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  1. #1

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    The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    Now, as a disclaimer at the start of this....I am not at all purporting, other attractions such as Indy, Pirates, Big Thunder, etc don't have the same level or greater of detail and sophisticated effects and themed environments as the Mansion, and this is in no way a knock on any attraction, past or current, at the parks.

    However, I personally feel the Mansion may be the single greatest themed environment/attraction at Disneyland for several reasons...but by far, the most important, is ambiguity and lack of story. Certainly, a "story" can be seen as simply....a retirement home for ghosts. However, the strong presence of individual characters with virtually no backstory (the ghost host, Madame Leota, the duelists, the singing busts), or only slight, to give weight to a single scene (Constance, the new bride) sets this ride apart. When you enter Pirates, you know, overall...the attraction is going to tell you a story about pirate crews ransacking a town. Every single character, pirate, townsperson, and animal relates to that story somehow and you can figure out their role with relative ease. Not so with the Haunted Mansion.

    You enter a haunted house filled to the brim with details, carvings, paintings, works of art, abandoned furniture, populated by certainly near 40 or more original characters plus effects, and aren't given a shred of information about why they are there or who they are, apart from the general overhanging idea of....it's a haunted house, they are ghosts. This lends a air of mystery and ambiguity to all the proceedings. Further reinforcing this is the contrast between comical characters, shown having fun, and sinister surroundings and effects, ranging for example, from a humorous vignette of a Egyptian mummy and a old man having tea with several victorian ghosts, to a hanged skeletal figure in the ceiling and a dead bride with a propensity for chopping off the heads of her husbands.

    If just popping into any of the one major Disneyland fan sites, it is almost guaranteed there will be more posts or topics discussing literal intent, story, and nuance of the Haunted Mansion than any other attraction, pretty much. There will be of course threads discussing small details and favorite effects...but hardly ever will the discussions of character and plot that follow the Mansion pop up in a thread dedicated to Splash Mountain, Indy, or Pirates, for example. This is all due, I feel, to the high level of ambiguity the Mansion holds, and this for me makes it one of the sterling achievements in theme park design, to inspire such curiosity about even the smallest details, such as a single sound effect or the placement of items barely even visible in a musty attic.

    Even looking at the inspired merchandise and films is interesting, given several attempts have been made, in unofficial and official materials, to explore a story and a history of the Mansion, between vinyl records, fan fiction, a feature film, comic books, short stories...it goes on and on. To compare, a equally historic and detailed attraction, the Pirates of the Caribbean, has nowhere near the level of discussion of what it all means, or minutae, as the Mansion inspires.

    Your thoughts? What about the Mansion intrigues you? Is it perhaps the greatest Disneyland attraction for all it's details and contrasting ambiguity and air of mystery? Why does it attract people so and defy any idea of overall story at the same time? I know I, for one, am fascinated by it and love the attractions perhaps more than any other in the park.

    What about you?
    Last edited by RegionsBeyond; 01-02-2009 at 10:00 PM.
    when the spooks have a midnight jamboree....

  2. #2

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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    I agree. Great effects that still stand up today. Faces carved into the woodwork. A timeless classic. While I prefer WDW's gothic facade, HM of any type is cool. Too bad the holiday overlay was in place when I visited DL. I was looking forward to seeing the hitch-hiking ghosts.

  3. #3

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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    I'm going to shock some of you. If I want to be purely objective, I have to concede that Pirates of the Caribbean is the greater overall achievement. Here's why:

    1. Originality. POTC is...POTC; it has almost no predecessors. I say "almost," because there was a pirate-themed dark ride at Pacific Ocean Park, and there have been some dark rides that took a "ghost ship" theme, with predictably piratical props. But these parallels are few and pale. The audacious originality of POTC is what stands out. It is nearly unique, even today. By comparison, the HM can be described as a glorified spookhouse. That may be harsh, but it's not entirely unfair. It stands head-and-shoulders above any of its peers, certainly, but nevertheless the HM belongs to an established and easily-recognizable genre. As many have noted, elements of the HM (the original attic and the pop-up ghosts) actually pay tribute to its spookhouse roots. POTC hardly has any roots to which it might pay tribute.

