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.
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!