Walt Disney World has added Hatbox Ghost to Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom, which has been a controversial change with many diehard fans. This post covers where the new Audio Animatronics happy haunt materialized and our commentary about the addition to the iconic attraction. (Updated December 1, 2023.)
You might recall that Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro originally announced that the Hatbox Ghost would be added to Magic Kingdom back at the D23 Expo in September of last year. At the time, the announcement was brief: “Foolish mortals, prepare yourselves for a new happy haunt at the Haunted Mansion. The Hatbox Ghost has heard your calls and will materialize next year.”
Since then, not much has been shared. During the “Halfway to Halloween” festivities back in April, there was a teaser on TikTok featuring a video of the Hatbox Ghost Audio Animatronics figure, but presumably the one that already exists at Disneyland. This is the first substantive update on the AA since the initial announcement.
December 1, 2023 Update: Hatbox Ghost materialized overnight, thus fulfilling Walt Disney World’s promise to install the Audio Animatronics figure before the end of November. We haven’t see the AA in person yet, so we’ll withhold final judgment until then, but the photos and video we have seen look…not great!
Beyond all of the other issues that are discussed below, the staging of Hatbox Ghost is shoehorned and jarring. The Endless Hallway and area around it is warm, whereas Hatbox Ghost has cool lighting–and these two contrasting focal points appear right next to one another, competing for attention and doing no favors to one another.
When previously discussing the addition, Imagineer Daniel Joseph indicated that Hatbox Ghost is materializing whenever and wherever he wants in Haunted Mansion, because he is not actually a ‘happy haunt.’ Joseph also stated that since Hatbox Ghost was always intended to appear in the Haunted Mansion, he was counted in the original 999 ghosts and is not number one-thousand. (This is likely an indirect attempt to address concerns about the placement of the character by diehard Haunted Mansion fans.)
Our guess is that the justification–both to add Hatbox Ghost to Haunted Mansion at this point and the character’s story justification for existing–was premised on the 2023 movie. However, that bombed at the box office and has already been quickly forgotten, whereas this Audio Animatronics figure will likely be around for decades to come.
The Hatbox Ghost appears to guests as they pass the Endless Hallway, welcoming himself inside from the swinging wake in the cemetery and grinning at the Doom Buggies as they set off deeper into the mansion. The commentary that follows goes into the story and continuity issues with this placement…
Frankly, we’re a bit shocked by the timeline for Hatbox Ghost at Magic Kingdom. Disney’s Haunted Mansion movie hit theaters back on July 28 and featured Jared Leto as the Hatbox Ghost. After that, there was Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the Halloween season, which ran from mid-August until early November.
If you asked me earlier this year to choose two dates by which the Hatbox Ghost would be added at Magic Kingdom, those would’ve been my picks. However, as we’ve said repeatedly in reaction to Encanto still not having a permanent park presence at Walt Disney World, this company is not actually as good at synergy as many fans believe. So instead, Hatbox Ghost arrived halfway through the holiday season.
In terms of commentary, the other surprise is the location of Hatbox Ghost in Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom. The Audio Animatronics figure does not appear in the same spot as at Disneyland. In the New Orleans Square version of the attraction, Hatbox Ghost appears following the end of the attic scene after the Bride.
The figure is slightly shoehorned in even there, but it makes sense and more or less works. If you didn’t know Hatbox Ghost was added in 2015, you’d probably never question the placement. Hatbox Ghost fits with the flow of the attraction and fills some dead space at Disneyland.
That’s more or less the spot where the character was originally intended to go, and makes sense from both a story and gag perspective (people used to accumulate hatboxes in their attics).
At Walt Disney World, the Hatbox Ghost appears as guests pass the Endless Hallway. This is much earlier in the ride, where guests see a candelabra floating in a never-ending hallway (hence the name). Outside the Endless Hallway, there’s an armor suit on one side and now Hatbox Ghost on the other side. (He replaces the fan-favorite Donald Duck chair, which has moved to an earlier scene in the library.)
