The following insights were supplied by former Disneyland Castmember and Emmy-award winning effects whiz Steve Fink, who worked in the park's "Staff Shop" for a number of years. The "Staff Shop" is responsible for molds and sculpture throughout the park. His commentary, therefore, focuses largely on the props of the Paris version of the ride.
By Steve Fink
Chef Mayhem: As a fan of Disney's Mansion attraction, you've no doubt experienced Disneyland Paris' Phantom Manor attraction as well. How do you feel the two dark rides compare with each other?
Steve Fink: Well... I, by no means, discredit the Phantom Manor from the world of "Happy Haunts," as there's a lot of interesting and different things to experience within. But, most of the fine details which make the Haunted Mansion so special (not just the basic track and scene layout) are merely hacked through and thrown together in the Phantom Manor. Where to begin?...
This may come off pretty negative at times, but overall, as long as they don't plow over our Mansions, I think it's fine to have another version, somewhere. Well, on one hand there's a very cool exterior and cool music in the queue line, but once in the foyer, you can't help to notice the horrible cobwebbing on the chandelier and ceiling which looks like that cheesy stretched polyester Halloween stuff from the store, in poorly applied big gobs! The stretching and picture galleries are a tad different, but fine. The Doombuggy load area is probably the only scene (in my opinion, of course) which has been inproved from the original attraction. It makes more sense to have a large staircase and bannister (I do realize that as we go upward towards the corridor of doors in the original Mansion that we're supposed to be going upstairs, but I don't think that really sinks in. Do you?) ...instead of a vague black limbo-like area with a giant web and a cheesy spider.
In the Mansion, the corridor of doors hallway scene has four different types of wallpaper. In the Manor, I think they're trying to knock you over the head with the "faces and eyes" wallpaper in every section of the hall. They didn't even use the exact same print, either. They re-rendered it in a solid, perfectly symmetrical, blocky style, unlike our mansions, with slightly irregular, slightly un-symmetrical lines, like an etching. However, some of the eyes on the wallpaper in the Manor faintly glow and swipe across the wall while you're passing through. That's pretty neat! I don't mind the coffin being replaced by a piano, thats a nice spot... the music conservatory... but the corpse portraits... or lack of... being replaced by a lame wedding certificate with horrible calligraphy, and a few boring "period" photos of people (must be the groom and bride) just don't make it for me. Not to mention the corny skeleton hands sticking out from the edges of the doors... This is my favorite part of the Haunted Mansion, so I'm possibly a little over-critical.
Moving on, next to most of the figures, the worst looking thing is the "occult clock." It's similar to ours, yet horrible! ...particularly the pendulum. Why they resculpted the pendulum, I can't guess. It's much shorter, and, well, awful looking. The outer shell of the clock is the same, yet painted light blue and grey...? Inside the pendulum box, it's lined with bright red velvet. What were they thinking?
I've never been crazy for the seance room, but I found the Manor's to be very interesting, aside from the everpresent overly-done cobwebs and griffin statues. Instead of floating musical instruments, they have pillars and drapes (pulled back to reveal dark, rumbling, ominous storm-clouds moving along). A very nice effect. However, Madame Leota looks worse than ever! The face seems more smooth from the side, and the projection is misaligned.
My other favorite scene is the grand hall ballroom. I had no problems with this version, though there was a strange, spotted yellow light (glow) on the waltzing dancers that I didn't understand. But it was fine, I suppose. I actually like the bride's boudoir scene. No complaints aside from the plastic mannequin look the bride figures have.
Onto the graveyard and "Phantom Canyon" ghost town, which shows just about the worst things the attraction has... the figures. They look really bad! Some more than others, but the phantom should be "killer," if you'll pardon the expression, which he's not. He has no sense of a creative style; he's not even anatomically correct! Just look at his face. He can't compare to anything in the Mansion, certainly not the Hitchhiking Ghosts or the Hatbox Ghost!!! I won't even mention the hell hound!...
I like the concept of going down into the ground and under the graveyard, but the reality leaves everything to be desired. The catacomb walls are all brightly painted, as are most of the "tissue and latex" style rotted corpses. No style or creativity with these characters... just dressed up skeletons.Once into the "Phantom Canyon" ghost town, it seems that someone wanted to be creative, but just look at what they did... a saloon and a shootout? ... (with more mannequins just painted silver, literally!), a drugstore chemist...?, the Mayor tipping his hat... er, ah, head to welcome us (actually a decent gag, though even he looks horrible)... One of the few or only cool things here is the use of re-edited Paul Frees' (the voice of the Mansion's Ghost Host -CM) dialogue for the mayor, and, of course, the Phantom Five (cut to four) singing busts are always cool, too. Unfortunately, it all goes by so fast, in maybe half the time (and distance) of the Mansion graveyard, so it's hard to really see what's going on.
Finally, we see the Phantom, now with his just cleaned and carefully razored outfit, laughing at us (possibly for taking the trip all the way to Paris to see him... just kidding, I loved Disneyland Paris.) The wine cellar/doombuggy exit is neat, though, and I must say that for the "Hitchhiking Ghost" mirror gag, the (hatless) Phantom figure on top of the buggies looks really good! What happened to the rest of them? The Boot Hill graveyard, just after you exit the attraction, is a nice, fun little touch, too. Sorry to rip on the Phantom Manor, But once I get going, it's hard to stop. I do really like the musical score, orchestrated by John Debney, though.