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, 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.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011


In March and April of this year (2011), major additions came to the WDW Mansion.  Since this is the first time a big change has occurred on our watch (i.e. since this blog debuted), I thought it would be appropriate to do a full review.'s not as if my opinions are a secret or anything.  I've been stapling them to every telephone pole I can find over the past few months.  I've also been engaged in some pretty lengthy discussions of the additions in various Disney fora, and it's all been good, because it's clarified my thinking, I think.  So some of what follows I've said elsewhere, but here is my first real attempt to pull it all together and try to get at the core of the issue.

About the New Queue

So far, there are two places the additions have appeared: (1) the queue area formerly occupied by the "family plot" graveyard and (2) the hitchhiking ghost portion inside the ride.  I'll deal with the hitchhikers in a separate post—probably the next one—and stick to the queue today, but I should say in advance that I find more to praise in the new HHGs than I do with the queue, so expect a slightly happier post about them.

The new queue is "interactive," which essentially means that guests are encouraged to play with the new stuff and not simply look at it.  To that end, some clever electronic gizmos that respond to touch and sound are embedded in the three new crypts.  They talk and play music and spray water and move books in and out.  I'm not going to speak to the performance of these devices, since reports about how well they work are mixed, and I think you have to give the Imagineers some slack to work out the inevitable bugs in new technology.  I will say that I don't see anything ghostly about a predictable mechanical response to a particular type of stimulus.  Does anyone really get the feeling that someone is in there?  Are there really people who think vending machines are kinda creepy?

The queue is optional at present [but see update below].
You can bypass it and go straight into the HM proper.

For some, this is its one saving grace, since they can pretend it doesn't exist.  I haven't been to Orlando, so I can't comment on how well this strategy works, but in general I'm leery about whether you can or should simply ignore major additions to the ride from the almighty hands of WDI.  It is an imaginary world, and the only "reality" in there is the reality created by WDI, for good or ill.  Besides, at least one item from the queue has been incorporated into the ride:  A portrait of a new character from the queue now sits beside the three hitchhikers, strong evidence that the Imagineers consider the new material compatible with the old.  If fans of the Orlando HM who hate the queue have come up with successful work-around strategies for coping with the new material, more power to them.  I am going to treat it as something that is really there.

[Update 2016: The situation at present is that if you use Fastness
you can skip it, but if you don't you're forced to go through it.]

The enclosed queue itself mainly consists of (1) a set of busts depicting one of the families that once inhabited the house, (2) three large crypts, and (3) several grave markers, including three old ones from the "family plot" that used to be there.  In addition to all this, the lawn area beyond the enclosed queue now features a much larger graveyard, with the remainder of the old headstones relocated and a slew of new ones, plus anonymous markers and details like shovels stuck in the ground.

What's Good About It

What is good here?  Well, the new queue is tribute city, dude.  As every Mansionite knows, the epitaphs on the old headstones were sly tributes to various Imagineers who helped create the original ride, and the new team clearly wanted to fill in some gaps in this area.  I myself have commented on how unjust it is that "the Father of the Haunted Mansion," Ken Anderson, had no tribute of any kind in the finished attraction, while there were others who had more than one.  Weep no more, my friends.  The new queue has tributes not only to Anderson, but to Blaine Gibson, Paul Frees, Rolly Crump, Collin Campbell, Harriet Burns, Thurl Ravenscroft, and Dorothea Redmond, all of whom are worthy candidates for a little kiss-blowing.  Most of these tributes are epitaphs, and all of these are genuinely witty and macabre in the best boot-hill tradition of HM epitaphs.

Also worthy of praise is the dolling up of the graveyard with handsome and appropriately old-fashioned funerary artwork.  It looks more like a rich family's graveyard now, although it may be a little overblown, slopping all the way out and into the trees and making you wonder if this is still supposed to be a private family plot.  I'm assuming it is.  Oh, I also like the shovels, now that it seems likely that they're going to be overgrown with vines so as to look like they've been there a long time.

(pix by MouseSteps [left] and Life by the Drop [right])

Pepe Le Queue

And that's it.  The rest of this thing is terrible; in fact, it is in my opinion the worst thing that has ever happened to any of the HMs in their entire 42-year history.  If, like me, you feel obliged to swallow the bitter medicine and include WDI-generated material into the imaginative experience of the HM, then I will go so far as to say that the responsible parties, Peter Carsillo (art director and show designer), Eric Goodman (show producer), and Eric Jacobson (Senior VP of Creative Development), have ruined the WDW Haunted Mansion.  I have no doubt that the motives of these Imagineers were good, but the Orlando Mansion is no longer the same kind of attraction as its twin in Tokyo or the original in Anaheim.  Because the simple truth is, Pepe Le Queue tampers with the fundamental concept of the ride, changing it to something radically different from what it was originally and what it has always been, through all the changes and additions over the years.

