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Hanuted Mansion offers spooky family entertainment

Director Justin Simien takes a mainstream approach for his third film Haunted Mansion, from Walt Disney Pictures. It is the second theatrical film adaptation of Walt Disney's theme park attraction, The Haunted Mansion, following the 2003 film of the same name. Katie Dipold pens the film's screenplay.

Ben (played by LaKeith Stanfield) quit his job as a paranormal tour guide after a traumatic experience and now works in New Orleans. Gabbie (played by Rosario Dawson), a single mother, and her son Travis (played by Chase W. Dillon) have recently moved to the city and discovered their mansion is haunted.

The Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto) leads the apparitions and isn't keen on houseguests. Gabbie convinces Ben to help, but he soon realizes he will need help. Ben recruits a team to combat the Hatbox Ghost that includes Kent (Owen Wilson), a priest, Psychic Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), and college history professor Bruce (Danny DeVito).

After their first two attempts (2000's Mission to Mars and 2002's The Country Bears) at adapting films based on their theme park attractions flopped commercially and critically, Disney finally struck gold with 2003's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The Haunted Mansion opened six months later to decent box office numbers. However, recent Disney theme park ride movie adaptations (Tomorrowland and Jungle Cruise) were flops.

What is the verdict on the latest movie adaptation of a theme park ride? Overall, it was an enjoyable experience. The movie's biggest strength is its fantastic cast. If not for the talented actors, the humor in Haunted Mansion could have been dull. But Owen Wilson and Danny Devito's charisma make even the cringeworthy moments hilarious. Tiffany Haddisch's comedic skill adds to the mix, giving her psychic character a delightful energy. However, those who aren't fans of her previous work may find her role a bit excessive.

Ben, the main character, is currently struggling with losing his wife. The theme of mourning and loss is delicately handled in the film, with the director employing music and close-up shots to add emotional depth to the story. Lakeith Stanfield's outstanding acting prevents Ben's backstory from appearing contrived, and his scenes with Dillon are delightful for me as a black father. Rosario Dawson also delivers a standout dramatic performance. However, Jared Leto's casting is more of a ploy and is the sole weak link in the movie.

Haunted Mansion isn't meant to be a mind-bending puzzle or award winner. It aims to bring joy and excitement reminiscent of the theme park ride it is based on. Fans of the ride will appreciate all the nods Siemen includes throughout the film, while non-fans might find themselves eager to book a trip as soon as possible.

Final Grade: B

Haunted Mansion is in theaters now.


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