Written by: David Berenbaum
Starring: Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Wallace Shawn, Marsha Thomason, Jennifer Tilly
Finding time for family remains important for any working parent no matter how busy their schedule can get. Getting a bonus and extra income may be great but if it takes away from moments you cannot get back with your family, then one has completely lost the point of having a family to begin with. This serves as the original intention for what The Haunted Mansion wants to speak to but then loses its message amid its surrounding wackiness.
Successful real estate agent Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) works far too much and forgets his wedding anniversary with his wife. To make up for it, he decides to take the family out to a lake house vacation but before they do the family stops at a house where Evers sees a potential sale after receiving outreach from the owner. As they see the house, they get stuck there for the night and get more than they bargained for.
Workaholics and forgetful fathers inhabit many Hollywood stories, which may say something about the men who produce and make these films. The aspects of the work-life fixated upon does leave some room for pondering. Evers struggles with this and his ambition gets the better of him and his family when they arrive at this mansion they soon learn has plenty of ghosts within it. Now it becomes their wish to get out, but it will not come with ease seeing as some of the ghosts have quite the interest in keeping them around at least for a while.
Originally taken from a ride at Disneyworld, which I did not know about when I watched it about ten times as a kid, this story hopes to be incredibly simple and it achieves this notion quite easily. Sure, there is time-spanning love involved but it never escapes the issue of the Evers family simply trying to get out of this mansion and hopefully get their vacation house with some level of sanity remaining within them. Inside the house, plenty of whimsy exists and outside the many issues it holds, it does have some entertainment value to take in.
Its most valuable asset on paper comes from Eddie Murphy starring in the lead role right in the middle of his turn in working with more family-friendly fare. Being the dad who works too hard but also has quite the charm about him suits what Murphy wanted to portray at this time and he does just about as well as anyone could with this script. He brings his natural comedic energy into the fray and makes several moments enjoyable where others would have been quite dull. However, this could not be considered a good performance of his standard and the same goes for pretty much everyone else in the cast except for perhaps Terrence Stamp. He definitely, as people say today, understood the assignment and had some fun portraying the crotchety old butler of the house.
The true best feature of the film ended up being the production design, where even with the subpar story happening around it, the look and feel of the environment certainly had its spooky vibes to entertain. Gothic in its architecture and as vast as a particularly tough maze, a better exercise during this film would have been to just look at all the surrounding features of the production design rather than the narrative. Certainly a more fruitful idea even with me having a bit of a soft spot for this film overall.
As a ghost story, it just fails to register with its odd plot, and the way it plays with its themes of fatherhood just completely misses the boat in having a resonant message. Yes, Jim learns about the importance of spending time with his family but the manner in which the narrative plays it all out still rewards him for the decision of taking time away from family in order to make another sale. It becomes one of the recurring themes of these workaholic dad movies. These films want to have a positive message about this but still manages to do it in a way still rewarding their lead character. Again, Haunted Mansion certainly has a specific demographic it wants to hit, but this does not excuse t shoddy storytelling and it gets shown on more than one occasion here.
Several moments in this film are seared into my brain from the number of times I watched it as a child, which makes me go easier on it overall. Still not a good film by any stretch of the imagination but it has several moments of some fun comedy and somewhat inspired visuals in what could be displayed in a film based on a theme park ride. Eddie Murphy can only do so much to save the material he receives and he could not elevate this poorly made film.