The Haunted Mansion

Year: 2004
Studio: Disney
Director: Rob Minkoff
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Jennifer Tilly, Nathaniel Parker, Heather Juergensen
The continuing story of Eddie Murphy; The Sequel. It's hard to believe he was once the hottest action/comedy actor on Earth after being plucked from TV comedy obscurity by legendary producers Simpson and Bruckheimer and storming the box office with Beverly Hills Cop and its sequels and legacies in the loudmouthed, fast talking hero who knows his way around a car chase or gun battle.

By the time Beverly Hills Cop 3 had rolled around, Murphy was scraping the bottom of the barrel with his comic shtick in failed projects like Vampire in Brooklyn and The Distinguished Gentleman and looked like he was headed for the has-been Hollywood scrap heap.

Two men saved him; a doctor who could talk to animals and an overweight but lovable scientists who discovered a miracle weight loss formula. Dr Dolittle, The Nutty Professor and their sequels realigned Murphy's appeal predominantly to the child and tween market, and following his association with the Shrek franchise as well as quite blatant kids movies like Daddy Day Care, he's a major player again. In fact, it's when he tries to return to his Axel Foley persona that he invariably falls down nowadays (as in Life and Metro).

So he was the perfect choice for Disney's third attempt at their new golden egg-laying goose; movies based on their theme park rides (movies based on video games are just so 20th century). Hoping they're sitting on a fortune in their own intellectual property, expect movies about Space Mountain and the Swiss Family Treehouse any time soon.

They're also hoping The Haunted Mansion will emulate the stunning success of Pirates of the Caribbean rather than the dismal performance of Country Bears.

But while it's entertaining, it's unlikely to light the same box office fire as Pirates. Based on the ghost train ride set deep in the New Orleans swamp, the movie features a family led by real estate agents Jim Evers (Murphy) and his wife and business partner Sara (Thomason), accompanied by their two kids.

Setting up a tiresome Dad-has-to-not-work-all-the-time-and-appreciate-his-family premise we've seen as many times as there have been Disney movies, the family make the one detour they shouldn't have; agreeing to value a run down mansion in the stormy jungles of Louisiana on their way to a family weekend away.

Received by the corpse-like butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp, giving nothing away but probably having great fun), they meet the mysterious master of the house, Gracey (Parker), are informed that the storm has cut off the road and shown to rooms for the night before things start getting strange.

Inspired by the images and atmosphere from the ride, director Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little) enjoys himself with gleeful abandon, throwing some inventive and funny sequences and characters at us as the story unfolds; the spirits trapped at the house have to break a curse involving their master, his long lost lover and the deathly butler.

Like Pirates of the Caribbean, the PG rating is deceiving, and let really young kids talk you into taking them with caution. Any sensitive kid under 10 is likely to have nightmares about some scenes, such as one of Evers and his daughter searching for the key that will secure their escape while a tomb full of dead bodies come to life around them, scrambling out of their coffins and shambling mindlessly toward their prey.

The Haunted Mansion doesn't have the elusive quality Pirates captured perfectly (maybe Johnny Depp's priceless performance is the only difference, and Murphy is too used to playing predictable buttoned-down dads nowadays) and it's unlikely to do quite as well, but give it a go if you're in the mood for some harmless laughs and can stomach a tried-and-tested Disney formula and characters.

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