There are three kinds of criticism that have been leveled at PLQ: aesthetic, narrative, and conceptual.

Aesthetically, many think some of the artwork is too cartoony.  The basic design of the organist's crypt does have real-world antecedents...

...but the WDW counterpart simply looks goofy and garish, many say.  More like Toontown than the Haunted Mansion.

(pic from Inside-the-Magic)

What are we supposed to think that raven is made out of, anyway?  Concrete?  Metal?  Wood?  Same with those candles.  They look like real wax candles.  What would they be doing on the candleholders carved on an outdoor funeral monument?  Turning to the next crypt, the Captain's "Tubsoleum" is impossibly silly, like nothing anyone would ever build in the real world.  The third crypt is pink.  A pink crypt.

(pic by MouseSteps)

They didn't even try to make these look like real crypts.  They look more like children's play stations, or like I said, something that would look at home in Mickey's Toontown.

The narrative problem is far more serious.  It should be obvious to anyone that the HM has a deliberate show flow, a sort of plot.  It starts out low-key, sombre, and sinister.  In fact, the entire first half of the ride is creepy and scary, relieved only by the humor of the stretchroom portraits; and yet even these are so macabre that they can be taken as veiled threats.  It is only after Madame Leota enables the frustrated ghosts to materialize that you discover that they are really not such a bad lot; for the most part they are just a bunch of fun-loving ghosts.  By the time you get into the graveyard for the show climax, you are laughing at "silly spooks" come out to socialize.

Pepe Le Queue throws this presentation into the trash can.  Now you learn immediately, even before you go through the doors, that the ghosts are silly and good-natured, nothing to be scared of, no more intimidating than Casper the Friendly Ghost.  PLQ also provides at least one specific show spoiler, showing you banshees floating out of the organ pipes, just as you will see later in the ballroom.  This queue is like the rude guy in the movie theater who has seen the film already and is loudly talking to friends about how the story is going to end.

It's the conceptual problems, however, that are the most serious of all.  Pepe is a nest of logical absurdities and contradictions.

  • How is it that ghosts that have never been seen before (the banshees) are commemorated in stone on an old crypt?  The organist is dressed in Victorian garb, so presumably he's been dead and buried here for a century or so.  
  • Why are ghosts depicted on a funeral monument at all?  Graves for ghosts?
  • Similarly, the banner in Prudence Pock's crypt makes reference to her activities as a ghost:

Huh?  A funerary monument that talks about the occupant's post-mortem antics?  And why is
she blathering poems about off-road vehicles and gasoline tanks?  When did she die, anyway?
  • On one side of the organist's crypt are depictions of musical instruments from the Séance circle and the graveyard band.  But the graveyard band consists of ghosts from different historical periods who have gathered together here at the HM and are going to be making their debut as a band later in the ride (the old Caretaker has never seen these graveyard spooks before).  Some are wearing 18th c. (?) bandsmen uniforms and others are in medieval attire.  How did the musical instruments used by this ad hoc combo from scattered times and places come to be depicted on an old crypt, as if they played together in life?
  • "Captain Culpepper Clyne" is evidently the same character depicted in one of the "Sinister 11" portraits, the ghostly mariner.  But that painting plainly tells us that he drowned at sea in a shipwreck.  The crashing ship is depicted behind him and his ghost is covered with seaweed, barnacles, and a starfish.  But the new crypt's epitaph says that he did not drown at sea but in his bathtub on dry land, and just to make sure that the proverbial "average guest" does indeed identify the occupant of the crypt with the figure in the painting, the Imagineers have painstakingly decorated the Tubsoleum with his barnacles and his starfish!  In other words, they have cemented the identification of the two mariners with precisely the things that make the epitaph impossible.
  • Two of the old gravestones, "Francis Xavier" and "Grandpa Marc," are now the first things you see in the new queue area after the busts, and they are installed in a planter that leaves no room for a body to be buried in front of either one. [Apparently in response to this very post, Carsillo in this video clip claims that the bodies are buried below the walkway in front of the stones. ("Theoretically they're down there below our feet.") In that case, why didn't they indicate the presence of the graves by circumscribing them in some way, like they did with the Master Gracey stone? The difference in ground level alone makes the claim implausible. This sounds to me like damage control.]

(pic from Inside-the-Magic)
  • The Haunted Mansion is a retirement home for ghosts "from creepy old crypts all over the world."  While not a contradiction per se, the new queue has turned a number of these ghosts into family members who once resided in the house.  Besides the organist, one glance at the new headstones out in the family plot and we learn to our surprise that the three hitchhikers (Gus, Ezra, Phineas) are now apparently relatives and former residents.  So are the men depicted as singing busts.  It's possible, I guess....
  • Ravens typically live 10 or 12 years, but what is evidently the same raven character we will meet inside the house (never presented as anything but a real bird) is depicted on the roughly 100-year old organist's crypt.  And why is he there, anyway?  Is there anything associating the two characters?
(pic by MouseSteps

You get the idea.  The correct response to all of these questions is:  "Look, don't ask such questions.  If you do, you are thinking about all of this too much and demanding far more logical continuity from these gags than necessary.  Lighten up, they're all in the spooky, kooky spirit of the attraction, and that's what's important.  It's not supposed to mimic the real world; it's a funsy, imaginary world."

