Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, Doombuggies.com. After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized
Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014; 2nd ed. 2016).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.

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Monday, December 11, 2023

The New Hatbox Ghost in Orlando

As everybody in the Mansionite universe knows by now, the Hatbox Ghost made his debut in the WDW HM on November 30, 2023.

After:


Before...



RIP to the "Donald Duck" chair.

The obvious question is why he was installed here and not just outside the attic like he is in Anaheim, only a few yards from where the original HBG stood. Several rumors have been floating around, masquerading as "leaks." Structural issues outside the attic have been mentioned, and there's another one I've heard off the record that sounds plausible at first. I can't tell you what it is, but it doesn't matter because it's probably BS. The real reason is this: Upper management insisted that he be put here, evidently as a tie-in with the movie. As most of you know, in the 2023 movie the HBG makes his first appearance in the Endless Hallway:


And my eyes may be playing tricks, but it does look to me like the animation in the face of the new HBG makes him look more like the movie version. If so, it's quite subtle.




This is, of course, an abomination. One of the eeriest and most hypnotic tableaux in the entire ride now has a three-ring circus inches away. No one can deny that the Endless Hallway is thoroughly upstaged and the atmosphere is destroyed. That alone is reason enough to hate this thing.


The Three-Act Play (Again)

The other problem, of course, is the violation of the 3-Act show that is the Haunted Mansion. That 3-Act thing is NOT "backstory." It IS the story. It is simply an outline of the actual show that is there. But you guys know all that. If anyone needs a more in-depth introduction to the 3-Act play, go HERE. The only thing I would add to that is the caution that even Imagineers and other HM experts have routinely gotten the outline of the three acts wrong.

Act One is everything before Leota.
Act Two is Leota.
Act Three is everything after Leota.

Here's Jason Surrell's discussion, but he's not the only one who can't find the correct break between Act Two and Act Three:


You can find evidence for the 3-Act structure in the early 70's. If you read attentively this Vacationland article (Fall-Winter, 1974-75), you can detect the 3-Act outline underlying its description of the ride:


The same team of Imagineers who gave us the 2015 HBG gave us the 2023 version as well, but I don't hold it against them personally. They have to do what they're told to do, and if they don't like it but want to keep their jobs, they have to shut up. What is abundantly clear is that the team was well aware that no ghosts are supposed to be visible before Leota. The official excuse is that the HBG is an "unhappy haunt" and can materialize whenever and wherever. He has no need of Mdm L's assistance.

This is weak tea, of course. After the Ghost Host has explained that the place is a retirement home for ghosts and calls them "happy haunts," it quickly becomes apparent that they are not happy at all. In the original monologue in the Corridor of Doors, the GH concedes the point:

"All our ghosts have been dying to meet you. This one can hardly contain himself."

"Unfortunately, they all seem to have trouble getting through. Perhaps Madame Leota can establish contact. She has a remarkable head for materializing the disembodied."

All. They're ALL "unhappy haunts" until Leota does her thing. Saying that the Hatbox Ghost is an U.H. doesn't really distinguish him much, does it? These lines, by the way, have an interesting history. They were there in the beginning. I distinctly remember them from August 14, 1969. But you don't have to take my word for it. Keith Murray rode the ride at the press preview August 12 and published his review in the Pasadena Star News on Wednesday the 13th. In it, he quotes some of these lines from memory:


The later history of this COD monologue is most curious. They were in and out and in and out:

    1) Aug 1969—ca. Sept 1969........................................Lines are in (less than a month)
    2) ca. Sept 1969—Sept 1995.......................................Lines are out (26 years)
    3) Sept 1995—May 2006............................................Lines are in (11 years)
    4) May 2006—Jan 2008.............................................Lines are out (2 years)
    5) Jan 2008 and Jan—June of 2012............   .. ....... .....Lines are sorta... kinda... (See below)

Things were weird during Jan 2008 and between Jan and June of 2012. You need to know that the GH monologue is repeated every three doombuggies, and during these two time periods it would sometimes be the case that a triad of doombuggies would omit the earlier, "We find it delightfully unlivable..." spiel but include the "All our ghosts ... contain himself" line, while the following triad of buggies experienced exactly the reverse of this! And none of them included the Leota lines.* It all had something to do with a fluky problem during the switchover from HMH back to the regular HM show. Either that or pranky spirits. Since 2012 (as far as I know), the COD lines have been out.

Someone during the major 1995 rehab apparently said, "Hey, why were these lines deleted? Let's put them back in." A stern email went out in May of 2006 from the very top of the food chain at WDI with the "request to permanently delete" the COD lines, and this—ahem—"request" included a warning: "If there is an incident where someone intentionally or accidentally reactivates them ... we will be forced to remove them entirely." Yikes. The next day they were out, so the leaked email was no hoax.

Even though they've now been utterly gone more than a decade, virtually all of the ride-thru souvenir CDs and whatnot that have been sold over the years include them. Every Mansion freak knows about them. They're "canon," if you want to use that term, and they ought to put to rest any doubts about whether the 3-Act play is really the story of the ride.


Shoehorning in the Hatbox Ghost

The 2023 team had to make lemonade out of the lemons the Top Men handed them. The best they could do is declare him an U.H. independent of the predicament Leota and she alone can solve. They have also gone out of their way to make it as clear as they can that the HBG is an intruder in the ride, an interloper, a party crasher, an uninvited guest. His luggage has been dumped unceremoniously in the Endless Hallway (there's a trunk there, not just extra hatboxes), and there are muddy footprints indicating that he's come in the side door, dropped off his stuff (a hand truck with extra hatboxes, like at Disneyland), and he's returned to the door and turned around to look at you. The footprints are already there in the concept art:


But they're more conspicuous in the ride, and the double-tracking (back and forth) is also clear.


The whole thing is theoretically possible, story-wise, because the nature of the problem that only Leota can fix is never explained. Some kind of curse, perhaps? In that earlier LF article, I offered my own explanation, which I still think makes good sense, but nothing in the ride is explicit on this point, so yes, it can be argued that the HBG has managed not to get stuck in the Act One predicament. Evidently he has evaded the problem because he was never invited to join the retirement home of happy haunts and has barged in anyway. That must mean that the retirement home invitation had a metaphysical flaw in it that turned the Mansion into a trap. Once they moved in, they found that they could not materialize.

All of this opens doors to more unwanted and unnecessary backstory, of course. Many HM fans will be thrilled at the prospect. Me? I thought the WDW HM was ruined in 2011, so this is just one more reason to continue thinking so. The Endless Hallway scene has been spoiled, and they had to have known it would be spoiled. Anyone with two functioning brain cells could have foreseen that. But they went ahead anyway. That alone tells you all you need to know. Sorry for being such a downer, Floridians, but that's my honest opinion.

*A big hat tip to bigcatrik at Micechat for this info.

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