Haunted Mansion poster showing warped hallway.

The One Reason I’m Holding Out Hope for the 2023 Haunted Mansion Reboot

Earlier today, Disney released its trailer for the 2023 Haunted Mansion reboot. Remix? Reimagining? Yes, the childhood classic less than 20 years out from the original movie starring Eddie Murphy and Marsha Thompson is getting a rework already. On the surface, it looks like an unnecessary cash grab and advertisement based on one of the most popular rides at Disney parks. (Honestly, it still may be.) However, I see one big promising aspect this will be an exciting film that can possibly stand next to the Murphy/Thompson version. Not the cast or trailer, but is director, Justin Simien.

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Before diving into why Simien is a point of excitement, it should be noted that he wasn’t originally attached to Haunted Mansion. Starting in 2010 and for the first three years, Guillermo del Toro set to direct the project. As exciting as that sounds, del Toro says “yes” to too much (I say this with love as a fellow artist) and ended up leaving production in pursuit of other projects he would probably retain more control of. Namely, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak, The Shape of Water, and Pinnochio—yes that started in 2008. After seven years of development hell, the House of Mouse enlisted Katie Dippold (Ghostbusters) as the screenwriter with Simien set to direct.

A single mom named Gabbie and her 9-year-old son, who are looking to start a new life, move into a strangely affordable mansion in New Orleans, only to discover that the place is much more than they bargained for. Desperate for help, they contact a priest, who, in turn, enlists the aid of a widowed scientist-turned-failed-paranormal expert, a French Quarter psychic, and a crotchety historian to help exorcise the mansion.

H-Town holdin’ it down

If you’ve watched Dear White People (the movie or the show) and/or Bad Hair, you are well-versed in the directors’ work. Also, he’s pretty active on TikTok. Simien frequently interacts with pop culture commentary and occasionally promotes or makes memes of his own work.

@justinsimien

Yes we made another one! And tomorrow we drop the trailer for what is assuredly the best theme park ride movie of all 3rd quarter of 2023

♬ original sound – Justin Simien

Artistry-wise, Siemen has proven himself a master at subverting audience expectations, bringing out the full range of complex emotions, and giving us shots that feel like they should be framed up on the wall. To that first point, many of his projects feature satire but lean into retrospection rather than laughs. I don’t think this often comes off unless you’ve watched the works. Many famous satirical films are marketed as satire first, but his, intentional or not, aren’t.

While greater attention to Dear White People died out after its incendiary and honestly perfect teaser trailer for season one—that one that had all the “I don’t see color” folks seething the same false equivalency of “oh but if it was called Dear Black People“—the show’s commentary on race, class, gender, and sexuality stayed razor sharp. His works don’t hold your hand or give direct answers. Additionally, Dear White People was an example of Siemen’s ability to effectively adapt work for different audiences. It was a successful film before it was a successful TV show, and the two can be watched together or separately.

Disney remakes/reboots have featured a decent cast and original setting before and had it not work out. Because Haunted Mansion is campy fun fused with the supernatural, it’s not going to please everyone. The original film didn’t. I love it, but I also see the issues with it. However, I believe that Seimens’ past work shows his ability to strike that fun balance between humor and horror. Even if it’s not for everyone.

(feature image: Disney+)


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Author
Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.