October 19th, 2014

rotting doll.

Review: The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion by Jeff Baham

The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion
by Jeff Baham

When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls; whenever candle lights flicker where the air is deathly still - that is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight!

For forty-five years, the Haunted Mansion has delighted Disneyland visitors with its curious blend of spooky atmosphere and bewitching humor. It is one of the park’s most popular attractions, and incarnations of the ride appear in every Disney park, from the Magic Kingdom in Disney World in Florida to the Disney resorts of Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong. But the path that led to the mansion was rocky and full of unanticipated twists, as multiple visions of a proper Disney haunted house competed to make it into the ride. In this new book by Doombuggies.com creator Jeff Baham, the evolution of the Haunted Mansion is explored in rich detail, from its first appearance as a tiny sketch on the first map for Walt Disney’s proposed theme park through several incarnations in the 1950s and 60s that eventually coalesced into the attraction that opened to the public in 1969. Along the way, key Imagineers are recognized for their contributions, secrets of special effects are revealed, and a room-by-room walkthrough reveals changes that have been made to the Mansion’s scenes and story over the years.

Of all the rides in Disneyland, the Haunted Mansion is definitely my favorite. Other haunted houses rely heavily on gore and on live actors jumping at you, which makes them overwhelming for a weak-stomached person like myself. By contrast, the Haunted Mansion successfully creates a gothic atmosphere that feels classic and creepy, scary without crossing the line into frightening. Making a family-friendly ghost house without crossing the line into cheesy or childish is difficult, and one of the things I most enjoyed about The Unauthorized Story is the author’s exploration of what creative decisions were made by the Disney Imagineers to achieve this balance.

The book also explores the Haunted Mansion from a technical perspective, explaining how certain effects are achieved (no holograms, folks!) and the impact changes in technology have had to the ride. For example, a character called the Hatbox Ghost was only in the Mansion for a few days, right after it opened, before he was pulled because of his special trick wouldn’t work in the ride. Madame Leota, a medium whose head rests inside a crystal ball, used to sit stationary in the center of a table, but new projection technology now allows her crystal ball to float around the room as if guided by otherworldly forces. A ghostly bride has had her appearance and her story dramatically altered with each upgrade to her attic room. It’s truly fascinating to fans of the ride.

If I had to quibble, I do wish that there were more pictures in the book. One glimpse at the book’s title explains the relative scarcity. Unauthorized Story = not published by Disney = big bucks to use official Disneyland photos. But this is a book for fans, and I imagine that most readers will already be familiar enough with the ride that pictures aren’t necessary.

This is a must-have book for fans of Disneyland, and a necessary read for anyone who has ever wondered just what “Imagineers” do as they develop new attractions for the Disney theme parks.

5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: Child of Vengeance by David Kirk
2012: Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise, Part Two by Gene Luen Yang
2011: Impressionistic Whales: Christopher Moore & Flip Nicklin
2010: Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
2009: Giveaway #12: Sorrow Wood by Raymond Atkins
2008: The Gone Away World by Nick Harkaway