Saturday, October 15, 2016

Disney Kingdoms Haunted Mansion

Disney Kingdoms: The Haunted Mansion is the fifth series in Marvel's Disney Kingdoms series of comics based on attractions (or ideas for attractions) in the Disney Parks. Previous series featured Seekers of the Weird (based on an early idea for part of the Haunted Mansion), Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and two series about Figment the dragon and other characters from Journey into Imagination. Marvel is currently publishing the sixth Disney Kingdoms series, based on the Enchanted Tiki Room, and like all the series before it, it's a lot of fun. 

Honestly, I was a bit surprised to see a Haunted Mansion series under the Disney Kingdoms umbrella. I had assumed that, since a movie has been in development forever, this particular attraction wasn't available for a comic. Clearly, I was wrong, and I'm happy about that, because it's another strong entry into what has been a strong series of comics.

The history of the Haunted Mansion--the attraction--is an interesting one, developed over quite a few years. One of its hallmarks is that, unlike many other Disney attractions, the Haunted Mansion doesn't really have a storyline of its own. It's more of a tour of the Mansion and its grounds. Even that is a bit schizophrenic. The first part of the ride, from the stretching room all the way past Madame Leota, is genuinely pretty creepy. Once we get to the ballroom and head out into the graveyard, however, things are a lot more charming and whimsical. From what I've read, this dichotomy reflects the two main Imagineers who worked on the final version of the ride. Claude Coats created the first, creepy part, while Marc Davis developed the more silly second part.

This comic reflects this dichotomy. In places it's dark and creepy, while others are more goofy, albeit still very weird. However, unlike the picture book that I talked about last week that simply retells the ride, this book tells the story of Danny, a young boy who has recently lost his grandfather. Believing that his grandfather's spirit is trapped in the Mansion, Danny goes there, and along the way we see some very familiar sights. However, the book uses all the trappings of the attraction to tell a story, and it's a fun one with a lot of heart.

When the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out, I recall reading an interview with the writers who said their goal was to create a movie that would make the ride feel as if it were based on the movie. That's the sense I get from the Disney Kingdoms comics as well; certainly this story passes that test. None of the familiar moments from the attraction feel shoehorned into the story; they all feel like they have a purpose. 

Fans of the various iterations of the Haunted Mansions will find some nice Easter eggs along the way. Writer Joshua Williamson incorporates some sly references to real-world developments in the attraction over the years, like the early removal and recent re installation of the Hatbox Ghost, and the annual transformation of the Disneyland Haunted Mansion into its Haunted Mansion Holiday/Nightmare Before Christmas incarnation. 

He also manages to connect the Haunted Mansion to its other versions at Disney Parks around the world, like Disneyland Paris' Phantom Manor and Hong Kong Disneyland's Mystic Manor. He does so in a way that will make fans of the attractions smile, but if you don't get the reference, it still helps raise the stakes of the story.

What would a Haunted Mansion story be without the ballroom?
The art, by Jorge Coelho, with colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu, is perfect, melding the Claude Coats sense of menace with the Marc Davis whimsy. Beaulieu has colored all the Disney Kingdoms series to date, and the color palate, while unique to each book, does connect them all in ways that feel very much of a piece with the design aesthetics of the parks. Coelho's style reminds me a little of the work of Ted Naifeh, but he has a voice that is all his own. I'm very glad he'll be the new artist on the new Rocket Raccoon comic coming from Marvel, because it means I'll be able to continue following his work.
"Of course, there's always my way out!"

The Bride

No familiar character is left out of this story

As a fan of Disney Parks attractions in general, and the Haunted Mansion in particular, I'm glad this was included in the Disney Kingdoms line. As with all the Disney Kingdoms comics, I went into the ride with this story in the back of my head, and it made it just that little bit more enjoyable.

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