenbaum

RUNNING TIME: 84 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 2.45:1, Dolby Digital 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary with producer Don Hahn, visual effects Supervisor Jay Redd and screenwriter David Berenbaum; Audio commentary with director Rob Minkoff and costume designer Mana May; The Haunted Mansion - Secrets Revealed; Anatomy of a Scene - Ghosts in the Graveyard; Disney's DVD Virtual ride: The Haunted Mansion, Deleted scene; Outtakes; Raven "Superstition" music video, DVD ROM featuettes


DVD RELEASE: July 21, 2004

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