Real World or Fantasy World?

In the previous post I argued that the Haunted Mansion does indeed simulate the real world, your world, except that it has ghosts in it.  I noted that many people dispute this, arguing (or rather assuming) that the HM is a fantasy world from start to finish.  The ghosts are wacky, so it stands to reason that they were wacky when they were alive as well.  So yes, as a matter of fact, it is like Toontown, just less extreme.

Barring some sort of dead giveaway like talking animals, the easiest way to spot the difference between the two concepts (realistic world vs. fantasy world) is by looking at the humans depicted in each.  Does this guy look like he could be your next door neighbor, or not?

(pic by GRD via Inside-the-Magic)

The new portrait busts in PLQ (known as the Dread family during the testing phase) are heavily caricatured humans, bordering on cartoony.  According to Carsillo and team, the people who built the house and lived in it evidently were people who had intelligent pet sea serpents, built impossibly silly crypts, and lived in a universe where strict logical consistency is always subject to the needs of the current gag, much as Elmer Fudd may either fall when he steps off of a cliff or remain magically suspended until he notices where he is, depending on which seems funnier to the cartoonists.

Not all HM Imagineers would agree.  Even though I have some serious problems with the Constance additions, I note with appreciation that those Imagineers were at least fully aware that "real" humans built and lived in this house.  For Connie's wedding portraits, photos of real humans were used, and the ghost itself is a filmed human.  It makes sense, doesn't it?  Madame Leota, "Little Leota," and the Singing Busts are all films of real human faces.  But Carsillo has rejected the sensibilities governing the previous Imagineering teams (and at WDW, that's only four years ago!).  The result is that we now have one set of former Mansion residents (the Dreads) who must never be seen juxtaposed to another set (Connie and husbands), because the stylistic clash would be intolerable.  How stupid.

(left pic by MouseSteps)

The Carsillo team has decided to place a stronger accent on the silly, comic side, and move the HM away from the darker, scarier side.  To that end, they have consciously and deliberately taken their inspiration (1) from the looser, more cartoonish feel of Marc Davis's concept artwork, (2) from Blaine Gibson's whimsical sculpture, and (3) from Collin Campbell's classic illustrations for the "Story and Song" souvenir record album.  (I know all of this to be true; don't ask me how.)  Regardless of how you feel about the eternal tension in the HM between silly and scary, the Carsillo team has betrayed a gruesome misunderstanding of the very artwork they have turned to for inspiration.

Point by point.

No doubt about it, Marc Davis did indeed have a lot of cartoony ghosts in his concept sketches.

And not a one of them made it into the final attraction.  The ones that weren't dropped outright Blaine Gibson and his team consistently and invariably turned into more realistic-looking figures, presumably with Davis's blessing.  What impulse drove them in that direction, one wonders?  You don't suppose it was because they all decided at some point that we're never supposed to leave the "real" world, do you?  "But wait a sec; Gibson's ghosts still look pretty loopy to me, not like 'real' ghosts."  That argument might carry more weight if we had some idea of what "real" ghosts are supposed to look like.  Behold, a gallery of "real" ghosts.

The real fantasy feature of the Haunted Mansion ghosts is not their appearance but their behavior.  They're fun-loving ghosts.  Ain't no such thing.

Gibson was a genius at knowing where the line is between caricature and cartoon.  Your mileage may vary, but here's my working definition of the difference: caricature exaggerates within the possible, while the cartoony ignores this limitation.  People do exist with noses the size of golf balls, but not tennis balls.  In his classic POTC and HM faces, Gibson never goes past the golf ball.

Furthermore, Gibson's caricature has a sober, pragmatic purpose:  it enables the viewer to read the character instantly, even in less-than-ideal lighting conditions, and even from 30 feet away.  From the boat, all of his pirates look like real men.  But from two feet away, with the work lights on, a lot of them look pretty goofy, almost cartoony.

I freely concede that Carsillo's "Bertie" is within the Blaine Gibson tradition of caricature.  And if Bertie were dressed up as a pirate and firing a cannon from the Wicked Wench, he'd be fine.  But he's not.  He's right there in broad daylight, inches away, and you can examine him all over with a magnifying glass, and for as long as you wish.

