Hey! Hallie here!
I can already tell this post is going to be slightly controversial. I love The Haunted Mansion. It’s one of my favorite rides in all of the Disney parks. I’m definitely not alone in this opinion, either. The Haunted Mansion has one of the largest fan followings of any ride in the parks. But as much as we all love the ride, It’s kind of a mess. The Imagineers couldn’t really decide on what direction to go with the ride, let alone a complete story, and it shows. Phantom Manor doesn’t really have this issue. It has a clear direction and the storyline has only strengthened over the years. With that in mind, let’s go over exactly what makes Phantom Manor a little less messy and a little more interesting than The Haunted Mansion.
- The Characters. While both Haunted Mansion and Phantom Manor share some characters, like Madame Leota, Phantom Manor has two specific characters that pull all of the haunts together into one story. These characters are Melanie Ravenswood and her father, Henry Ravenswood. Henry Ravenswood is better known by park guests as The Phantom. Henry Ravenswood, who gained the manor by striking gold in Big Thunder Mountain, began to become protective of Melanie once she began to attract suitors. Mysteriously, all of those suitors met grisly ends after expressing any sort of desire to marry Melanie. Eventually, Melanie became engaged to a man who planned to take her away from the small area where she had lived for her entire life. Before Henry could stop this wedding from happening, he died in an earthquake. Unfortunately, dying didn’t stop Henry, now The Phantom, from luring Melanie’s fiancé to the attic and hanging him from the rafters. On Melanie’s wedding day. Melanie is seen still waiting in her wedding dress for her fiancé when guests come to visit. The Phantom has also taken over the manor since Melanie lost her mind, inviting his ghostly friends to an eternal celebration. These two characters have an interesting storyline that involves the entire ride. Their existence prevents the ride from feeling like a mess of different ideas by giving guests one complete idea they can immerse themselves in.
2. Ride execution. A good backstory is fine, but the ride needs to stick to the idea if anyone’s going to come out of the ride knowing what the story was. Phantom Manor leaves none of the backstory out of the ride. In fact, a recent update to the ride added more obvious references to the story of Henry and Melanie Ravenswood. While some of the updates are better than others, it can’t be denied that Phantom Manor does an excellent job of communicating it’s story. Guests now get an entire segment with a portrait of Henry and Melanie first looking somber and worn, before the portrait turns to an older but much happier picture of the pair. Instead of the hanged man in the Stretching Room that can be seen in most variations of The Haunted Mansion, The Phantom can be seen hovering above guests with a noose in hand. (Before this the hanged man was implied to be the hanged groom, so this change confuses me.) When boarding, guests walk up to the main stairway where Melanie can be seen gazing out the window, waiting for her fiancé. Throughout the ride we can see Melanie mourning in her wedding dress while The Phantom lurks behind. Regular haunts we usually see in The Haunted Mansion prepare for a wedding celebration. At the end of the ride all of the coffins holding Melanie’s suitors can be seen. One singular skeleton hand reaches out of one of the coffins holding a wedding ring. Many of these are new additions to the ride, but even before these The Phantom was lurking behind Melanie as she mourned in her wedding dress, a much older woman than she appeared in photos guests could see of her in line.
3. The Ghost Host. I mentioned the lack of story for the Ghost Host in my last post. He’s been mistaken for Master Gracey but he has also been confirmed not to be. He seems to be in charge but all of the comics portray Madame Leota as being in charge. In Phantom Manor the identity of the Ghost Host is simple. The Phantom is the Ghost Host. He says many of the same lines, but considering The Phantom is trying to steal your soul throughout the entire ride, It ends up being a bit more menacing. The voice of The Phantom also changes a lot about the Ghost Host. The voice is Vincent Price. THAT Vincent Price. It’s impossible not to be intimidated by Vincent Price. The Ghost Host’s voice in Haunted Mansion is still very good, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something that feels much more chilling and personal about how The Phantom is interacting with guests in Phantom Manor.
4. The Earthquake of 1860. Remember the earthquake Henry Ravenwood died in? That earthquake is insanely important to Phantom Manor. All of the haunts that inhabit the manor were casualties of the earthquake. Not only does this give a reason for all the haunts to be there, but it adds a disturbing explanation for the last portion of the ride. The last part of the ride, like The Haunted Mansion, takes you out of the building and into the grounds outside of the manor. Except this area looks like a once inhabited town that has been completely destroyed. It’s here that the haunts The Phantom invited are having their celebration. While there are bright colors and very joyful looking ghosts, the setting won’t let you forget the dark reason for their appearance.
I love The Haunted Mansion, and I can’t say I like Phantom Manor more than one of my favorite rides since I was a kid. I haven’t even visited Disneyland Paris. But it’s hard not to wish that The Haunted Mansion was a little bit less of a mess when a huge story like Phantom Manor’s exists. Plus, the music for Phantom Manor is gorgeous. If you’ve ridden Haunted Mansion Holiday you’ve heard the music before. The music box piece that plays in the line for Haunted Mansion during the holiday seasons is from the Phantom Manor soundtrack. I will evidently take any opportunity I can to gush about this music. Anyway. There’s something hauntingly beautiful about the depth of Phantom Manor’s story. Maybe one day Haunted Mansion will be able to reach a similar depth.
Don’t do anything fun until I get back!