    2. Technical splendor. Disneyland in the 60s was, of course, the heyday of audio-animatronics. It was a breathless crescendo, with one jaw-dropping leap after another. Tiki Room was cutting edge, truly awesome. Then we got Lincoln (even awesomer). The Carousel of Progress was more awesome still (NY World's Fair visitors at least saw that one coming). POTC took us all another quantum leap forward, with roomsful of Lincolns (so at least it seemed) and staging that went far beyond any of the previous rides. Now, whatever you may think of the HM, it is not a leap beyond POTC as an AA extravaganza. One may appreciate the clever use of 18th-19th c. stage magic tricks and eerily clever film projections, and other Yale Gracey ingenuities, but you have to have access to some backstage information in order to fully appreciate and savor these things. For the ordinary visitor, HM does not fly very high above POTC as a technical marvel. POTC still stands at the pinnacle of that historical era.

    3. Integration of ride to show. Reasonably enough, you visit a Caribbean seaport town in a boat. On real water. The suspension of disbelief is easy, the imaginative demands are modest. If you really could go back in time and see a pack of pirates sacking a town, that's pretty much how you would have to do it. The HM, on the other hand, has these weird black clamshell thingies scooting through a Victorian mansion. Huh? Let's face it, the doombuggies are an awkward concession to logistical necessity. You have to ignore their very existence, even as you are using them. Point POTC.

    4. Davis in his element. If Marc Davis had had his way entirely with the HM, it would have been a much weaker ride. As it is, there are numbers of HM fans who rather dislike the Davis-style attempts at humor and much prefer the contributions of the other Imagineers. But with POTC, the almost total dominance of Marc Davis works splendidly. He was truly in his element with rowdy, filthy, drunken pirates. With HM, we're glad he was reigned in; with POTC, we are not. Now, I'm one of those who finds the tensions and contradictions of the HM to be the paradoxical source of its enduring, Rococo charm. But forced to choose between an oddball masterpiece and a masterpiece that requires no asterisks, I have to award the palm to the latter. A conscious achievement of excellence must be applauded a bit more than an accidental achievement of excellence.

    There are many other areas in which the two rides are a flat-out tie, such as attention to detail, creation of atmosphere, and show pacing. And I agree with the OP that the HM is much more fun, much more fascinating, and much more rewarding to dissect. But if asked which ride is DL's greatest, I feel compelled to admit that it's POTC.

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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    Disneyland Guest Surveys show that POTC is the #1 favorite and Mansion is #2. I personally prefer Mansion for reasons I can't explain. Maybe I believe in Ghosts and Pirates are evil. So are some Ghosts, but for some reason the Mansion is a bigger draw for me.
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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    Quote Originally Posted by HBG2 View Post
    I'm going to shock some of you. If I want to be purely objective, I have to concede that Pirates of the Caribbean is the greater overall achievement. Here's why: (edit)

    There are many other areas in which the two rides are a flat-out tie, such as attention to detail, creation of atmosphere, and show pacing. And I agree with the OP that the HM is much more fun, much more fascinating, and much more rewarding to dissect. But if asked which ride is DL's greatest, I feel compelled to admit that it's POTC.
    Excellent post HBG and you make some great points...I do concede certainly Pirates wins for sheer staging of AA's and how they interact, the Mansion doesn't have big AA scenes on that scale. I guess my feeling is...I side with the Mansion as more classic, no matter it having a more identifiable starting point in history than Pirates, precisely because of the oddball charm and strange elements it has, that aren't part of a overall, fluid, linear story. Don't get me wrong...the overall construction and how perfect Pirates was/is not including the Jack Sparrow plot hijack of recent years is a awesome achievement in intentional planning and layout. It is true the Mansion can be seen as more disjointed...but that's why it is the more fascinating ride to study and think about and try and pick apart.
    when the spooks have a midnight jamboree....

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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    Someone could make the argument, too, that the push-pull, funny-scary disjointedness of the HM is psychologically unsettling, and that's exactly what you want for a haunted house. It's uncanny in part because it is so hard to pin down. You don't know if what's behind those doors in the Corridor of Doors is your most terrifying nightmare or a silly spook, and the fact that you will never know somehow draws your imagination back again and again.

