Saturday, March 19, 2011

WALT DISNEY WORLD'S McMANSIONLAND PLAYGROUND: Why True Disney Ghosts Wouldn't (And Shouldn't) Be Caught Dead There

"We'll take care of the outside [of The Haunted Mansion],
and THE GHOSTS will take care of THE INSIDE."

- Walt Disney (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt)

ALTHOUGH I AM PROBABLY IN THE MINORITY, I loathe the addition of what I call the "McMansionland Playground" to the exterior of Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion. Not only does it kill the ambiance and mystique of what once could be considered a work of amusement, entertainment and storytelling art, it is a slap of disregard and disrespect in the faces of the attraction's original creators and their passionate, ingenious leader, Walt Disney himself.

Walt never wanted the exteriors of his haunted houses to foretell what lay in store for those who dare to enter. In fact, he insisted that they be quite the contrary. He demanded that the grounds surrounding his mansions be pristine and beautifully landscaped, to match the rest of his park, and devoid of any ghostly activity. At The Magic Kingdom, the Florida theme park, the addition of the Madam Leota tombstone was the first departure from tradition and violation of Master Disney's Rule. But the monument's effect was so subtle and its appearance so lovely that it was excused.

The Leota Toombs' tombstone features a subtle and tasteful effect.

By contrast, the new, so-called "queue enhancement" to the same park is an atrocity: a haphazard busy box spoiler of poorly-conceived, badly-placed, cheesy and noisy stand-alones that serve only to distract and add NOTHING to the attraction itself. As far as this ghost is concerned, the members of Team Disney Orlando and their superiors should be ashamed of themselves.

THE SO-CALLED "ENHANCEMENT": Where tombstones top narrow planters, a fairy
godmother-like spirit suffers from writer's block, a drowned sea captain gurgles and
spurts from his bathtub crypt, and visitors can feel their way through cacophonous
and senseless chaos.

The purpose of art is to raise the perception of the viewer, the individuals(s) experiencing the masterpiece. Instead, TDO has sunk to appealing to the lowest common denominator. There are those who will argue that I'm overreacting and that it's only an amusement park. But is it really? There are plenty of other amusement parks, none of which I hold as dear as Disney's.

And who found fault with and didn't love The Haunted Mansion before?

It was The Disney Company's high standards of artistry and presentation that elevated their parks to a level of excellence head and shoulders above the rest. But now, TDO is resorting to fast food chain tactics. What next? Madam Leota's Crystal Ball Bounce and Whack-A-Ghoul??? It's a shame -- a downright shame -- that Disney has so lowered its principles, forgotten its philosophies and cheapened itself that this has become their idea of innovation and improvement. And it's an even greater tragedy that the company's leaders lack the wisdom, vision and integrity to realize it.

LEST WE FORGET: A look back at real creative genius at work.


  1. I'm not entirely against the idea of interactive additions to the Mansion -- at least to the WDW version. I've worked in WDW (college program - twice) but I live in California. I would definitely feel a little betrayed to see changes like that here, but only because I grew up with this version. WDW is so far gone down in sophistication in other ways (I'm OFFENDED by their Tiki Room!), so I've kinda given up on it. But then again, I'm pretty biased.

  2. Three words...they've ruined it.
    It's silly, infantile and out of character with the theme and atmosphere of the inside attraction.

    What were they thinking?

  3. My views on the new queue are not exactly a state secret, so there's no need to restate them here. What bothers me most is that this is a fundamental change in the ride's whole concept. The complaints of "ToonTown-ization" go to the core. Used to be the HM was a representation of your world, the real world, except ghosts are real this time. Now it depicts an imaginary world in which ghosts happen to be real, which is considerably less interesting. You the visitor have gone from being the main character to being simply an audience.

    It's an uphill battle getting people to recognize the HM as a fine work of art. There are hardly any other examples to be found within this particular genre (dark ride), and it's a genre born and bred within an utterly commercial environment. The notion that the HM has essentially transcended its genre and should be treated differently is a new and foreign notion. Only continual and sometimes loud insistence on the point will change perceptions. One would hope that this happen before the thing is ruined. It's too late for WDW; pray for Anaheim.

  4. Mr. Macabre, after what I've witnessed, I do not believe that those in charge at Team Disney Orlando and/or their superiors have the capacity to understand the mechanics and intricacies of effective storytelling, staging and presentation. While it was second nature to Walt and his initial corps of Imagineers, the company's current decision makers, regardless of their background, are simply unqualified and too unsophisticated to meet the standards set by their predecessors.

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  6. The following comment is from MiceChat Member Hubbub who has given me permission to repost it here. It is written beautifully.

    Today I spent about 3 hours on the internet reading about various ideas I felt would enhance a queue for the Haunted Mansion. There are so many artistic avenues available I am astounded by the decision making process. The only conclusion for the choices made by TDO I can come up with is that they were made for character recognition and product branding

    I think I'm too old and misunderstand this generations need to be constantly entertained and slammed over the head with communications. Though I did show the new queue video to my 11 year old son without mention of my own feelings and he did not like it. He came right out and said that it was hokey.

    In the Sixties they sold "E" tickets. The Imagineers thoughts and skill sets became unified for one goal, a high quality product worthy of an "E" ticket attraction.

    What I would really like to see is a return to a sense of wonderment and magic. I'm hoping TDA keeps the Disneyland Haunted Mansion a dark ride.

    Graveyards and tombstones are cool and have a place (preferrably in a graveyard), but interactive games incorporated into musical instruments, books, etch-a-sketch tombs and misplaced sequential themes outside the attraction really pulls back the curtain too far. I know the intent was probably not to spoil the show, but all of that silliness parodies the main attraction. The queue mocks the original artistry rather than enhancing the art.

    The whole buildup to this attraction should be about nervous laughter, a bit more staid and sedate using proper Victorian styling. I would add some old theatric illusions which require no electronic interaction or silly voices. Just a temporary suspension of perception and thought processes through good old fashion showmanship. It really is all about the magic and as any good magician knows, timing and pacing are crucial to a successful show.


My head wanders. What are your thoughts?