Preview: Haunted Mansion queue enhancements add effects, tributes and include unofficial story in Disney World lore

in Disney, Entertainment, Magic Kingdom, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

Much mystery has surrounded Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction since the first incarnation of the classic dark ride opened at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. in 1969. Over the years, the Mansion’s loose story has taken on a “life” of its own, with cast members and fans adding their own details in an attempt to connect the individual scenes featured inside.

Now, Disney is close to completing a new addition to The Haunted Mansion in Florida that will not only add new interactive fun features but also unite unofficial details with the official story of the ride.


UPDATE: The Haunted Mansion interactive queue soft opened to guests today, at roughly the same time this article was posted. Click here for a detailed video/photo report from inside the queue.


On a basic level, new effects being added to the newly-expanded Haunted Mansion queue include motion, water, and sound. (Spoiler alert!) When the new area soon opens, guests will hear (and perhaps catch a glimpse of) a sea captain drowning, spewing bubbles in the process. Prior to his demise, the captain will spout off a few lyrics from the old “drunken sailor” song. It’s certainly a morbid effect, but appropriate for the overall theme of the attraction.

The sea captain has been a part of Haunted Mansion lore since early concepts for the attraction first considered him as its main character. His role was eventually reduced, ultimately being featured only in one large portrait that currently hangs in Walt Disney World’s “Doom Buggy” loading area. Now he’s being (re)introduced to guests who likely have never paid attention to his existence, making him a prominent figure in the experience.


(Photo courtesy of Denise at MouseSteps.com)

In the Mansion’s finale scenes, three famous “Hitchhiking Ghosts” have been entertaining guests for decades. Unofficially, fans and cast members named these three ghosts Phineas, Ezra, and Gus. Over the years, Disney has acknowledged these unofficial names by occasionally including them on official Haunted Mansion merchandise.

Now, in a bit of “retcon” (retroactive continuity), all three names have been added to tombstones, along with a few others:


(Photos courtesy of Denise at MouseSteps.com)

Other highly-themed details added to the Mansion’s queue are cat footprints embedded in the concrete on the ground, possibly another reference to an early attraction concept for which a black cat was to be featured as a recurring character throughout the ride. Today, and since the Haunted Mansion opened, a black raven appears numerous times instead.

Elsewhere in the new crypt area, guests will find elaborate (and sometimes interactive) tombs referencing even more characters that have resided in The Haunted Mansion since its debut, including a few ghostly busts and even the graveyard band:


(Photos courtesy of Denise at MouseSteps.com)

But not all new details being added to the Mansion involve fictional characters. Many reference the real-life people who created the attraction. Prior to the new construction, engraved tombstones populated a graveyard next to the Haunted Mansion’s entrance. Each of these tombstones featured tributes to the Walt Disney Imagineers. The tombstones, which were nothing more than props, were removed during construction and have now been replaced by sturdier stone versions featuring the same inscriptions (and a few new additions).

The construction photos below, taken last week by Denise at MouseSteps.com, show the new versions of two of these classic tombstones, not yet placed back close to their original locations.

The first is the iconic “Master Gracey” tombstone, which pays tribute to Yale Gracey, one of the lead Imagineers behind The Haunted Mansion:

The second honors Imagineer Marc Davis, concept artist who essentially created the look and feel of The Haunted Mansion:

While these two (and many other) tombstones were part of the Mansion’s graveyard prior to the queue enhancements, other Imagineers and Disney Legends are also now being recognized throughout the addition. One of the new interactive elements in the queue is a pipe organ, similar to the one found in the ride’s ballroom scene. Inscribed on the organ is the name “Ravenscroft,” in honor of Thurl Ravenscroft, the lead vocalist of the singing busts in the Mansion’s interior graveyard scene.

When Walt Disney World’s Haunted Mansion last received a major update in 2007, it came in the form of enhanced effects and new scenes throughout the interior of the ride. The biggest modification to the Mansion’s overall story was the addition of Constance, the “Black Widow Bride,” creating a character that helps to link visuals seen during the journey from the initial “stretching” rooms, through the festive ballroom party, and ultimately into the attic. (Click here for a video of what the attic scene was like before the 2007 update.)

Disney’s motivation behind adding new elements to The Haunted Mansion is part of an ongoing effort to dramatically improve the experience of standing in line throughout their theme parks. Enhancements are being made attraction-by-attraction to create what Disney is calling “scene one,” offering guests entertainment and fun to help them forget that they’re waiting to get onto a ride. Disney has already added interactive elements to the queues of such popular attractions as Space Mountain, Soarin’, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh to great success and plans are to continue retrofitting additional scenic and interactive elements into additional attractions, even including the experience of meeting Mickey Mouse.

But with any change to a classic Disney attraction, these queue additions have not come without Disney fan apprehension. In the early planning years of the first Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, Walt Disney said, “We’ll take care of the outside, and let the ghosts take care of the inside.” In other words, the Mansion was intended to look well-kept and rather unassuming on its exterior, leaving the spooky sights to be revealed within. The addition of Madame Leota’s tombstone in 2001, which features the animated face of the famous disembodied seance spirit, began to abandon this notion, hinting to waiting guests what they could expect inside.

