Foreboding Phantom Manor Photos & Refurbishment Wish List
This post is an excuse to do two things: share some of my (I think) cooler Phantom Manor photos that I haven’t posted, and also share my thoughts and hopes for the upcoming refurbishment of this classic Disneyland Paris attraction. If you’ve never experience this attraction (and don’t mind spoilers), a good place to start before reading this is our Phantom Manor Photo Tour & Review, written after our first trip to France.
Suffice to say, I’m a fairly big fan of Phantom Manor (most individual attractions don’t have a single blog post devoted to them, much less two). I’m also pretty enthusiastic about this 9-month refurbishment. While Phantom Manor is a great attraction and a worthwhile twist on the Haunted Mansion concept, I think there’s a lot of room for improvement.
This optimism is rare for me. When it comes to tinkering with classic attractions (and Phantom Manor is a classic), I err on the side of leaving well enough alone. I’m not a fan of adding IP to Pirates of the Caribbean, I think Haunted Mansion changes have been hit or miss, and other dark rides have fared even worse. From my perspective, about the only unequivocal upgrades have occurred to roller coasters. However, short of swapping out the Phantom for an Eddie Murphy Audio Animatronics figure, I see very little potential downside here…
During our first trip to Disneyland Paris, I became rapt with the Thunder Mesa backstory, and how that tied to Phantom Manor. I criticize unnecessarily convoluted backstory here on the blog a decent amount, but I find this backstory enhances the land, rather than being lipstick on a pig or pointless exposition.
However, after repeat visits, I think some of the brilliant story that exists for Phantom Manor is not fully-conveyed in the attraction. This is likely because it’s presented in the same style as Haunted Mansion, as a series of disconnected vignettes, despite there being some semblance of a narrative. Phantom Manor exists in a state of purgatory, of sorts: more than vignettes, less than cogently-flowing plot.
To me, the intent seems clear, and that is for an actual story, and not just an ex post facto backstory tacked onto a variation of Haunted Mansion. If this were not the intent, why feature Melanie (bride) as the protagonist and the Phantom as the antagonist? That’s a departure from the traditional Haunted Mansions, where the guest is the protagonist and is experiencing the scenes firsthand, rather than as a passive observer.
In its defense, Phantom Manor is an impressionistic attraction, like Haunted Mansion, despite the presence of a character-driven story. Part of why it works and what works about it are its hallucinatory visuals, and the shiver these can send down your spine. The attraction has a bit of 1990s trippiness to it, and I actually think this is what works–I wouldn’t change a thing about that.
Where I think Phantom Manor can be strengthened from a story perspective are the areas of the attraction that simply replicate iconic scenes from Haunted Mansion.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Haunted Mansion, and some nods to it and visual gags work here, too. Others are superfluous, adding nothing to either the mood or story of the attraction.
From my perspective, those could be replaced entirely or supplemented with visuals that pertain to the Ravenswoods (perhaps pulling elements from the original story of Phantom Manor?).
I know it might be heresy to some Disney fans to suggest removing iconic scenes based upon Haunted Mansion, but the reality is that this is not Haunted Mansion. In fact, I’d content that those iconic elements are the weakest aspects of Phantom Manor, and would not have risen to ‘iconic’ status were this the only the version of the attraction.
Additionally, I think the characters in Phantom Manor are weak in terms of design. To put it simply, these characters have no character. One of the strengths of Marc Davis’ character design is that Audio Animatronics came alive via their caricatured expressions, and even those who only made fleeting appearances in attractions could leave a lasting impression.
By contrast, the characters in Phantom Manor are lifeless, devoid of any personality that makes you feel invested in their narrative. This presents a problem, as Phantom Manor is actually attempted to tell the story of these characters, so it’d definitely work better if guests cared about them.
In fairness, the vibe in Phantom Manor is less-focused (or not at all) on humor, so obviously a different style than Haunted Mansion is necessary. However, this does not mean the characters should be entirely devoid of emotion.
The Phantom is the most noteworthy in this regard to me; his design morphs a bit throughout the experience, yet he never has anything more than ‘generic ghoul’ face. I feel like I could buy his head at a Party City. For all of the great work Imagineers have done in crafting unique and emotive figures, the Phantom feels like a failure in this regard.
