Finding Ghosts at Disneyland Paris
European Romance and Tragedy add to the Haunted Mansion Mythology
Disney presently has four dark rides based on the original design of the Haunted Mansion attraction. There are three Haunted Mansions (one each in Disneyland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, and Tokyo Disneyland), and there is Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris, which opened on April 12, 1992. This section of Doombuggies.com focuses on Phantom Manor, which is based on the same ride layout and musical theme as the other Haunted Mansion attractions.
Explore the Wild West of Frontierland
The architecture of Phantom Manor may well owe a debt to Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," as the home resembles the house of Norman Bates, but it also owes a debt to the architecture of Virginia City, Nevada (notably, an old schoolhouse still standing today.) Virginia City was used by the Imagineers as inspiration for Frontierland.
Avoiding a Culture Clash
The first notable distiction between the Phantom Manor and Haunted Mansion is the name. The change in title was a simple decision: since Disneyland Paris attracts guests of many nationalities, a name that was easily translated was desirable. The words "Phantom Manor" are essentially the same in appearance and meaning in both English and French, so the name change made sense.
The Haunted Mansions and Phantom Manor also differ in architecture. Located in Frontierland, Phantom Manor has an "old west" atmosphere, with a "Boot Hill" cemetery adjacent the rickety towering house on a hill, which is surrounded by eroded and dilapidated stone work and landscaping. The sense that the house once held great beauty but has since fallen into decay is evident in the decoration of the facade, and the theme that runs through the entire attraction. The concept of a run-down, haunted house out of the old west might seem to be at odds with the grand and opulent architecture of the other Disney parks, but it was determined that in Europe, old opulent Mansions and castles might seem run-of-the-mill, and a building that represented something foreign might offer an eerier experience.
But isn't this contrary to Walt's decree that his parks would remain pristine? At first glimpse, perhaps. But audience expectations change over time. A dilapidated structure in a Disney theme park is assumed to be so because of set dressing, as the parks' reputations for beauty are cemented in the public consciousness. Indeed, the European park's "wild west" theming requires a stereotypical ghost town appearance to begin the story. The ragged facade of Phantom Manor is essential to the show.
If the Phantom Manor facade was dressed up and had a full-on cleaning service for the structure, it just wouldn't work or feel like a ghost town. Disney knows what they're doing in terms of design.
Tales from the Old West: Frontierland's Phantom Manor
One fact is beyond debate: Disneyland Paris' spook house has a modern artistic flair that gives it a lush, romantic atmosphere that the other Disney Haunted Mansions don't even aspire to. While the Mansions essentially take the "jump 'n' boo" dark ride to an extreme, giving a fun house concept a facelift to the Nth power, Phantom Manor goes a step in a different direction, bringing a cohesive storyline to the table. This story of love lost gives the Manor an eerie passion, where the Mansion would possess an eerie kookiness. Both, of course, remain valid premises, though both may appeal to different personalities in differing ways. For example, the Manor's soundtrack maintains the original theme created by Buddy Baker in '69, though it has been completely reworked by John Debney for a modern, cinematic effect. Where the Mansion relies on a solo organ line or '60s jazz-pop swing, the Manor has a full orchestra throughout.
Interestingly, the Haunted Mansion seems to attempt to contain the soundtrack to music which is feasibly physically occuring (a ballroom organ, a graveyard band, floating instruments, etc.), while Phantom Manor makes no such pretense, assuming the audience will just accept the surrounding orchestration, much as we do in a movie. You can hear some of this orchestration in the media section.
In the video to the right, Tony Baxter, who led the creative team in developing Disneyland Paris, talks about the difficulties in transporting an attraction to a theme park designed to be a multicultural destination - specifically in the area of language and storytelling.
Visuals Tell a Somber Tale
The art on the walls also takes a different direction in the Manor, when compared to the Haunted Mansions. Most of the effects have been themed to support the sad story of a bride and her vanished groom. For example, Marc Davis' wonderful stretching portraits from the gallery in the Mansions have been recreated and repainted by Julie Svendsen, creating rather morbid scenarios from the presumed bride's past. (The stretching portraits [pictured above] are images that, when first viewed, show tranquil, harmonic scenes featuring the bride, but stretch in front of the viewer to finally describe eerie, awful situations.)
The bride appears throughout the attraction, gradually aging as the Phantom pursues her, until she finally finds release in death at the ride's conclusion. This bride (commonly known as "Melanie Ravenswood," according to hints left behind at the Manor) plays a large role in Phantom Manor, in a manner that had been considered early in the first Mansion's development, and was discarded in favor of a less-specific storyline. However, the "re-imagining" of the Haunted Mansion for Disneyland Paris has caused some tension among fans of the original ride.
This is likely because Disney took the successful product of many creative minds and altered it, essentially "improving" an artistic endeavour that many people already considered a "classic." While DoomBuggies.com chooses to focus on the differences between the two attractions, celebrating the creativity of both, there are two sides to any story, as the following exchange reported by DoomBuggies.com fan Scott Walden demonstrates:
"I was fortunate to go to Disneyland a few years ago and attend a brunch at the Disney Gallery with legendary Imagineers Ward Kimball and Marc Davis. The really cool thing about this brunch was that we were able to talk to both of these legends about anything. Through our conversation with Marc and Alice, his wife, they were telling us how much they disliked Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris. They said that they thought it was too "dark" and that they lost the original concept that Marc had always wanted. They felt that Walt would have never approved such an "adult" version of the attraction."
On the following page, a number of critics will report on the differences between the Haunted Mansion and Phantom Manor, and you can draw your own conclusions about the differences.
Haunted Attraction #27
This in-depth article explores the genesis of Phantom Manor, stretching back to the mid-eighties, when Tony Baxter and his team from WDI received the assignment of designing the Disney's first European amusement park (at the time called Euro Disneyland.) Instead of simply copying the American attractions as had been done for the Tokyo park, Disney wanted to rethink the concepts that were to be translated into the new park. Technological advances and the different sensibilities of time and cultures were key causes for this. Read David Goebel's informative history of the Manor to learn more. Click here to read the article.