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.

UPDATE (March 2, 2024). 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. At first glance, it looks like the WDW location is a deliberate movie tie-in. 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.



Not only that, but the knick-knacks on the shelf over Hattie's head (which is there
to camouflage the top of a new access panel) are actual props from the 2023 movie.



Peyton Cloudman

HOWEVER, I've been assured by extremely reliable sources that this really is an amazing coincidence and no more, that the location has nothing to do with the movie. I'm not at liberty to say much more about the actual reason why he wasn't put into the same spot as he is in the DL ride, but I am assured that it's rather humdrum stuff having to do with things like structural upgrades and building codes, prohibitive costs, and blah blah blah. At the same time, there was nothing that required he be put HERE rather than somewhere else like the ballroom or graveyard. If it had been up to me, and the attic and porch were ruled out, I'd have put him where the Caretaker is and moved the Caretaker across the track into a newly-created vantage point among the trees on your right side as you descend.

FURTHER UPDATE (March 24, 2024) I now have confirmation that (1) the announcement that HBG was coming to WDW was a complete surprise to WDI East; (2) their pleas to put him by the attic (like DL) or somewhere in the graveyard were ignored, because (3) Top Men at WDW gave WDI a minimal budget to do the install, and the structural work necessary to put him on the roof outside the attic would have broken the budget. He's heavy, and in order to do repairs on the figure, they have to be able to pull him backwards into a work area. That's why there's that open door and room behind him at DL and a camouflaged door behind him at WDW. The necessary structural work at WDW would have included a bigger area than you might imagine.

Anyway, he's where he is because WDW didn't want to spend the money needed to put him where he should be. And this location is 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.


pic by travel__time

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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16 comments:

  1. The removal of the iconic wingback chair is as offensive as the insertion of HBG in that spot. Where's the chair now?

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    Replies
    1. False. It's hiding in a restricted area behind Splash Mountain.

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  2. It looks like there will be a Donald-style chair in the Haunted Mansion Parlor on the Disney Treasure, so maybe there will be (or fans will create) a direct line from one to the other.

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  3. I'm actually surprised that they put as much thought as they did into it. It doesn't matter, though, since 90% of guests won't figure all of that out. The 1st act is all about atmosphere and that's destroyed by the HBGs appearance. It's like someone yelling "HEY!" to someone who is going into a trance. It totally destroys the magic. Which is what Disney does best now.

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  4. Oh that was Stu29573...

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  5. I've been waiting for this post and you did not disappoint, so thank you for spelling it out. What it invites me to consider is just how little the public cares about good storytelling anymore, and even worse, how little the storytellers care about their art. Visual storytelling used to be something Disney was very good at, if not the best in the themed entertainment industry. Knowing when to include detail to create realism and immersion (e.g. Horizons) or when to omit it when the atmosphere was more important seems lost nowadays.

    But every "on stage" choice must support the story, whether the HBG or a chair. Which element does that best? I think the answer is obvious. Act I is about that creepy, unsettling mood, relying on what's NOT seen (and our imaginations) to do the heavy lifting. HBG doesn't align with that idea. He's in-your-face, un-subtle and leaves little to the imagination. Even if he weren't sucking the mood out of the hallway scene, he'd be wrongly placed anywhere in Act I.

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    Replies
    1. The worst part is how marketing material always says they want to make new stories or make way for grander storytelling. Bitch, you haven't been telling good stories since 2011

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  6. 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.

    As I've said often in the past, I think this is too clear-cut. It still seems likelier to me like the Mansion isn't an unhappy place to be for the haunts when they're by themselves; that they're always perceivable to one another, and their inability to "get through" only becomes a curse to them when mortals show up and they find themselves unable to communicate. It's not a ghost-trap particularly.

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    Replies
    1. That's possible, and the earlier Atencio scripting still audible on the Story & Song album gives it some support ("It's nice to see the folks enjoying themselves.... It has taken time to give it that comfortable, unlived-in look"). On the other hand, the GH is an unreliable narrator. We are never given enough information to know if we should trust him completely (which is all to the good as the uncertainty creates anxiety). They drag us down the COD backwards so that we cannot tell if they are angry at us or if they were angry before we got there. In the end, we cannot know if they were happy or unhappy before we arrived, which leaves room for more than one possible interpretation. It is frustrating that so few see the high quality of storytelling and showmanship that went into this ride.

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  7. I think the placement of the hatbox ghost is all wrong, but it begs to question if no ghosts are supposed to be seen before Madame Leota, then what about the occupant of the coffin? The narration states, “all of our ghosts are dying to meet you… THIS ONE can hardly contain himself”, thereby inferring that it is a ghost in the coffin. So I suppose there is some precedence in having a ghost make an appearance before Madame Leota brings them out. Did you ever comment on this Dan?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, it's been commented on, but not in any detail. There is a ghost there, but you do not see it any more than you "see" the ghost when you see the floating candlestick. In both cases you're seeing the visible effects of an unseen ghost "having trouble getting through," in this particular case trouble getting free even from his corpse in its coffin.

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  8. Modern audiences have gotten accustomed to having every detail spoon-fed to them, as if we were idiots with no imaginations. Mystery is neither offered nor welcomed. It's sad.

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  9. The movie tanking harder than the Hindenburg makes it all the more insulting...

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  10. i'm a wdw-er, and am pretty grateful to have him here, but as time goes on i kinda keep wishing that it'd just be disneyland exclusive until they can actually find a good home for him. i've personally concluded that the best place for him (if the end of the attic is supposedly so hard to renovate to get him there) would be that very first portion of the attic scene you see upon first entering. it would be a good gag as you see this kooky looking ghost with a disappearing head with little to no explanation, then see constance later and then understand the gag. the lighting is correct for him in there, both have similar gags, and both are kinda the mansion's menaces. i enjoyed the 2023 movie but disliked how they made hbg look like a villain rather than a troublesome ghost that means no harm. hbg in the endless hallway not only looks jarring, but totally destroys the pacing, especially for a guest riding for the first time. its so bad. disney, if you can't move him anywhere else then just get rid of him. please. i beg.

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  11. What I don't get is where is the door coming from, given that it is on the second floor of the mansion.

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