Sometime back, I identified the royal playground scene in the graveyard as the Haunted Mansion tableau that has attracted the least interest. Scratch that. It's only second to least. The picnic couple next to the hearse tea party holds that dubious distinction. It's not in any official synopsis of the ride that I have seen, it's not mentioned in the "Story and Song" narration, and you won't find it in any of the photos used for postcards, slides, souvenir guides, etc.
No love for picnicking ghosts.
For a long time I lumped them in with the tea party. You have three couples interacting with each other over there. Right to left: (1) the diminutive coffin occupant and his medieval conversation partner, (2) the coachman and lady, and (3) the picnic couple. I just assumed that the picnickers were a third pair in the same group.
And why would anyone think otherwise? There is even documentary support for the classification: a daily
checklist of animated effects used by ride operators refers to them as "T/PTY. MAN" and "T/PTY. LADY."
Notwithstanding this (semi)official document, I no longer think they belong to that group. The hearse tea party is exactly that, a tea party. They're drinking tea, with cups and saucers and a floating tea pot to make it as obvious as possible. The picnic couple, however, are drinking wine, and I don't see anything suggesting that they arrived with the hearse. They are a tiny tableau unto themselves. Officially, they are simply "Man at Table" and "Woman at Table." Note that Marc Davis's concept artwork for the hearse tea party does not include them.
There is little to go by in tracing the development of the picnic couple, but it is clear even from that little that they were originally supposed to be humorous. I have never seen any Marc Davis concept art for them,* but we know that the scale model maquettes stick pretty close to the Davis sketches upon which they are based, and we do have a photo of the maquettes. We'll have to squeeze it for every drop we can get.
He's very well dressed and appears to be making fine progress through the champagne bottle. He's proposing a toast. "To us, my dear." He comes across as an extroverted, well-heeled, boozy, woozy ghost, yet another comical Davis drunk. He's supposed to make you smile, and he does.
As for her, unfortunately we can't see her face, but judging by what we can see, I'd say she's an unassuming, cheerful type. She's got a nice spring bonnet with a gay pink bow. Appropriate clothing for an outing, nothing special. She's got her hair back, out of the way, sensibly enough for a picnic. One supposes that she's about his age, and that her hair is gray, but boost the color and we see that it still has some blonde in it.
Heads Will Role Play
When some long forgotten maquettes of the band members came to light about a year ago, we traced the creative process that gave us the harpist, working from two sketches and two maquettes as well as what we already knew about the development of the band tableau. You will recall that the discussion ended on a bittersweet note, since most of Marc Davis's meticulous attention to the character went for nothing. In an economy move (time? money? manpower?), they just put an existing Pirate head onto the harpist's shoulders. Not all of the original Davis character was lost, however. Owing to his height and positioning, the harpist still comes across as band leader, and owing to his quaint and curious, old-fashioned uniform and the whacked out music they're playing, he's still an amusing, mildly comic figure.
Ah, but when they made the same sort of economizing move with our male picnicker, alas, they gutted the scene. Look at the maquettes. The man's face is 90% of the show, and I think this would still be true even if we could see her face. But when they built the figure for the ride, he was stuck with a bland, serious countenance, lacking in individual personality. Sure, he's still dressed nicely, but not so much as to distinguish him from a lot of the other ghosts. Why oh why did they choose this particular head? There are other Pirate heads with expressions not far from the one on the maquette. Was the selection due to desperate hurry and current availability? It better be a darn good excuse, whatever it was.
There's less to say about the woman's personality, since we can't see the maquette's face. For that matter, it isn't
easy to make out her face in the ride either, but once again Long-Forgotten rides to the rescue. Let's take a look.
She too is sporting a standard-issue head, and she's got at least
one HM twin, back in the ballroom. (The difference is all paint.)
Despite this, it seems to me that they were still able to preserve the
personality of the maquette pretty well, so far as it can be determined.
• Youthful face √ check
• Happy mood √ check
• Cheerfully dressed √ check
ride pic by maggotprince
In ride photos, the couple generally comes across as . . . subdued, shall we say? Especially when
they're compared to what's going on all about them. The picnic is not unpleasant, but it's a little dull.
ketchup bottle for the wine bottle? Never picnic in the dark.