(pic by GRD, who doesn't agree with my analysis, btw)

Sorry, but from this vantage point I cannot imagine that guy as my neighbor.  He and his sea serpent are from cartoonland after all.  And if you cannot imagine yourself in the same world as Bertie and his sea serpent, you can only be an audience to it.  I call that a radical change in the fundamental concept of the attraction.  How much more boring that is than the original premise: you in a "real" haunted house!

As for Collin Campbell, another influence, these guys seem to forget that his delightful artworks for the "Story and Song" album were illustrations for a children's record, as he was fully aware.

If we're going to borrow something of the style of his humanoid ghosts, hell's bells, why not use his smiley-face ghosts as well?

Exactly what age group is Pepe Le Queue aiming for?  Is it in fact just for kids?  If so, it sends the message that the ride is not going to be scary, when in fact the first part of the ride is scary.  Kind of a rotten thing to do, if you think about it.

Oh, interestingly enough, Campbell also did an "adult" rendering of the HM exterior.  No cartoony ghosts, no smiley faces.  More booze.

Incidentally, Carsillo's preference for the kooky over the spooky has led to something like grand larceny.  He has taken ghosts from the scary column and reassigned them to the silly side.  The organ banshees are not funny, but he's turned them into buck-toothed squirt guns.

(right pic by MouseSteps)

The Mariner in the painting is pretty frightening, but now he's sneezing and singing and merrily blowing bubbles in his Tubsoleum.

X. Atencio's one-eyed black cat was horrifying (more on that shortly).  Carsillo's "tribute"?  Meh, not so much.

The Point of Reference

If you've decided the HM is not a simulation of the real world and have thrown logical consistency to the breeze in the process, what is the guiding principle holding the new material together?  You must have something.  What replaces "make it realistic"?  Sadly, the ultimate point of reference in PLQ, at any rate, is nothing more than "the wonderful world of Haunted Mansion icons."  It is relentlessly self-referential.  Pepe practically shouts, "Is this Haunted Mansion ride GREAT, or WHAT?"  It makes the ride celebrate itself.  Thus the gravestones that used to look like real gravestones over real graves, and which incidentally also happened to have quiet tributes on them to X. Atencio and Marc Davis, are now no longer gravestones at all but tributes only.  They're pushed right into your face so you won't miss them.  They're signs now; they're placards.  They're tributes to tributes.

(pic by MouseSteps)

The Collin Campbell tribute grave marker is even worse.  Currently, it's just sitting in
a corner, with nothing like a grave anywhere in sight.  Doesn't matter.  It's a "tribute."

Nearby it, Carsillo has embedded a ring in the pavement.

The Fellowship of the Ring

Here's the story for those of you who don't know it.  Once upon a time, a turnstile was removed near the exit of the WDW HM.  An anchoring pipe inside of it was sawn off at pavement level.  One day, someone looked at it and thought it looked an awful lot like a ring.

And that was it.  Magic.  Lightning had struck.  Fans began thinking it was the bride's wedding ring, flung down from the attic and embedded in the ground.  Everyone would make a point to go look at it as they exited the ride. put up a sticky post telling people how to find it.  Cast members either went along with the gag or scolded guests and told them it was NOTHING.  There's nothing there.  Will you forget about it please?  It's just a pipe.  Of course, this only added to the mystique.  This was a bit of Mansion magic definitely off the menu.  An accidental piece of hardware that, due to its freak location, was able to tease and coax the most stubborn imagination into thinking it was a ring, even when you knew it was not a ring.  It became a sort of tribute to the Mansion from its fans, a gift back.

Not many years ago, the idiots at WDW removed the "ring"—in a fit of pique, one supposes.  You can't buy magic like that, but it wasn't an official WDI product, so death to it.  Now Carsillo, in sympathy with the fans (which is to his credit), has put a real ring in the pavement of his queue.

This is just sad.  Isn't it obvious that you can't put that kind of lightning in a bottle?  It was precisely the accidental, illicit quality of the "ring" that made it mysterious and special.  What the boring new ring really amounts to is another tribute to a tribute.

Tributes, tributes, tributes.  This place crawls with tributes.  The new epitaphs honoring Imagineers who were passed over the first time are welcome, as we said earlier, but PLQ doesn't stop there.  The organist's crypt is really a tribute to that beloved character and his banshee ghosts.

The raven is a tribute to that character.  What other reason is there for him to be on the organ pipes like that?  The organ is labeled "Ravenscroft," a tribute to Thurl.  The instruments depicted on the left side are tributes to the Séance circle and the graveyard band, as mentioned earlier.  The whack-a-mole books popping in and out on the sides of Prudence's crypt are a tribute to the library scene inside the ride.  Wow, did you notice how the decoration around the crypt's "bookcase" lovingly mimics the woodwork of that scene?  An elbow is nudging your ribs: "Is this ride cool, or what?"

