Haunted Mansion director explains 'beef' with 2003 Eddie Murphy version: 'We tried to depart or improve'
Haunted Mansion director Justin Simien wasn't about to become a foolish mortal in adapting the beloved Disney parks attraction into a successful feature film 20 years after Eddie Murphy and director Rob Minkoff attempted to do the same.
The Dear White People creator tells EW he looked to Murphy's 2003 Haunted Mansion movie for ways he could hone his own approach to bringing the classic Disney ride to life, starting with the titular abode itself.
"I had a little bit of beef with the first film, because the first thing you've got to give the kids is the candy of the mansion that they know and love," Simien explains. He notes how he "looked at [the film] a lot, mostly to see how easy it would be to go awry in certain spots" as he went along.
Everett Collection; Disney Eddie Murphy in 2003's 'Haunted Mansion' and LaKeith Stanfield in 2023's 'Haunted Mansion'
"Not to dunk on the movie," he continues. "It's a movie of its time, and it's also a movie that, frankly, a lot of people grew up with and love hardcore. In theaters, I was a little too old for it, but what I appreciated was Rob Minkoff. He's a genius. And I appreciated the elevation that they were going for. They had this beautiful book of all the production design, and I spent a lot of time walking through what their intentions were. I think a lot of that was interesting, but I also didn't want to repeat any of it."
He wanted to "create something totally different, but at the same time wouldn't disrespect anyone who was a fan of that film or the good choices that film does make," he adds.
Simien's Haunted Mansion centers on a single mother (Rosario Dawson) who enlists a band of paranormal experts (LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish) to battle the ghosts spooking her New Orleans home. The mantra on this production was to "depart or improve" on the 2003 version, which was financially successful after making $182 million globally, but widely derided by critics and audiences at the time.
Murphy's film followed a pair of real-estate agents, Jim (Murphy) and Sara Evers (Marsha Thomason), who, alongside their children, become stuck inside the spiritually infested mansion. Along the way, they encounter some crossover characters who originated in the ride, including Jennifer Tilly's Madame Leota (otherwise known as the lady in the crystal ball).
Disney Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota in 'Haunted Mansion.'
In Simien's 2023 update, Jamie Lee Curtis portrays Madame Leota, while Jared Leto plays the fan-favorite Hatbox Ghost. He also wove in key aesthetic elements from the ride to tie the project together, including the iconic stretching room, Hatchet Man, and interpolations of the "Grim Grinning Ghosts" soundtrack tune.
Murphy's Haunted Mansion is now streaming on Disney+, while Simien's Haunted Mansion releases in theaters July 28.
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