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?