But it doesn't stop with tributes to things that are there.  Carsillo has loaded up PLQ with tributes to things that never were: ideas and artwork that never made it into the Mansion, the kind of stuff we talk about around this blog, the stuff only the geeks know about.  There are headstones now for Bartholomew Gore, Beauregard, and Priscilla, names taken from Ken Anderson's old scripts.  There are also headstones for Uncle Theodore, Cousin Algernon, Phineas Pock, and Ned Nub.  These are the names of four of the singing busts, something that only geeks know about.  The one-eyed black cat, a disused idea for a horrific ghost guide that we did a post about awhile back, appears on the side of the organist's crypt.  Why is he there?  What reason is there for associating that cat with the organist?  Isn't it obvious that this was just a convenient spot to stick another "tribute"?  Context?  What context?  We don't need no steeeeenking context.  Finally, there are the "Museum of the Weird" tributes, which call for special comment.

A "Tribute" to the Museum of the Weird

The sea serpent around Bertie's neck is a nod to the MoW (even though this creature doesn't look anything like Rolly's MoW artwork, stylistically).  The surrealistic musical instruments on the right side of the organ crypt are also "tributes" to the Museum.  This is a slap in the face of Walt Disney himself.

Rolly has told this story many times.  Everyone at WED thought his strange creations were just too, too weird to use.  Everyone but Walt, who looked at them one day as the HM Imagineers were all "displaying their wares" for Walt's inspection.  He left without saying anything, and everyone (including Rolly) thought his weird little artifacts were indeed too extreme and had failed the test.  Next day, Rolly found Walt himself sitting in his chair, wearing the same clothes.  "You SOB," Walt greeted him.  He loved Rolly's stuff and had literally stayed up all night trying to figure out a way to use it.  It obviously didn't fit in with Marc Davis's material or any of the other work that showed the direction that the HM project was headed, but there had to be a way to use it.  Finally, Walt had hit on the idea of a museum, a museum of the weird, a completely separate venue featuring Rolly's work.  Sort of a Professor Marvel's show of wonders, filled with objects that mocked the boundary between the natural and the supernatural.  And so when the 1965 "tencenniel" television special was filmed, there was Marc with all of his HM stuff over here in this corner, and Rolly's stuff on a table over there in that corner.

It was obvious to Walt that Rolly's and Marc's work belonged in two different environments, that they operated in two different imaginative spheres.  It was a serious problem that took him all night to solve.

Silly Walt.  If only Carsillo, Goodman, and Ericson had been there to straighten him out.  Of course all of that stuff goes together.  See?  You just put musical instruments out of Davis's playbook on the left side of the crypt, and slap some surreal instruments out of Rolly's playbook on the other.  Ta da.

If anyone scratches his head over these weird instruments, or the cat, or the odd names on the tombstones, you say, "They're tributes!" and that's supposed to be enough logic to hold them all together.  Of course, only the cognizati will get those esoteric ones, so what that material really amounts to is Carsillo repeatedly sending signals to the hardcore Mansionites: "Hey guys, look, I'm one of you!"  It makes no other sense and serves no other purpose.  For me, what John Livingston Lowes said about poetry applies to other creative offerings as well: "I dislike poems that black your eyes, or put up their mouths to be kissed."

Tributes, tributes, tributes.  Let's have tributes to as many of the original Imagineers as we can think of.  And tributes to the wonderful things they made.  And tributes to the wonderful things they almost made but didn't.  And tributes to the wonderful ideas that they thought were bad and didn't use.  And tributes to tributes.  Let's stop every four feet and remind ourselves how MUCH we LOVE this ride.  In fact, let's spend an enormous sum of money and make that the first act of the ride itself!  People...

When you see this kind of self-referentiality, it is a sure sign of decadence.

Sorry to shout like that.  But compare this misbegotten Mansionite masturbatory to the original queue cemetery, there at Anaheim when it opened in 1969.  Eight simple stones with wry and dry epitaphs, laid out according to a picky blueprint so as to make sure, dead sure, that there were eight believable graves in front of them.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Let's Get Real

Whoops, Long-Forgotten's first anniversary slipped past while I wasn't looking, but it's not too late to say thanks to all the readers, and especially the commenters, for making this blog such an enjoyable project throughout this last year.  Many have put kind words of praise and generous thank you's in the Comments sections, often  without a direct reply from your Host.  I assure you that I have seen and appreciated them all, even if I haven't personally responded in every case.  Thank you all.

This seems like a good occasion to ask the question, What makes the Haunted Mansion so different?  Why does it generate and how does it sustain this level of interest, the kind that can fuel blogs and sustain entire websites for years, to say nothing of books and movies?  Pirates of the Caribbean is arguably a more perfect ride, but nothing else in the Disney parks produces anything close to Mansion mania.