The Phantom’s success lies in his dialogue, the chilling Vincent Price laugh, and the ominous impressions of him throughout the attraction. These things are enough to make the Phantom one of Disney’s better original park characters, but his visual expressions could really take him to the next level.
Then again, the Phantom has over 25 years of history by this point, so perhaps the ship has sailed on redefining his look?
Personally, I don’t think so. If the Imagineers redid the Phantom’s face (I’d redo Melanie’s, too) to convey personality, while leaving his attire unchanged, I think that would be well-received.
The real question is whether Disneyland Paris and the Imagineers want to tinker with Phantom Manor and invest a lot of money into it.
My guess is no, and what we’re more likely to get is something akin to the recent Pirates of the Caribbean: a flashy new scene with whizzbang technology that will garner buzz on social media and among guests. Personally, I do not think more impressive special effects is what’s needed in Phantom Manor, but I can understand going that direction from a marketing perspective. Regardless of what happens during the refurbishment, I hope Phantom Manor emerges as an even better attraction out the other end. Disneyland Paris has done a good job of plussing its all-stars in the last few years, and I’d expect the same from this refurbishment.
For the basics of planning a visit to Disneyland Paris, check out our Disneyland Paris Trip Planning Guide. Want to see more photos or read about Disneyland Paris in agonizing detail? Check out our Disneyland Paris 20th Anniversary Trip Report or our Disneyland Paris 25th Anniversary Trip Recap!
If you’ve visited Disneyland Paris, what’s your take on Phantom Manor? Would you like to see anything changed during the upcoming refurbishment, or just have the place ‘spruced up a bit’? Anything with which you disagree in this post? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!
I would love to see more of Elizabeth and Ramsley and more ghosts
You echoed my thoughts nearly perfectly. I love that this attraction strove to be different and darker than the other stateside Haunted Mansions, and in some ways more true to the original idea, when it was designed as a walkthrough attraction, which featured a narrative about a sea captain and his wife, who had a tortured relationship in life and death. But it does indeed feel like it’s trying to tell a coherent story, and failing completely. And many of the animatronics, particularly the lady, are not interesting, design-wise, and often don’t even look like ghosts – aside from sometimes being more gruesome, they just don’t have the personality or class of the designs in the U.S. After watching a interview with the people who came up with the new “storyline”, it’s clear that they had some interesting ideas, but really had no idea how to tie them together or make a coherent narrative.
I’m really hoping that a more special, spectral version of the bride appears, with a more focused narrative at least hinting more strongly what happened to her, what her relationship is to the phantom (what happened to her betrothed? Her father?), and, ideally, a reckoning at the end of the ride, as was planned for Disneyland, where the bride has her revenge on the Phantom and/or saves the guests from him.
PM was my favourite ride for a long time, but i need something new on it, when I rode the last years always make sudden stops and some animatronics doesn’t work like the barking dog or the tall skelleton near the end..
For me, the ride needs some new effects like projections or something more “interactive” with the riders, some smoke or air effects, a fire with a sensitive hot air.. When you rode ratatouie and later go to PH is like to much “only see” and needs more “feels” to be better than now.
About the darkness, in WDWorld I see the HMansion more dark than PManor and when you enter from the sunny outside its impossible to see anything.
Last septembet I visited DLCalifornia just the days the HMansion was closed for the halloween makeup! too bad. 🙁
*great for Paris to do the halloween version!
Oh and the syncing on the mirrors at the end (with the skeleton/ghost hitching a ride) was embarrassingly out of sync too. That shouldn’t be hard to fix, or even update with the more dynamic head morphing/switching that exists in the WDW version, should just be a case of copying the software across.
Really hope they get rid of the piano playing shadow… it’s such a bad effect and it takes up a whole area! I managed to get on phantom manor the day before it closed and that was the thing that glaringly stood out to me, that and the poor lighting particularly in the door knockers bit and the elevator. An updated madame leota eg one that floats like in WDW would be very nice too, and they really need to recalibrate the face projections too for the singing bust and madame leota, and fix up the ghost poker thing, that always looks kinda bad (when I rode it the animation wasn’t even playing) and always seems out of place with the animatronics in the thunder mesa scene.