    There's still that boat-vs.-doombuggy deficit, however.

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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    Quote Originally Posted by HBG2 View Post
    Someone could make the argument, too, that the push-pull, funny-scary disjointedness of the HM is psychologically unsettling, and that's exactly what you want for a haunted house. It's uncanny in part because it is so hard to pin down. You don't know if what's behind those doors in the Corridor of Doors is your most terrifying nightmare or a silly spook, and the fact that you will never know somehow draws your imagination back again and again.

    There's still that boat-vs.-doombuggy deficit, however.
    I honestly never really paid attention to the doombuggies as how they fit the theme...never bugged me, but it isn't something I'd say is a automatic fit, as the boats are to water. It works though, I think, at being unobtrusive, as it's presumably some kind of black coffin-like arrangement the ghosts move along to see what they want you to see. It doesn't detract, but doesn't add to the experience.

    As for the rest of your thoughts......exactly. The way the tone veers between the ghosts having fun and the ghosts being menacing makes it unsettling and not just one thing, you can't tell what the intent is, and that's disturbing...it's not clear and laid out, like you know what the pirates want and are after. And I'd say that's perfect for a attraction centering on ghosts...they are the ultimate blank slate, given they reflect humanity's either fear or acceptance and wanting something beyond death. So it's perfectly logical the ghosts in the mansion should be both threatening and benign alternately.
    when the spooks have a midnight jamboree....

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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    Pirates is my favorite ride at Disneyland. It's a longer ride than HM, and builds up beautifully to its various spectacular show scene/set pieces. But HM is my favorite ride at WDW. Overall, I'd say that Mansion is the greatest dark ride ever, as best represented by the spectacular HM in Orlando.

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    Thumbs up Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    HBG2, I agree with most of your points. Pirates does capture all of those the best. But one more thing you should take into consideration is the impact it has on you. The way the ride is presented, in the order, in the timing, counts. Pirates would be above the Haunted Mansion for me, except that I think that the Haunted Mansion is absolutely, wonderfully climactic. Not to say that Pirates lacks. But when I compare the two, Pirates seems to have too much falling action. To me, it seems much too quiet near the end, whereas the Haunted Mansion leaves you running from a Hitchhiking Ghost, and being transitioned back into the mortal world as a Ghostess encourages you to "Hurry back"- all after the spectacular graveyard scene. Pirates, in my opinion, does have a better beginning (once on the ride). decending into the grottos is better than quickly entering the corridor of doors. However, the Haunted Mansion had a very cool preshow which already set up the attraction very well.

    So Pirates is amazing and more technically advanced.

    The Haunted Mansion is more climactic and exciting.

    (for me, at least.

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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    The Holiday Makeover each year makes it like two attractions in one, throughout the year. I always love HMH, and when the regular HM comes back, it's also nice to have floating Leota, the hitch-hiking ghosts, and the bride back, too. No other attraction has that 2fer aspect, except Small World.

    HM also is a more intimate attraction, with the Doom Buggies. Pirates, Small World, and Indy don't give you that intimate feel, in vehicles with more people. The only other attractions/rides that are more intimate, are the smaller dark rides in Fantasyland. And the Doom Buggies do a good job focusing your attention, even the way you move "backwards" down into the graveyard, is made to it's full advantage.

    Walt did something unique with the HM, in that DL takes care of the outside, and doesn't make it look decrepit. However, the ghosts take care of the inside. The HM looks really nice from the outside, and peaceful, Unlike the ToT, which literally screams decrepit from the outside, and inside. And with the ToT visible from so many parts of DCA, it really is too bad it has to look bad from the outside.

    Having humor in the HM makes it so much more enjoyable. I'm not one who likes horror, bloody, gorey movies, and the HM, for the most part avoids those things. And the song throughout make more of a light-hearted take on spooky. But the man eating plants and wreath add enough fun manic during the hmh, as does the bride during the rest of the year.

    Obviously the special effects are amazing, and that's a big part, too. The ballroom just doesn't grow old. And if you consider that the attraction begins with the Doom Buggies, THEN the HM has the first best queue in all of DL, predating Indy and Roger Rabbit by decades!

