‘Haunted Mansion’ Director Praises Disney Amid Backlash: “Disney More Than Anyone Understood the Power of Those Details”

in Disney, Entertainment, Movies & TV

Haunted Mansion poster, zoomed in

Credit: Disney

The Walt Disney Company might not be in everyone’s good graces at the moment, but ahead of the release of their spooktacular summer blockbuster, Haunted Mansion (2023), the film’s director is speaking out in defense of the company, even claiming they “understood” his creative process more than anyone else.

haunted mansion feature
Credit: Walt Disney Studios

Related: ‘Haunted Mansion’ Director Wants the Movie to Scare Kids

It’s a weird time to be a fan of movies and an even stranger time to be a fan of Disney, specifically. As many well know, CEO Bob Iger recently came under fire for remarks he made during an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in which he slammed striking WGA and SAG-AFTRA members for having “unrealistic demands” amid their historic labor stoppage in the fight for job security and fair wages.

Major Hollywood studios have yet to budge, but many found Iger’s comments particularly egregious, considering the controversial Disney CEO reportedly makes close to $27 million per year. At the same time, the writers and actors behind his billion-dollar shows earn mere cents in streaming residuals, if any at all.

Haunted Mansion 2023
Credit: Disney

Related: ‘Haunted Mansion’ Could Save Disney After ‘Indiana Jones 5’ Flop

The first Disney release to be impacted by the strike is director Justin Simien’s Haunted Mansion (2023), which arrives in theaters later this month. Based on the beloved Disney Parks ride of the same name, the movie features a star-studded cast from the likes of Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, and LaKeith Stanfield, all of whom were unable to attend the red carpet premiere at Disneyland Resort due to SAG-AFTRA strike restrictions.

Still, even in the midst of this tumultuous era for Disney, Haunted Mansion proved to be an unexpected home run with critics, faring generally well with early viewers who called it both “horrifying” and “hilarious.” And it looks like Justin Simien is attributing its success to the movie’s mouse-eared distributor, praising the studio for trusting in his creative vision.

Danny Devito screaming in Disney's Haunted Mansion
Credit: Disney

While speaking during the Directors on Directors’ panel at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con (via Collider), Simien opened up about the use of special effects by big-budget blockbusters, explaining that he wanted to use extensive practical effects in Haunted Mansion wherever possible.

As opposed to the more cost-effective but somewhat controversial route of using CGI, Simien revealed that Disney had no problem at all in building the entire mansion as a set, admitting that it was a “big ask” of the company. Simien added that they also used “practical in-camera effects,” which helped to capture the “magic of that ride:”

It is meticulously crafted. The details are so specific and they are everywhere. So, there were so many details… and there wasn’t a fight. I think Disney more than anyone understood the power of those details. But I’ll sum it up and say that I was really passionate about starting with practical in-camera effects, I think that’s part of the magic of that ride…It is Pepper’s Ghost and literal smoke and mirrors, and we went out there, and I was like ‘Guys, I really don’t… I want to build the mansion! I know that’s a big ask, but I want to build these interiors and I want to actually drag Tiffany Haddish in the chair through this thing.’ I don’t want everything to be just play-pretend and make-believe, and I was really excited that they let me do that.

'Haunted Mansion' cast
Credit: Disney

Considering the financial state of the Walt Disney Company, it is frankly impressive that they agreed to fully construct the haunted mansion, thus confirming their confidence in Simien’s vision and in the film. But given that the movie is based on one of the most cherished Disney Parks rides, the studio knew they had to get every last detail right.

It’s interesting to hear a director so publicly praise Disney amid the ongoing strike, with other Hollywood creatives firing back at Bob Iger in the wake of his, perhaps, ill-worded remarks. But the Director’s Guild reached desired contract negotiations with studios back in June, meaning Simien and his peers don’t have to shy away from their connections to the House of Mouse anytime soon so long as they’re behind the camera.

Gabbie and Travis in Grand Hall Ballroom scene, Haunted Mansion movie
Credit: Disney

For now, we can only wonder if Simien and Disney’s extensive efforts to build an entire practical set paid off until Haunted Mansion spooks its way into theaters later this month. But based on critics’ first reactions, it looks like we’re in for a scary good time at the movies.

Disney’s Haunted Mansion premieres in theaters on July 28, 2023.

What do you think of Justin Simien’s choice to use practical effects for Haunted Mansion? Let us know in the comments below.

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