‘Haunted Mansion’ Director Breaks Silence on Guillermo del Toro’s Axed Disney Movie

in Disney, Entertainment, Movies & TV

Guillermo del Toro 'Haunted Mansion'

Credit: Inside the Magic

With the release date of Disney’s Haunted Mansion (2023) right around the corner, director Justin Simien is finally addressing Guillermo del Toro’s involvement in early iterations of the film, revealing how the legendary auteur’s vision did—or rather, didn’t—impact the final draft.

Lindsay Lamb as The Bride in Disney's HAUNTED MANSION
Credit: Disney

Related: ‘Haunted Mansion’ Slammed, Disney Faces Yet Another Flop

It’s been a long journey to the silver screen for the latest Haunted Mansion movie, which marks the studio’s third attempt at adapting the beloved Disney Parks ride after Eddie Murphy’s 2003 comedy-thriller The Haunted Mansion and the more recent Muppets Haunted Mansion (2021).

Eddie Murphy in The Haunted Mansion (2003)
Credit: Disney

Related: Disney’s ‘Haunted Mansion’ Needs Hundreds of Millions to Avoid ‘Indiana Jones’ Flop

This time, Disney is bringing out the big guns with an A-lister cast, including LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, and others. Based on what we know so far, the film will be a departure from 2003’s The Haunted Mansion, instead telling a different story about single mom Gabbie (Dawson) and her son, Travis (Chase W. Dillon) enlisting the help of various supernatural specialists after discovering their newly-purchased home is haunted by ghosts of its past.

Check out the official trailer for Walt Disney Studios’ Haunted Mansion below:

Despite earning rave reviews from critics and early viewers, Haunted Mansion has to scare up some serious numbers to be considered a box office success for Disney, who reportedly gave the film a whopping $157.8 million budget. Needless to say, it seems like the House of Mouse has the utmost confidence in director Justin Simien’s vision now, but nearly a decade prior, the studio was ready to place all their eggs in one basket with horror auteur Guillermo del Toro, who was initially tapped to direct Haunted Mansion.

For context, development started on a Haunted Mansion reboot kicked off in 2010 after less-than-positive reception to the 2003 original. Guillermo del Toro was set to pen the script and serve as the film’s producer, though things ultimately didn’t work out. Disney is rumored to have axed the project because the filmmaker’s version was “too scary” for its intended audience of children and families—something Simien has fully embraced in his take on the source material.

haunted mansion feature
Credit: Walt Disney Studios

After movement came to a halt on the Haunted Mansion reboot, nearly ten years later, it was reported that Katie Dippold had been hired to write a new screenplay for the project. Justin Simien was then brought aboard to direct in 2021 and has remained unusually silent about Guillermo del Toro’s role in early scripts—until now.

Speaking with The Direct in a recent interview, Simien addressed the upcoming Disney movie and if it holds any similarities to Guillermo del Toro’s version. Interestingly enough, he admitted that he “never got a chance to really interact with [del Toro’s] version of the movie,” confirming that the legendary horror director wasn’t involved in the final cut of Haunted Mansion:

You know, I never got a chance to really interact with Guillermo [del Toro’s] version of the movie. By the time it came to me, Katie Dippold had written a brilliant sort of adaptation way in, and I have absolutely no idea how that development process occurred.

(L-R): Rosario Dawson as Gabbie, Tiffany Haddish as Harriet, LaKeith Stanfield as Ben, and Owen Wilson as Father Kent in Disney's live-action HAUNTED MANSION
Credit: Jalen Marlowe/Disney

Simien went on to explain that he was “really adamant about the movie not pulling its punches” despite speculation that del Toro was cut from the project for making it too frightening for kids, claiming “The classic Disney movies are terrifying to this day:”

But I do know that I was really adamant about the movie not pulling its punches because the classic Disney movies don’t pull their punches. The classic Disney movies are terrifying to this day. And they’re more terrifying as you get older and recognize the existential implications of things like Donkey Kid Island and being haunted by your stepmother and your uncle killing your father. And all of these moments, you know, they make these movies sort of iconic and stay with you for your whole life when you lean into that stuff.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota in Disney's HAUNTED MANSION
Credit: Disney

After redirecting the question away from del Toro, Simien complimented the original attraction’s perfect blend of horror, humor, cuteness, and musical elements, asking the hypothetical question, “Should it be scary?” With del Toro at the helm, the answer probably would’ve been a resounding “yes,” but that might’ve not been the best move for Disney. With the brand’s friend-friendly reputation and the studio’s tendency to guide the hands of its directors, it’s safe to assume that del Toro wouldn’t have been a great fit.

While del Toro isn’t necessarily “beefing” with Disney, per se, the director has often placed emphasis on independent filmmaking and has even outdone the media conglomerate on numerous occasions. He unquestionably beat Disney at its own game with his take on Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022), which landed the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film, premiering mere months after the abysmal Tom Hanks-led Pinocchio (2022), which went straight to Disney+ with little fanfare.

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio from Netflix
Credit: Netflix

He’s also earned critical acclaim for the cult classic Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), a darker twist on a story generally geared toward younger audiences. This, The Shape of Water (2017), and even his more recent Netflix series, Cabinet of Curiosities, are all impressive feats of animation, stop-motion, and practical effects—something Disney has come under fire for in recent years thanks to its lackluster VFX and over-reliance on CGI.

It’s certainly interesting to imagine what Guillermo del Toro’s Haunted Mansion reboot would’ve looked like and if it would’ve been more successful than Justin Simien’s version. Ultimately, both are frightfully talented filmmakers, and the movie’s “success” will likely come down to how well it performs at the box office. This is Disney, after all, and numbers mean everything these days. Still, we can only hope that Simien perhaps took notes from del Toro and that the latter will maybe reconsider a collaboration with Disney somewhere down the line.

(L-R): Chase Dillon as Travis, Rosario Dawson as Gabbie, LaKeith Stanfield as Ben, Owen Wilson as Father Kent, and Tiffany Haddish as Harriet in Disney's HAUNTED MANSION.
Credit: Jalen Marlowe/Disney

Haunted Mansion arrives in theaters on July 28, 2023.

What do you think of Justin Simien’s recent remarks about Guillermo del Toro’s Haunted Mansion? Let us know in the comments below.

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