  11. #11

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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    Quote Originally Posted by darkfairycthulu View Post
    I honestly never really paid attention to the doombuggies as how they fit the theme...never bugged me, but it isn't something I'd say is a automatic fit, as the boats are to water. It works though, I think, at being unobtrusive, as it's presumably some kind of black coffin-like arrangement the ghosts move along to see what they want you to see.
    You know, I don't think the doombuggies are supposed to be taken as coffin-ish, or hearse-ish, or chair-ish, or anything else-ish. It would have been so easy to give them some boxy features or put some hardware on them, but what you get are flat black, shapeless, featureless blobs. I think a good analogy is the black outfits worn by puppeteers in Bunraku (traditional Japanese puppetry). They're plainly visible behind the puppets, but you're just supposed to pretend they aren't there. With the HM you're walking up the stairs and through this old Victorian house, perhaps compelled and propelled by some unseen hand, but "walking" nonetheless, like Mike and Karen on the "Story and Song" album. (Yes, I know the GH mentions a "carriage," but that's about as neutral a term as X could have come up with, and I think it's purely a pragmatic concession, as out-of-place but unavoidable as, "Do not pull down on the safety bar.")

    Quote Originally Posted by WDITrent View Post
    HBG2, I agree with most of your points. Pirates does capture all of those the best. But one more thing you should take into consideration is the impact it has on you. The way the ride is presented, in the order, in the timing, counts. Pirates would be above the Haunted Mansion for me, except that I think that the Haunted Mansion is absolutely, wonderfully climactic. Not to say that Pirates lacks. But when I compare the two, Pirates seems to have too much falling action. To me, it seems much too quiet near the end, whereas the Haunted Mansion leaves you running from a Hitchhiking Ghost, and being transitioned back into the mortal world as a Ghostess encourages you to "Hurry back"- all after the spectacular graveyard scene. Pirates, in my opinion, does have a better beginning (once on the ride). decending into the grottos is better than quickly entering the corridor of doors. However, the Haunted Mansion had a very cool preshow which already set up the attraction very well.

    So Pirates is amazing and more technically advanced.

    The Haunted Mansion is more climactic and exciting.

    (for me, at least.
    For me, the question is a little like, "Who was the greatest rock band of all time?" Aw crap. You have to say, "The Beatles," whether they're your personal favorite or not, whether you even like them or not. It's so close to being a blunt, objective fact that it's hardly worth trying to mount a challenge. So you just stipulate it, get it over with, and then...

    ...go ask a more interesting question! One that lets you sing the praises of band XYZ, without the unfair burden of trying to knock off the Fab Four.

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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    Quote Originally Posted by HBG2 View Post

    For me, the question is a little like, "Who was the greatest rock band of all time?" Aw crap. You have to say, "The Beatles," whether they're your personal favorite or not, whether you even like them or not. It's so close to being a blunt, objective fact that it's hardly worth trying to mount a challenge. So you just stipulate it, get it over with, and then...

    ...go ask a more interesting question! One that lets you sing the praises of band XYZ, without the unfair burden of trying to knock off the Fab Four.
    That is a very good analogy to the Japanese puppeteers, I would think that was likely the logic at play. I would of course agree Pirates has a much more naturalistic ride system at play.

    As for the second part...the point of this thread was never to say, Pirates isn't good! Or it's not a pinacle in theme park design or experience...it doubtless is. I just find it interesting personally...people automatically say, Pirates is the best, without any discussion of the elements I find fascinating about Mansion and the rich and deep experience it is. That was my point and the talking point I wanted to bring up...hence why the title is Disneyland's Greatest?, not Disneyland's Greatest. A question, theory, and disucssion topic rather than a statement. And I am really enjoying this discussion and the points everyone is making.
    when the spooks have a midnight jamboree....

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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    This is an excellent thread!

    Personally, I think that comparing Haunted Mansion to Pirates of the Caribbean is comparing apples to oranges. The are not the same kind of attraction. Pirates, as has been stated, is a story. We start at a beginning, go through a middle, and arrive at a conclusion.

    The Haunted Mansion is an experience. It is truly unique in that sense among the Disney theme park attractions. With Pirates we follow along with the story. In the Haunted Mansion we in a sense are the story. HM is not about a narrative that we follow, but about the internal narrative. It is the story of us as we deal with what we confront inside that creaky old mansion.