I think the Haunted Mansion may be more psychologically seductive and intriguing than other attractions because, unlike most of them, it never asks you to stop being yourself in your own world.  In your imagination, you do not have to go either backward or forward in time (Main Street, Frontierland, New Orleans Square, Tomorrowland).  You do not move into a fairy tale or cartoon world (Fantasyland, Toontown), nor do you picture yourself in a remote, exotic part of the real world (Adventureland, the Matterhorn).  You do not imagine what it would be like to be a cowboy, a pirate, an astronaut, a bobsledder, a fairy tale hero or heroine, or an animated mouse.  At Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, you imagine only that you are in New Orleans, today, visiting a very normal-looking old house that is reputedly haunted.  The only big imaginative leap you are asked to take is to accept the premise that ghosts are real.

(pic by Laurie O)

If you want to understand the unique and enduring fascination that the Haunted Mansion holds for so many people, it is essential to recognize that this attraction is an artistic representation of a real house in the real world as it exists today, and it's in a familiar locale, not off in some remote corner of Zanzibar.  The only fantasy element in the presentation is the assumption that ghosts and ghostly activities are real.

What kind of ghosts?  Friends, this is what the scary-vs-silly, Claude-vs-Marc controversy really comes down to:  On the one side were Imagineers (Coats being the best-known) who wanted to restrict the HM to non-fictive ghosts.  On the other side, Marc Davis wanted both non-fictive and fictive ghosts.  By "non-fictive," I mean the types of ghosts that some people believe really do exist, the poltergeists and the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall types.  This would also include literary and cinematic ghosts that are meant to scare you, as if they were—or could be—real.  By "fictive" ghosts I mean the kind that are obviously invented purely for entertainment purposes.  Casper the Friendly Ghost and that sort of thing.  One place you find an abundance of those spooks is in comic songs, the kind that had their heyday in the 30's and 40's and of which Grim Grinning Ghosts is a good latter-day example.  Including these patently imaginary spirits would help keep things light-spirited.  Marc won that debate, and we got both kinds.

One result of this mixture is a quiet but important division in the audience:

If you believe ghosts may possibly exist, then about half of the denizens of the HM are sheer fantasy.
If you absolutely do not believe in ghosts, then all of them are sheer fantasy.

It's as simple as that.  It will make a difference later, you'll see.  First, let me give you my take on the ride.

(pic by monstersgoboo)

You enter what looks like a real house.  Immediately you are met by a ghostly voice.  Nothing coy about it: ghosts are real from the get-go and no apology.  In short order you discover that the ghosts are able to manipulate the very fabric of the building, including its furnishings and artworks, so that you don't know whether you're hallucinating ("is it your imagination?") or these things are "actually" happening.

The ghosts are evidently bent on disorienting you and unnerving you.  The top part of those portraits seemed  real enough when you came in, but that lower, elongated portion, so ridiculous, so unrealistic—is that actually there too or just a ghostly trick?  Those paintings are funny, but they're pretty macabre.  Maybe they're an implied threat?  The Host's mocking question goes unanswered.  You don't know.

Egads, not only can they manipulate space, but also time.  Look out the window.  What, is it night already?  When did that happen?

Dude, it's like Rip Van Winkle in here.  Or is that all a trick too?  You don't know.  That Ghost Host sure is chatty.  Can you trust what he tells you?  You don't know.  He explains that this house is a retirement home for ghosts, and it's jam packed with them.  Sure, why not?

Before you know it you're being moved involuntarily along your way (What are these things we're sitting in?  Oh well, it doesn't seem to matter much).  It's getting scarier.  The ghosts seem threatening, hostile.  At one point they even seem to be attacking you.  It happens in front of a clock that only confirms that your senses of space and time are putty in their hands.  Thirteen freakin' o'clock?  Where am I?  If this were really happening, you would have bolted the house by now.

And yet, and're still curious, aren't you?  You'd still like to see one of these ghosts, despite everything, wouldn't you?  Come on, show yourselves already.

Well, as it turns out the ghosts are having some sort of problem, but whatever it is, that creepy Leota chick fixes it, so the ghosts can at last cross over.  And the Host tells you that "they have received your sympathetic vibrations and are beginning to materialize."  So, what does that mean?  Was all of this a test?  To see if your curiosity was greater than your fear?  By resisting the temptation to panic and run—maybe the first living visitor ever so to do—were you, then, the key to finally setting them loose?  You and those "sympathetic vibrations" of yours?  You don't know.

Whatever it was, they're out and about now, all over the place, and it turns out they aren't angry with you after all.  Hunh.  Maybe you're okay in their book, what with those "sympathetic vibrations" and all.  There's still some dark business going on in the attic.  Based on what you see, it looks like some crazy bride took out a series of husbands.  Maybe that has something to do with why this is a haunted house?  After that you go outside and down to ground level.  You pass the first flesh-and-blood human you've seen since you got here.  As it turns out, he will be the only one.  He's obviously the old caretaker, and he's not only frightened, he's astonished.  Dumbstruck.  He's never seen anything like this before.

