Grief is a powerful emotion that can paralyze or empower. It’s the type of experience that can change and make an individual grow for one moment or forever.
When a widowed doctor (Rosario Dawson) and her 9-year-old son, Travis, (Chase Dillon) seek to start a new life in New Orleans, they move into a unusually affordable antebellum-style spread on the bayou, only to discover the Mansion is home to a wild mix of spirits, some playful and some “dead” serious. Desperate for help, reaches out Father Kent (Owen Wilson), who specializes in exorcisms. who in turn enlists various a team of “experts” to rid Gracey Manor of its unwanted guests.
Those experts include Ben (Lakeith Stanfield), a former astrophysicist grieving the death of his wife; Harriet (Tiffany Haddish), a French Quarter psychic/medium who does readings at bar mitzvahs; and Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito), a Tulane University professor proficient in New Orleans’ haunted history.
Based on the famous Disney attraction, this premise has been adapted for the big screen twice. The 2003 adaptation starring Eddie Murphy had a tepid reception and leaned more into comedy as its premise.
With a mostly Black cast and storyline, swirling in and around New Orleans’ rich ghost folklore, it is Ben’s overwhelming grief providing Katie Dippold’s script stability and heart. Due to the nature of its comedically brilliant cast, the jokes are unmistakable. However, Stanfield’s underlying desire to move past this debilitating chapter, yet still honor his departed wife’s memory will break your heart. Haddish is not short on her comedy prowess showcasing a blend of character that straddles between Miss Cleo and Whoopi Goldberg’s Oda Mae Brown from ‘Ghost.’ Jaime Lee Curtis, as Madame Leota, mostly confined to a floating head in a crystal ball, feels like one medium too many, leaving one to question why Harriet couldn’t accomplish a spell on her own. Aside from Stanfield, Dawson and Dillon anchor this film with their mother/son relationship built to literally survive, the good, bad and ugly. Their bond proves to be stronger than life itself.
One of this film’s most memorable moments where Ben desperately attempts to convince Travis that when a loved one perishes, your heart will always hurt – but the love inside never dissipates. A lesson they both painfully realize by the end of the film. Kris Bowers score provides the perfect musical ambiance that aids in pushing the story forward with a multiple genres ranging from ghoulish, New Orleans infused jazz to contemporary.
Despite a few missteps here and there, Disney’s The Haunted Mansion is a welcomed, entertaining addition to the summer blockbuster schedule while providing a healing lesson along the way.