    Most people ride Pirates and walk away with a similar feeling and interpretation of the attraction. The Mansion is almost totally subjective. As a writer and stand-up comic (my resume is very...eclectic shall we say), I know full well that the two most subjective things in entertainment are horror and humor. The Haunted Mansion is both! Some people leave the attraction saying it was terrifying, others are hardly phased. Some laugh their heads off, while others barely chuckle.

    The one thing that I think everyone can agree on is the sheer genius of how the Haunted Mansion is designed, orchestrated, and executed. Absolutely brilliant.

    My own reaction to the two attractions can be summed up like this: when I exit Pirates of the Caribbean I think to myself, "That was fun!" When I exit the Haunted Mansion I am thinking, "That was cool!"

    Of course I've cleverly avoided answering the question initially posed in this thread, haven't I? Okay, let's see...

    Pirates is the quintessential Disney Theme Park attraction. It is really the benchmark by which all "E Ticket" attractions are measured. But having said that...I'm going to side with darkfairycthulu on this one and choose the Haunted Mansion. I think no other attraction has had a more profound influence upon me that the Haunted Mansion (with the possible exception of Adventure Thru Inner Space). I think the Mansion is one of the main things in my early life that sparked my interest in special effects and theater, which ultimately lead to me having a career as an actor and visual effects artist. ("Once you turn to the dark side forever will it dominate your destiny." ) I had to know how it was done and how I could do it too.

    The funny thing is, when I set out to reply to this thread I was ready to argue that Pirates is the greatest Disneyland attraction. But as I begain to compose my thoughts I realized that for me the answer was really the Haunted Mansion.

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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    Quote Originally Posted by Aladdin View Post
    The Holiday Makeover each year makes it like two attractions in one, throughout the year. I always love HMH, and when the regular HM comes back, it's also nice to have floating Leota, the hitch-hiking ghosts, and the bride back, too. No other attraction has that 2fer aspect, except Small World.
    Lucky you. For some of us, DL is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And we were lucky to get that.

    This is an interesting discussion. Both Pirates and HM are excellent, classics in their own right. Definitely rides you want to go on again and again.

    Although HM is not the AA extravaganza that Pirates is, I think HM is a little more special in that you are actually part of the attraction (hitch-hiking ghosts) where in Pirates you are merely observing from a distance. There are other things that make HM truly unique. There is the Stretching Room which exists solely to convey you outside of the RR line. There is the cobweb in the ballroom that was placed to cover a crack on the glass from a BB (so I've read but I admit I've been too busy looking elsewhere to see it). You are much closer to the action, too - the doors in the hallway, etc.

    I love both but my heart goes to HM.

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    Re: The Haunted Mansion: Disneyland's Greatest?

    Excellent thread DFC!

    Either way you can't go wrong. What amazes me about both POTC and HM is that imagineers started from scratch and hit the ball out of the park with both rides.

    With POTC, Walt had the history books to use. The were able to look at what Pirates were doing long ago and spin it to the point where you were part of the show. They were able to show the terrible side of pirates without it being terrifying. They were able to add humor to horrible situations (Wench scene, well scene, burning city, etc) without it looking cruel or miserable. All of this while you are riding in your own little pirate ship being a part of the action, not to mention a song that is still known by millions to this day.

    With HM, Walt had the idea but his untimely death made is so imagineers had to interpret his vision. With the best pre-show ever (Stretching room & hallway) this ride scares you from the get go, without cheap scares. It lures you with a sense of "this house is haunted" and then everything materializes in the Ballroom scene. The Graveyard instead of total terror brings you into the party with the legendary "Grim Grinning Ghosts" tune. The perfect DoomBuggy design allows the storyteller to point you towards what you should be looking at without telling you exactly what is happening.

    Again, these 2 rides are really what Disneyland is all about. Both rides are truly a 10 but I give the slight edge to POTC for the trilling drop and the boat design. On top of this no rides at Disneyland fit so many guests on the ride and keep the line moving while adding some eye candy before you actually are seated on the ride.

    Thanks Disney, these rides are why I keep coming back.

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