Leota’s tombstone (which even with the new additions still sits directly to the left of the attraction’s entrance) was a far more subtle change than the newly-added crypts, which prominently feature a number of other ghosts already represented inside the Mansion. Some fans wonder if revealing too much up front will ruin the surprise of seeing the ghosts inside. For instance, the organist’s new tomb outside is adorned with a row of ghostly heads which mirror the spirit heads that rise up from the organ in the attraction’s ballroom scene. Additionally, the artistic style utilized on some of the new elements, particularly the busts, has been seen by some as too “cartoony.”

However, those who look to the Mansion’s roots will find the new queue additions stay completely in line with the playful nature of the attraction. A quick glance at any Haunted Mansion concept artwork created by late Disney Legend and Imagineer Marc Davis reveals that the intention was always to populate the ride with “grim grinning ghosts,” who are simply there to “socialize” (as the attraction’s famous graveyard song lyrics go). Despite its deathly theme, The Haunted Mansion has always featured a comedic tone, combining a certain Disney quality with an obviously grim topic. It’s a “haunted” attraction filled with a joking “ghost host” narrating through scenes that include a wedding, birthday, tea party, and even a jazzy jamboree. Even the hitchhiking ghosts who “follow you home” have big grins on their faces. (And even those ghosts appear to be getting an update as well.)

It appears that today’s Walt Disney Imagineers are finding much of their inspiration for “plussing” this classic Disney attraction by looking at its history and back to those who originally created the attraction. The new queue area has not yet opened to the public but limited cast member previews took place over this past weekend produced praise for the new area, calling it high quality with a lot of attention to detail. All the new construction actually adds very little new space to the existing Haunted Mansion queue, instead creating additional elements that will enhance the overall guest experience of visiting the classic ride. When the queue expansion soon opens, the decades-old story of The Haunted Mansion will have officially been extended, bringing together unofficial fan favorite tales with gone-but-not-forgotten elements from the past, all combined with today’s technology to create a more complete guest experience.

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This sounds awesome. I can’t wait to see it. Hopefully it will open while I’m there this week!

  2. Avatar

    I’ll not mince words. This is literally the worst thing that has ever happened to any of the Mansions in their entire histories. For the first time, elements that are impossible to fit logically into the existing world of the HM are being added. Why would the ghosts that float out of the organ pipes be carved into a grave marker supposedly created years before? Why are three hitchhikers buried in the family plot (which is always what the side graveyard has been presented as)? Why are the Francis Xavier and Grandpa Marc headstones erected as if there weren’t any real bodies buried in front of them? Previous to this, you could ask any questions you liked and get an internally consistent answer, as if the world of the HM actually existed, a believable world like you would find in a good novel or good film. Now, you are not supposed to acknowledge that world by expecting logical consistency. In other words, if you wanted to appreciate the HM as art, you could, because it was. Now you are not allowed to do so.

    This is an atrocity. Shame on those who designed and approved it.

    1. Avatar

      Mark

      Lighten up Francis!

  3. Avatar

    I don’t think you realize that this is a big deal to Haunted Mansion Fans. Overall Disney fans accept this expansion with open arms because they don’t realize how perfectly coherent the attraction is.

  4. Avatar

    It has nothing to do with backstory; it has to do with the internal coherence you find in good art. If you have no interest is that aspect, that’s fine; you’ve always had the choice to enjoy it as just a funsy set of scenes and gags. The point is that now EVERYONE is forced to experience it that way, because the other way of appreciating it has been shattered.

    1. Avatar

      Not Mr. Grumpy Gills

      ‘Shattered?’ Drama queen, much? ‘Everyone’ meaning the, like, 14 people on the planet who are obsessive HM fanatics who know every version of every backstory for every character by heart? Every backstory which were largely just fan-created over the years and not exactly official anyway? Why would Disney appeal to such an exclusive group of people when the reality is that there are thousands of people that go through every day with easily-bored kids and don’t think about minute details like logical fallacies in a CHILDREN’S RIDE. It’s there for fun, not there for people to be anal about. Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeez. You can still appreciate the stories. I think of it as, when you’re outside, you’re experiencing everything after the story has been told. After the experience of the Mansion has been done. Since the Mansion is so old and so well-known, they are simply making fun little references to the characters within. Like inside-jokes for people who know what to expect. Also consider that not everyone has even ridden this ride, or knows what it contains, and this provides a fun bit of foreshadowing.

      Either way, get a grip, man, it’s just the flippin queue. It’s not like they tore up the inside and wrecked it. Disney isn’t going to withhold fun (or, you know, progress) from people just to satisfy a couple of old fogeys who totally overreact to change. As a longtime student of the arts, I understand that art must progress, it cannot simply stay the same. And I appreciate the new art Disney has given us. Saying its the worst thing they’ve EVER done? Seriously, guy? Like really. Sit and think about what a big deal this is actually not, for a second. Don’t be a Mr. Grumpy Gills. Don’t let your rather fastidious attention to minute detail ruin your love of the ride. There are inconsistencies in many things. I’m sure if you really put your mind to it you could come up with some way to make everything fit, just as the first fans did way back when…

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