Now, THERE'S a man whose flabber has been gasted  (pic by Don Sullivan)

Well, I guess that answers the question, Does this happen all the time, or is this a big, one-time event?  It's a party out here, and they're having a good time, and you're having a good time too.  The spooks are playing for laughs now, and you see silly things like ghosts on bicycles.

It all winds down, and before you leave the grounds, they reset your clock to the real, daylight time you were in before they began playing their little head games with you.  Or was it real?  You know, one of those parallel universe things?  You don't know.  But one of them will "follow you home," which I suppose is believable in a weird sort of way, since really, it is THEY who have visited YOUR world, the world where both this home and your home happen to be.

Was that fun, or what?

But that reading has not been without controversy.  Many people think that what you're seeing is the party these ghosts throw every night, or at least periodically.  That interpretation fails to do justice to the utter astonishment evidenced by the caretaker.  It fails to account for the frustration and anger of the ghosts before Leota works her magic and they are free to materialize.  Some of the items put forward in order to show that the ghosts do this sort of thing all the time are the present tense verbs all through Grim Grinning Ghost and the Ghost Host's safety spiel, telling you that the spirits will materialize only if you remain quietly seated, with your hands, arms, feet, legs, butts, ears, naughty bits, prehensile tails, and lawyers inside.  Of course, in English the present tense is used to describe things happening right now, as we speak, as well as habitual occurrences, and maybe the Host senses that Leota's really got her mojo on today and doesn't want you to potentially screw things up.

Besides, the notion that they have these ghost parties routinely is not Disney enough.  On these rides, it's always your lucky day.  You're always coming upon unique events just as they are happening.  You come around the corner just as the rhino has treed the safari, you escape from the burning town just as it's about to collapse, your train makes it out of the tunnel just as it's caving in.  And what do you know, you happen to be there precisely when Leota finally unplugs the clogged portal between this world and that one.  Why, it may even have been your "sympathetic vibrations" that did the trick!  I'm telling you, this is YOUR LUCKY DAY!

"Raven, it's time.  Let's do this thing."

I have a hunch that people unthinkingly pick up the idea that this happens all the time because they've been on the ride so often.  It's easy to forget that it's like watching a movie or seeing a play over and over again.  You don't know what's coming, you're supposed to mentally rewind to the beginning each time.

Another point of controversy is whether this is a realistic world with ghosts in it, or a fantasy world with ghosts in it.  This is far more subtle, but it's important.  Perhaps it's easier to assume it's a fantasy world if you're an adamant disbeliever in ghosts.  To such a one, saying that something is a realistic world, except that it's jam-packed with ghosts, is virtually the same as saying it's a type of fantasy world.  If you have a more open mind about ghostly phenomena, allowing at least the bare possibility that such things could be real, then the distinction is clearer.  Granted, the fact that brazenly unrealistic, silly spooks start showing up halfway through the ride complicates things slightly, but it's still reasonably clear that you're only being asked to accept one impossibility here, one fantastic element.

I'm convinced that apart from the ghosts and the ghostly phenomena, it's a realistic world that is put before you.  Why?  For one thing, it follows the rules.

If you are writing a realistic novel, or the script for a realistic movie or play, there are unwritten rules.  First, you are allowed one big, amazing coincidence or one, bizarre, major occurrence.  One.  If you go over the limit, you risk having your audience bail on you.  "Phony."  "Unbelievable."  That's just how it is.  Second, you are allowed to cheat a little to avoid tedium.  When the detective needs to jump out of his car and run into the building, there's always a parking spot available, even if we're in downtown San Francisco at midday.  If we're at the beach, nobody objects if all the women and men in the background look mahvelous.  When a band starts to play, their hands don't need to always go where they're supposed to and you may hear extra instruments in the mix if you know your stuff.  (Before the Beatles era, when even kids started learning what an electric bass is, they were able to cheat a lot more in this area.)  Third, audiences will forgive tiny logic holes and anachronisms, but if they start piling up, or if there's a whopper in there, they can and will hold it against you.

Filmmakers and writers know this stuff.  When a realistic movie is being made, nobody needs to be reminded of these things.  You don't have to "decide" to put horses in that pasture but no unicorns.  Most of your decisions are made virtually by instinct.  You know what the real world is like, since you live in it—duh, and you automatically aim at logical consistency as much as possible.

With a comical fantasy world, it's not nearly so tight.  The gag comes first, logic comes second.

I love how exterior shots show the Flintstones' house as essentially a giant egg, but when Fred and Barney are having a conversation as they are running out of that house, that sucker is a quarter mile long (and amazingly repetitious).  But who cares?  They're cartoon characters in a cartoon world, where logic is a lot more flexible.  Great Caesar's Ghost, they've got talking animals, so put away your measuring tape already.

