Before someone asks, I must say that the amazing synchronicity between this post and THIS ONE is coincidental. I had no inkling what the next Passport blog was going to discuss. The post you're now reading has been "in the can" and pretty much ready to go for over a month!
Did any of Disney's animated films play any role in the development of the Haunted Mansion? The current consensus among orthodox Mansionologists is: "Why yes, certainly, but only two or three of them."
Raise the topic, and you'll hear about Ken Anderson's 1957-58 plans to build the attraction around the Legend of Sleepy Hollow as interpreted in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, as well as his plans for a "Lonesome Ghost" character, inspired by the Mickey Mouse short of the same name. That's what you'll read at Doombuggies.com, in Jason Surrell's Haunted Mansion book, and in any number of magazine articles or video presentations dealing with the history of the attraction, and as a matter of fact we talked about those in our earlier treatment of cinematic influences. Those two are mainly of historical interest, however, since neither Ichabod nor Lonesome left any mark on the finished ride beyond a few ambiguous and incidental details.
Sometimes a third film is mentioned: the Night on Bald Mountain segment from Fantasia. We discussed that one earlier too. The wispy spirits in the graveyard and perhaps also the wraiths flying in and out of the ballroom windows may owe something to the famous Fantasia segment.
The Fourth Film
It's odd, because there is definitely a fourth Disney animated film that influenced one of the scenes in the Haunted Mansion, but it's never cited as an inspiration. Why is that? Beats me, except that these narratives do tend to get stuck in the same old groove after awhile, and we're all too lazy to rethink them. The fourth film is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I'm thinking specifically of the sequence in which Snow White flees into the dark forest, and her terrified imagination turns ordinary trees into threatening demons.
Okay, so where is the Haunted Mansion's own version of this? Well duh, it's the short journey from the attic to the ground level in the graveyard, a passage through dark and threatening trees. Seven of them, as a matter of fact.
Usually, when we embark on these excursions into Mansion backgrounds, we wander far and wide, but in this case I don't think that is necessary. "The Dark Forest" as an archetype in dreams, myths, and legends is a rich topic, but in this brief scene I don't think the HM Imagineers went beyond the boundaries of Snow White any more than Ichabod did. It's the Dark Forest as distilled through that one source. I will cite one influence behind Snow White's scary forest, however, because it's quite possible the HM Imagineers were directly familiar with it.
Swedish illustrator Gustaf Tenggren was hired by Disney in 1936 and was a major influence on the look and feel of Snow White, bringing an Old World, fairy-tale storybook ambience to the film. Tenggren's influence on the Snow White forest scenes was particularly strong. Compare this 1937 Snow White sketch to a sketch he did in 1924.
Snow White's Scary Adventures
Between the film version of Snow White and the Haunted Mansion, however, came Snow White's Scary Adventures (that's the current name; it's had several), so in this case the animated feature had already been translated into a dark ride before the Haunted Mansion came along, and that ride in turn exercised its own direct influence on the future attraction. Claude Coats worked on Scary Adventures, which was largely designed by Ken Anderson.
A comparison of the movie artwork with the painted flats and fully-dimensional trees in the original 1955 dark ride shows that the Imagineers wanted to preserve the look of the film in the forest scene.
Not only that, but the trees in the HM were originally going to be animated, like the trees in the Snow White ride. Note the references to "MECHANICAL TREES" on the blueprint. This is from the spring of 1969, so that effect may have been scrapped pretty late in the game. We don't know why. Technical problems? Cost overruns? Manpower shortage? Or was it thought to be too obviously a Scary Adventures retread?
in the Snow White ride, a further attempt to replicate what you find in the movie.
concept sketches, he puts faces on the graveyard trees.
But it is equally possible that the blueprint is referring to the eyes that were put into the seven trees. I think most Disneylanders know that the eyes are there, but hey, how come you never see an organized photo spread with all seven identified? Once again it falls to us at Long-Forgotten to perform a shamefully neglected task. Here ya go, kids, and the numbers are even matched to the blueprint above for easy reference.
You're passing through a dense thicket, you see. (This is WDW, but Anaheim's railings are similar.)
Whoops, can't go that way.
That way doesn't look too good either.
Here's a side-by-side that shows the dramatic contrast
Heh. Reminds me of Flowers and Trees.
It's difficult to say whether one is better than the other. One is a dark cavern, the other seems more like a prison cell with bars.
The differences between the two sets represent further steps away from Snow White, but it's not possible to know if that was the motive. It could all be coincidental; nevertheless the differences between the blueprints and the production figures, and even more so the differences between Anaheim and Orlando, consistently go in that direction.
Falling Off the Roof
Some people have interpreted this as a fatal fall, so that you are now one of them as you make your way through the graveyard jamboree. But the ghosts still ignore you, except for the popup ghosts, who are still trying to scare you, and nothing the Ghost Host says later on suggests a change in your condition. Why you survive the fall unharmed is not explained. One supposes that the same force that compelled you to move through the house (represented by the doombuggy) buoyed you up safely as you softly descended.