It’s our understanding that Imagineering had originally wanted to put Hatbox Ghost in the attic scene at Magic Kingdom, but there wasn’t sufficient support infrastructure, and installing the Audio Animatronics figure there would’ve necessitated a lot more work. So rather than abandoning the plan completely, they moved the AA to the Endless Hallway.
This means Hatbox Ghost will appear before Madame Leota’s Séance Circle, and the narration indicating that the “happy haunts have received your sympathetic vibrations and are beginning to materialize. They’re assembling for a swinging wake…”
The placement of Hatbox Ghost in Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom is thus controversial with a lot of diehard Disney fans. He’s now the first ghost to appear in the attraction, and comes before Madame Leota has summoned them. Prior to this point in the attraction, there’s the casket–but that’s technically a corpse and not a ghost.
Honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve dug deep into the lore of the Haunted Mansion (obligatory plug for the excellent Boundless Realm), but I think this contradicts the story of the attraction. With that said, a lot has been modified over the years, with fan theories becoming canon, other ‘rules’ being retconned, etc.
Basically, what I’m saying is that I don’t think this is an acceptable placement for the Hatbox Ghost. And, if it is acceptable, by what standards? 1969? 2007? 2023?
For me, it comes down to a smell test more than anything else. When I think about it, the placement strikes me as slightly odd–the logical progression of Haunted Mansion seems to suggest that a ghost shouldn’t appear prior to Madame Leota’s Séance Circle. With that said, perhaps there’s a compelling story or historical reason for this, of which I am unaware.
Moreover, that’s what I’m thinking while sitting at home. I’m honestly not analytically scrutinizing or dissecting Haunted Mansion while riding it. From my perspective as a guest, the attraction is more a series of vignettes, and there are multiple points at which ominous or foreboding imagery protends of something to come.
Hatbox Ghost could pass muster as that, especially if were added in a similar spirit as the eponymous character from Phantom Manor. (But that might present its own problems, with Hatbox Ghost suddenly appearing and dominating the story.)
To be clear, none of this is to say that Haunted Mansion should be a total free-for-all, with story and history both being meaningless because the attraction is all about vibes. To the contrary, I have more reverence for Haunted Mansion than any other attraction, and believe that it is, to this day, the pinnacle of Imagineering. (Right up there with Pirates of the Caribbean.)
Consequently, every change should be done carefully and it’s all well worthy of scrutiny. Haunted Mansion is a work of art, not just mindless theme park escapism. Treating Haunted Mansion with respect and reverence is not the same as being a Dino-Rama disciple.
If you don’t care about any of this, fine; that’s your prerogative. But this type of thing does matter and isn’t simply a matter of diehard dorks taking theme parks too seriously. You’re probably a fan in the first place because someone took all this stuff so seriously when creating it.
Ultimately, what I am suggesting is that the story and history of Haunted Mansion do matter. The placement of Hatbox Ghost strikes me as off, and the execution of the final AA didn’t do any favors to the initial controversy. With that said, I’ve been around the block a few times with Haunted Mansion changes, and still vaguely remember the backlash followed by the “well, actually…” in response to the 2007 reimagining.
All I can say with certainty is that Hatbox Ghost appearing that early strikes me as suboptimal placement when thinking about it now, but will probably strike me as something ‘cool and new’ while riding. Given how starved Walt Disney World fans are for even the smallest enhancements, I’m guessing this will be pretty well received and most guests won’t give a second thought to the placement or the awkward lighting at first–they’ll just be happy to have something new.
So perhaps the best “compromise” of all is to let Hatbox Ghost hang out inside Haunted Mansion for a few years, give everyone a chance to see him, and then evict him from the Endless Hallway during the next refurbishment. Haunted Mansion should definitely continue to evolve and receive reimaginings, but they also need to stick to the spirit of the original story and attraction.
What are your thoughts on Hatbox Ghost finally joining Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World? Disappointed by the long delay between announcement and installation? Thoughts on the placement of the Audio Animatronics at Magic Kingdom vs. Disneyland? Any insight into whether this breaks any ‘rules’ or lore for Haunted Mansion? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!