‘Phantom Manor’ Re-Imagining is Full of Creativity and Delightful Surprises

This article was written by our friend and Disneyland Paris correspondent Davide Maugeri. 

Sometimes Walt Disney Imagineers really do surprise us with their creativity and will to go the distance and even beyond, inviting us to step into their limitless imagination and ground-breaking technology. Some other times, they do exactly what we expected them to do, without infamy and without praise, just what it takes to get their daily homework done. There are also rare times where they mess up pretty badly, but luckily this isn’t one of those times. Today, I want to tell you about what I’ve recently experienced – a curious mixup between the first two situations, called Phantom Manor 2.0.

We’ve had a chance to ride it just a few days ago, benefiting from a very low attendance midweek day. As Disneyland Paris long-time customers and pass-holders, having to stay away from Phantom Manor for a year and a half felt like an endless torture, made even worse by the fact of not knowing when the official reopening would be until a few weeks before that actually happened (according to rumors, the rehab took even longer than scheduled due to a strong presence of asbestos inside the building, which was a mandatory component by the time Phantom Manor opened back in 1992, but no longer compliant to today’s standards, thus needed to be removed completely from the attraction’s show building). Nobody knew what to expect from the ride, what would have been changed, what would have stayed the same, and what would have simply been updated to the latest tech standards. Some implied that narration would make its way to the experience, in a similar way to what we can already experience in the other Haunted Mansions, some others even feared we were doomed to bid farewell to some of the ride’s most beloved scenes. Were they wrong? Were they right? Let’s find out.

QUEUE LINE AND PRESHOW

Having ridden the new Phantom Manor five times to date, I’ll do the best I can to express the sensations and emotions I’ve experienced on and off-ride while they’re still fresh in my mind. At the same time, I’ll try not to spoil too much of it for those who may be interested in visiting any time soon. The ride exterior hasn’t changed much, the manor’s facades have been completely repainted and all weeds in the garden were chopped off (seriously? It’s a haunted house, that’s some free theming you’re getting rid of right there!). Nothing much has changed, no extra theming nor interactive queue elements (which would have been very welcome, I must say). Once we stepped inside, that’s when things really started to change.

The Ghost Hosts welcomes us but his voice has been restored back to the original Vincent Price recording. Thought that’s priceless (see what I did there) artistry and I don’t want to sound like I’m diminishing it in any way, that felt… off, to me. I never liked this particular rendition of the Ghost Host, though it does provide some English information that will definitely help non-French-speaking guests sort out what’s going on around them. In the foyer, the house looks old and dilapidated, but the Ghost Host allows us to travel back to the time where things were different, and everything around us gets magically restored to its original splendor. We’re informed that the house used to be inhabited by a beautiful young girl named Melanie Ravenswood along with her frowning, overprotective father, Henry Ravenswood. Over recent years, Melanie has tried to get married so many many times but never received her extremely jealous father’s blessing and every single groom eventually met his fate. We learn this thanks to effective narration and amazing-looking effects inside the stretching room. Then, as we get to board our doombuggies in the hallway, we get to see Melanie herself, in her wedding dress, staring off the window. Though the idea itself is amazing, the Melanie figure does not move at all, and more often than not, the effect of the wing floating through the veil fails miserably, leaving her still and lifeless like some display mannequin out of a wedding store. All the rest looks absolutely amazing (though I must say I miss some of that gloomy blue-ish light that could be found in the previous version. The new changing portraits look pretty cool, though since the hallway has “no windows and no doors”, I didn’t quite figure out where the flashing lightning was coming from. But hey, maybe I shouldn’t be that nitpicky over such small details.

Or should I?

Photo by Disneyland Paris

THE RIDE

Luckily, the ride itself is still as gorgeous as we had left it. Most of the new additions work very well and feel like they’ve always been there, yet some other does feel a bit weird and out of place (I’m not planning to wander any further into spoiler territory here, no worries). Fun fact: Phantom Manor has always featured an original soundtrack by John Debney and an amazing and unique rendition of the famous song “Grim Grinning Ghosts” by Buddy Baker and X Atencio. When the ride reopened a few weeks ago, Imagineers tried to restore some tracks from the original Haunted Mansion soundtrack, but this choice was so unpopular between guests and fans that the original score had to flee faster than Ariel’s ice-cream hair in the Little Mermaid ride, only to be reverted back to John Debney’s version. Though I’m a big fan of the original Haunted Mansion ride, I’m going to have to agree with everyone here saying that the Phantom Manor soundtrack is a timeless masterpiece and should indeed be left intact.

The rest of the ride went off without a hitch, feels grew higher and higher at the point that joy managed to prevail over the show’s haunting atmosphere and put a big fat smile on our nostalgic faces. The ending is amazing, the animatronics are spot-on and the new hitchhiking ghosts scene (that doesn’t really feature hitchhiking ghosts here) features a brilliant storytelling idea which gives us perspective of what might have actually happened during the wedding, all that with just a single line being repeated over and over by one particular character, and this leads us back to square one: apart from that and Madame Leota’s seance room, Phantom Manor has remained the beautiful silent ride we all know and love, and a further proof that actions speak louder than words. It’s the piece de resistance of the French Disney Resort, a chilling challenge for younger guests to go through, and a grim experience that will put a grin on the older ones. So if you’re into dark rides with solid storylines and practical effects, get yourself over to Disneyland Paris and come out to socialize. She’s been dying to have you.