(pic by photomatt)
Since a pirate made off with the man's personality, the Imagineers had to find a way to inject some character into what was now a rather faceless tableau, so they apparently decided to reinvent the couple as veddy uppuh clawss Brits by means of their vocal soundtrack (which inspired an unofficial nickname, "The Duke and Dutchess").
Okay, I admit that she's fun to listen to. How can you not love the improvised "oh yes they do" at the end? Hats off to Betty Wand. As for him, it sounds to me like Bill Lee is trying to pull off a Boris Karloff impression. If so, it leaves something to be desired, but hey, it's certainly no worse than Dick Van Dyke's cockney. I notice that his vocal sounds a lot less snooty than hers. There's very little caricature in it. You could just as easily argue that it's a mild, middle-of-the-road British accent, with no particular social pretensions projecting through it.
Overall, how successful was the reinvention? In a word, meh. There's a reason why no one ever talks about this tableau. In their efforts here, I think the Imagineers scored one hit and one miss, but the hit was rather dull, and the miss was totally unnecessary and a damn shame. As we have seen, there's a disconnect between the lively male maquette and his bland AA realization, but at least you can say that the vocal track seems to fit the ride figure. It's humorless and lacking in personality, like him. I guess we have to call that a successful match, but big whoop.
Then there's the lady. Like I said, despite her recycled head it seems to me that they preserved a nice continuity between the female maquette and her AA. But then that achievement was inexplicably squandered by a poor vocal match.
By voicing her as they did, the Imagineers were apparently aiming for a comic effect along these lines: A stuffy, self-important Grand Dame and her consort are seen enjoying a quaint old-fashioned picnic! How droll. Even if you think the gag succeeds, it's still an awfully lame version of the same joke you see in King and Queen playing on a see-saw. But I don't think it does succeed. The lady looks nothing like what you would expect, based on the voice. I don't see anything proud or snobbish or even comic about her. Look at that unassuming smile, that perky little sunbonnet. She's got that quality the French call joie de vivre (although in this case we would more properly call it joie de mourir). Anyway, there's no irony here; she's exactly the type of gal who would really go for a picnic. As amusing as the vocal track is by itself, I don't think it matches the figure.
A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Wine, and Thou
I keep calling it a picnic. It is. In the photo of the maquettes, the picnic basket is conspicuously placed in front of the couple, alongside the wine chiller. In the actual ride, the chiller is there, and so is the basket, but it's been known to migrate over to the tea party. I guess the teapot isn't the only thing that floats around.
that says PICNIC as clearly as if it were written on it. It doesn't show up in most photos, but you can see it in this picnic pic, Nick:
that they're drinking pink champagne. It has a deep, unearthly glow, but that seems appropriate enough, oui?
Armed and Loaded
in other words. Tokyo takes it the next logical step and points their similarly becuppèd arm in the tea party direction.
same crypt. Orlando and Tokyo have a regular stick-head popup there.
(pic by SilentDante)
Between him, the arm, and the bikers swooping around in the background, the poor
picnic couple is well and truly upstaged. No wonder they inspire so little comment.
Okay, the picnic may not be the most exciting tableau in the ride, but it's not without a certain charm. They're a couple entirely occupied with each other, having their own quiet party within the party. There are examples elsewhere in the Haunted Mansion of coupled ghosts involved exclusively with each other, or nearly so. There's the tipsy couple on the chandelier in the ballroom, the duelists, the opera singers, and you could make a case for the Bride and the Hat Box Ghost in the original attic. But the picnic couple is different in that they are not very funny and certainly not scary. The lack of humor as well as the utter lack of threat leave you with no alternative but to take them entirely on their own terms, and this is their one strong point. They're a unique little island of tranquility, a romantic couple quietly enjoying each other's company even in the midst of all this pandemonium. Kinda sweet, really.
* There are only five ghostly figures or groups in the entire ride for which no Marc Davis concept art has ever been published, to the best of my knowledge:
the coffin guy, the purple-shrouded figure in the Séance Circle (now defunct), the ballroom window wraiths, the picnic couple, and Little Leota.