Like I say, the Haunted Mansion is the realistic variety (ghosts excepted) and not the comic fantasy variety.  To me, the logical consistency throughout this project never fails to amaze.

Q: Why are the tombstones in the graveyard scene all in the style of 16th-18th century New England gravestones, while the gravestones in the front yard family plot (alas, gone at DL) are of more recent vintage?
A: Because the house was built next to a much older, public cemetery, sometime around the beginning of the 19th century.

Q: Why are the ghosts invisible and scary before Leota, and visible and happy after (except for Connie et al., with their apparently separate melodrama going on)?
A: Because they're unhappy when they're dematerialized and frustrated because they can't seem to do anything about it.  Leota is the one who enables the materialization.

Q: Yes, but why are we given the distinct impression that we're in danger before they materialize but not afterwards?
A: Because lacking their own materialized, aerial bodies, they would be more than happy to possess yours. This is garden variety demonology, and the HM apparently makes no ontological distinction between ghosts and demons.

Q: Oh no, now you're getting all theological.  How about this:  Why is the music done the way it is?
A: Because reality has no soundtrack.  At the HM, you only hear "source" or "diegetic" music; that is, music coming from instruments and vocalists that are there onstage (within the cheating rules described above).  With realistic films, this is not mandatory, but the HM takes the hard realism route.  You hear an unseen pipe organ when you're in the foyer?  Well, pipe organs are loud and the sound carries.  There must be a pipe organ in the house somewhere.  And so there is.

1969 pre-opening shot of the Organist

The instruments floating around at Leota's séance?  They match up tolerably well with the music you hear there.  There's a lot of drawn-out cymbal work (albeit distorted), and the "bung bung" muffled organ chords can be interpreted by the ear as the plucking of a harp.  The music "from regions beyond" is drums and horn.

Sometimes the music is "only the wind" and no instruments need be present.  The graveyard is jumpin' to a lively tune because there's a band right there.  A distorted wedding march fills the attic.  Sure enough, the piano and pianist are right there (lacking at WDW).  Using the diegetic approach makes the task of adding music to the background a lot trickier.  You'd be stupid to do it that way unless you were deliberately shooting for realism (and by the way, this restriction to source music is extreeeemely rare at Disneyland).  Personally, I find this one to be a particularly compelling argument.

You can play this Q/A game . All. Day. Long.  As in real life, answers are not plopped into your lap, but if you ask questions and look around, you find that plausible explanations come back to you time after time.  Of course the Imagineers didn't consciously connect all these dots.  They didn't need to.  You go about creating a "realistic" environment, using gut-level, common sense choices all along, and ta da, a high degree of logical consistency shapes up almost automatically, at least if you're good at doing "realistic."  The genuine logical holes I've found in the HM are few and piddly.  For example, the cupola on top of the DL Mansion is a sloppy, inexact architectural match to what you see above you in the stretching gallery.  The tubular bells you hear as part of the mix in the portrait hall and loading area lack an explanation.  Forgivable stuff like that.

I have had people challenge this analysis, insisting to me that the HM invites you into a different world than your own, a fantasy world.  In response, I have thrown down the gauntlet:  Show me a significant logical lapse anywhere in the HM world, something that doesn't make any sense (excluding things done by ghosts, of course).  Or failing that, show me repeated examples of things that require special pleading to explain them, things that take us beyond the quota of allowable eccentricities in a realist presentation.

So far I have had no serious takers.  Believe it or not, the best that has been offered so far, even by Imagineers who disagree with me, is the "Haunted Mansion" plaque out front!  I've actually had this cited more than once as good evidence that you're entering a fantasy world.

(pic by Dave O)

Weak.  Every ride in the park has a sign out front, telling what it is.  And these signs are themed so as to clash as little as possible with the surroundings.  Ah, but they could have named it "Williamson Manor" or something if they wanted it to be a realistic presentation, right?  Wrong.  You have to have something telling guests this is a spooky ride, in case they don't want to go on a spooky ride.  After all, once upon a time the attraction was not famous, and it does not look like a stereotypical haunted house.  Yes, the plaques are beautiful, but they are like green EXIT signs, safety bars, stroller parking, and seating instructions.  They are part of the price you pay in order to enjoy a presentation like this in the real real world.

You mentally screen all that stuff out as a necessary evil.  It doesn't count.

The premise of the ride is exceedingly simple.  It answers the question, "What if ghosts were real?"  Real to whom?  To you, fool.  To keep things light and cheerful, Disney threw fun-loving, party ghosts into the mix, ghosts that nobody thinks are real.  That prevents you from taking the question too seriously, see?

The main purpose of this exercise it to provide the basis for my upcoming in-depth review of the major changes and additions to the Orlando Haunted Mansion, which began to be implemented in April of this year.  That post will be up soon.  It is not going to be pretty.