This summer has already brought several worthy new family films, from Pixar's Elemental to Netflix's fantasy epic Nimona. Now, Disney's stepping up with a new film based on one of the most popular attractions in the history of the company: The Haunted Mansion.
The second film to be adapted from the beloved ride (the first, released in 2003, starred Eddie Murphy), Haunted Mansion follows a single mom (Rosario Dawson) as she moves into the massive New Orleans manor, only to find it crawling with ghosts. So, to make the place safer for herself and her son (Chase W. Dillon), she turns to a few different sources, including a reluctant tour guide (LaKeith Stanfield) who's designed a camera that can apparently take pictures of ghosts. It's all designed as a point of entry into a new story based around a ride Disney fans everywhere know and love, and once it kicks into gear, ghosts are crawling all over the film.
If you're an adult Disney fan who's been on the ride dozens of times, this is exactly what you signed up for, but what about the kids? Can you take the whole family out to Haunted Mansion, or should you be texting the babysitter now? Let's take a closer look.
Haunted Mansion Lives Up to Its Rating
While the previous Haunted Mansion film was rated PG, the 2023 adaptation has upgraded to a PG-13 rating for, according to the Motion Picture Association, "some thematic elements and scary action." "Thematic elements" is a very vague term, so let's dig a little deeper. In this case, the elements in question are, specifically, mortality and how we deal with it. Stanfield's character, Ben, enters the film in mourning for his wife, who passed away before the movie began and was a big believer in all of New Orleans' many ghost stories. So, when Ben learns that ghosts might actually be real, he starts to wonder if there's a path to contacting his lost love.
That means that Haunted Mansion doesn't just deal with the reality of the end of life, as evidenced by the many, many ghosts floating through every scene. It also deals with the reality of grief, the fact that you can't get someone back, and how you must learn to live with their memory in a way that's healthy. Though the film is draped in the zany action of ghost hunting and big chase scenes through the mansion corridors, Katie Dippold's script also finds room to tackle these bigger subjects with care, delivering a story that addresses these issues in ways that many kids will be able to easily grasp. That said, if you recently lost a family member, and your kid is particularly jittery about the topic of mortality at this time, you might want to screen the film first before letting them have a turn.
Haunted Mansion is Spooky, But Not Scary
Then there's that "scary action" the MPA referred to in its rating, which might be more concerning for some parents, depending on how jumpy your kids are. This is, after all, a film with the word "haunted" right there in the name, and director Justin Simien isn't shy about packing as much ghost fun as possible into the movie. Some ghosts are just background floaters, others are there for comedy, and still others are there to be genuinely spooky, including Jared Leto as the famous Hatbox Ghost from the ride.
Thankfully, for every spooky moment involving a ghost, there's another, more lighthearted turn with a specter somewhere else in the film, so there's a nice balance of chills and comedy. Plus, despite the PG-13 rating, Simien never pushes the film's ghosts into all-out terrifying territory. They're scary in the sense that ghosts in general are scary, and there are a couple of effective little jump-scare jolts scattered throughout the film, but they're not necessarily going to give a kid who's game for this kind of movie any nightmares. Think of it this way: If your kid can handle the ride, they can handle the movie. Or, if you haven't had a chance to show them the ride yet, think of it in terms of another movie franchise: If your kid likes the Ghostbusters movies, they'll probably do just fine with Haunted Mansion.
Is Haunted Mansion good?
There's a lot about this movie that works, from scene-stealing performances by Owen Wilson and Tiffany Haddish to the cheerful way it tackles the 999 spirits that haunt the title mansion. It's clear that a lot of fun was had to make this movie, and your family will probably have a nice little outing if you buy tickets. That said, the Disney magic that so encompasses the experience of the ride itself just never materializes in this film. The grim grinnin' ghosts come out to socialize, but they don't seem to want to stay very long. Still, they're around for long enough that the movie might provide a nice gateway to other, spookier fare for your kids, and that's always fun, particularly with Halloween right around the corner.
Haunted Mansion is in theaters on July 28.
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