Disneyland's Haunted Mansion opened on August 9th, 1969, but its origins were much earlier. A Haunted House attraction is evident in some of the earliest plans for Mickey Mouse Park way back in 1951. MMP was the original plan for what would become Disneyland only a few years later (DL opened on July 17th, 1955), it was going to be a single acre of Walt's studio property in Burbank, Ca. converted into a themed park.
However, as Walt's vision grew, the park did as well, so after creating a new company that would eventually become home to the "Imagineers," as Walt put it, and buying a 160-acre orange grove in Anaheim, CA, the Disneyland we all know and love went under construction. Unfortunately, no one could ever really come up with a concept for a Haunted House ride that really met with Walt's expectations for what it should and could be, so while it was constantly being worked on by some of the top-most Imagineers (Rolly Crump, Yale Gracey, and Ken Anderson just to name a very few) it never really found its way into production, until 1958, when New Orleans Square was added to the park.
This new "land" would soon be the home for Walt's personal in-park apartment (now the Disney Gallery) and the Pirates of the Caribbean ride (which is a very long and complicated story in its own right), but most importantly a large, three-story southern mansion appeared at the end of the development encircled in a gate with a sign saying that Disneyland was now accepting applications for ghosts looking to relocate. And there that sign hung, year after year, until Walt's death in 1965.
Walt always had the final say, and now without his voice and input, the Imagineers were basically left develop their own thing, and that is why the Mansion ended up so segmented. You see, after the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, Walt put that design team on the Haunted Mansion project; it just ended up being that they had differing views of what the ride should ultimately be.
Fan-favorite and God-among-men Marc Davis (the animator behind such characters as Cruella DeVille, Tinker Bell and Malificent) was primarily in charge of the characters and animatronics, and he felt that ride, after the infamous and scary Stretching Gallery scene, should be light-hearted and fun, and he wanted his characters to be just that. Meanwhile, the brilliant and under-rated Claude Coates (background artist on all of Disney's early films, including Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, even "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" in Fantasia) felt that the ride should live up to it's name and offer some real scares.
Ultimately, without Walt's tie-breaking vote, each Imagineer designed with his own vision in mind, and, as a result, we see Claude's interior scenes as very moody, theatrical, an ominous while Marc's graveyard jubilee is a comparatively more light-hearted and comical scene full of animatronic figures. Of course there is over flow between the two Imagineers and the interior and exterior scenes of the ride, but the tonal differences are quite clear, though X. Atencio's brilliant script (as read by veteran voice artist Paul Frees) helps congeal the ride.
Of course, we here at OAFE wholly support our battle cry: "come for the expositions, stay for the reviews," and as such, having exposited quite enough, let us move along to the review proper.
The Disneyland Haunted Mansion Playset is, without a doubt, one of the most accurate depictions of the DL Mansion in three dimensions. That's not to say it's perfect, but it's still ... well, it's a lot more authentic that the WDW Mansion Playset! It's got the multiple chimneys, the Tetris-block shaped roof (designed as such to accommodate the stretching galleries and the "hidden" hung-skeleton attics above them), the metal railings, the shutters, etc. It's even got the offset double doors on the bottom floor that are the actual entrance into the ride (though the slotted walls in that corner are not included on the playset).
The whole piece is cast in a shiny, off-white plastic that's fairly close to the actual Mansion's color, but the shiny, plastic-ness of it is kinda cheap. The railings are cast in the same color and the green is just a wash that collected in the recessed portions of the sculpt, basically creating a sort of color negative.
This playset came out a year or two after the WDW version (and is, as of yet, the only Disneyland-specific playset in the series) and as such is pretty close to in terms of play features (just like the reverse situation with the actual rides. Coincidence?).
As with the other playset, the roof is removable and the back opens up to reveal the actual playset. Again, all the deco is mainly just stickers, but there are some sculpted elements though: the bookshelves, the gargoyles and the fireplace.
The weird postionable stairs are back, as are the lame "play features" – the sliding panel on the righthand side (this time revealing ghostly instruments) and the rising panel that, on the other playset, opens onto the conservatory. This time, though, the panel a) lacks any sculptural themeing on the bottom portion while the upper portion struggles to cover part of the dynamite barrel in one of the stretching portraits... basically the playset portion of this thing really, really sucks.
Same accessories as the other playset, too - the three hitchhiking ghosts, the clock, a sofa, a chair, an openable coffin and a psuedo-Madame Leota table. In the front of the mansion the goofy red and green LED lights and sounds return, again triggered by coffin-shaped buttons.
The sound clips are the same as the other play set and are, moving from left button to right button, Paul Frees saying "Welcome, Foolish Mortals," a howl, a Paul Frees chuckle and Paul Frees saying "I didn't mean to frighten you." The sound chip is better in this playset than the other, but certainly nothing to write home about.
Despite all its shortcomings, I do recommend this set, at least for Mansion fans, because, for $25, it's a pretty decent external representation of the original (and one, true) Haunted Mansion façade.
Also, if anyone is interested in learning more on the greatest attraction ever created, Disney's The Haunted Mansion, I recommend visiting the brilliant www.Doombuggies.com or tracking down a copy of Jason Surrell's "The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies." Despite a lengthy segment devoted to the abysmally dismal Mansion film, the book is absolutely fascinating and includes some super rare behind-the-scenes stories, photos, concepts, designs and so on. It's a great read for Mansion fans, Disney fans, or basically anyone interested in the evolution of theme parks/attractions.
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