Tom, your pics of Phantom Manor are gorgeous! I loved PM (got the T-shirt to flaunt it) and made my husband ride it repeatedly with me. I agree with other comments that some sections of the ride were too dark and we couldn’t even make out any details on some animals/characters. I don’t think that was intentional so hopefully, the refurb will remedy that. I also rode this without any prior knowledge of the story and i gotta say, the story is NOT clearly conveyed (my husband agreed with me on that, as we discussed it while waiting in line over and over :D). When we reached the crying bride staring at herself in the mirror, he asked: why’s she crying exactly? LOL! Can’t wait for your post-refurb impressions.
I hope they upgrade this attraction: sights and sounds. Went to DLRP expecting to love this park, this ride. We sadly did not. That said, we appreciated much about Main Street, the Castle, the dragon underneath. This park is gorgeous! But alas, the hype killed it. Not even BTMRR was awesome (it has since gone under a massive refurb so I am looking forward to trying it again! But not another Xmas! We’ll try for April in and around Paris. 😉 This ride had way too much happening, never understood it after riding repeatedly, noted the drop ceiling to the point of distraction, and can still hear the bird “caw caw” repeatedly in my head; this sound byte happened far too much – you said it – attached to a flat character.
Here’s to the upgrade making this attraction brilliant! Cant wait!!
I think for the 90% (?) of guests who don’t have the HM context while experiencing Phantom Manor, the HM references wouldn’t stand out at all. It’s only those of us who combine a familiar experience with an unfamiliar one who would find it jarring.
I’d like them to rethink the lighting; to me it was simply too dark in the stretching room, the corridor of doors, and the attic. I couldn’t tell if it was intentional or if it was an attempt to hide poor maintenance.
I agree that pulling some of the Mansion elements out of the ride would be beneficial. In particular, the ghost host recycled dialogue in the final scene really pulled me out of the experience. I felt that every time I would start to connect with the unique elements, a HM reference would appear and pull me out of it again.
When exactly is the refurbishment starting? I may be going to Paris in January and would hate to miss seeing the attraction.
We were on Phantom Manor last month – its our favourite ride – but we were really surprised by how dark and gloomy it was, to the point where it was difficult to make out some of the scenes. While I’d be all for adding more to the plot, some basic maintenance is definitely in order. Its still a fantastic ride though. I love the strength of the plot in Frontierland, and I’d definitely be in favour of making it more of a centrepiece in Phantom Manor
Agree wholeheartedly. I adore Phantom Manor and find myself very nervous about this upgrade, though with the amount of times we have been evac’d from the ride it clearly needs help.
One item on my wishlist would be to get rid of the singing busts. Their jolly song is such a sharp shock to the flow of the ride – they add nothing. I doubt I’ll get that lucky however!
I agree about the singing busts. I get why they were included, it would be “heresy” not to include such a classic Haunted Mansion element, but their tone doesn’t really match the scene or the rest of the attraction. I wish they would have committed a bit more to the darker and surreal tone.
My biggest hope would be that the audio systems get upgraded to provide the fullest possible sound. The musical score is so epic that it would be great to be swept away in a soundscape that truly envelops the riders.
I kind of wish that Phantom Manor would have committed more fully to be its own thing (like David S. Pumpkins) much in the way Mystic Manor went its own direction with the idea of a “haunted house”. I certainly understand the want to bring the many classic and familiar elements of the stateside Haunted Mansions but it would have been neat to push the mood and surreal vibe a bit further in a unique direction.
LOL. Just chiming in for a cyber hi-five on the David Pumpkins comment 😀
Do you by chance know when the refurb will be complete? We’re taking our first ever trip to DLP December 2018. I will be really, really sad if it isn’t done by then!
I’m excited about the refurb on this, you’re right about the characters just aren’t interesting at all. Do you think they will bring back Vincent Price’s version of the Phantom for the full audio? I assume they won’t because obviously it should be in French but I really wish they would.