I am no fan of Johnny Depp, or Orlando Bloom, or stupid movies, so when Pirates of the Caribbean came out, I didn’t need another reason not to see it. But a movie based on a ride? What does that even mean? Of course, at the time, I’d never been to Disney World, so I didn’t understand to what lengths Disney goes to actually tell a story with its rides. This was not such a stretch. Nor was it the first of its kind. In fact, unknown to me, there were several movies based on rides coming out at the same time.
The Haunted Mansion is a much-loved ride at Disney. Sean remembers it from childhood, but the ride is even older than he is – it opened in 1969 in Disneyland, and 1971 in Disney World, and both are still operating today. You ride in a doom-buggy through a dark, spook-filled mansion. To this day, Sean is disappointed that his little sister ruined the ride for him – her little body occupying the space between Sean and his dad meant that they didn’t see the ghost in their cart, but two-person carts are treated to a spectral sight between them, among many other spooky tricks.
The movie The Haunted Mansion (2003) managed to come out to so little fanfare that I never knew it existed. Its story doesn’t really draw much inspiration from the ghosts that are known and loved for the WDW ride, but anyone who’s ridden it in Paris might find something more familiar. Eddie Murphy plays Jim Evers, a real estate agent who works alongside his wife, Sara (Marsha Thomason). He’s a workaholic and they’re supposed to be at the lake with their kids this weekend, but instead he can’t resist a detour to check out a potential listing – a cobwebbed, derelict mansion. Its “master” Gracey (Nathanial Parker) is reclusive and his butler, Ramsley (Terence Stamp), is…protective. Jennifer Tilly, Wallace Shawn, and Dina Waters round out the the mansion’s creepy staff.
While the ride manages to mix horror with humour, the movie doesn’t quite manage either. In fact, I was constantly distracted by the memory of Eddie Murphy’s stand-up routine wherein he avowed that no black person would ever star in a haunted house horror movie because they would have sense enough to just leave the minute they saw anything supernatural. The Evers family does not leave. The audience feels very much like they have overstayed their welcome. Guillermo Del Toro was rumoured to be remaking this film, and I cannot overstate how very welcome that would be, but he has since parted ways with Disney so the film seems increasingly unlikely. Boo.
Country Bear Jamboree is a bunch of ursine animatronics who put on a country music spectacle, and have done so in Walt Disney World since 1971 – and they do to this day, in a slightly revamped version. I find it fascinating that park-goers in 2019 continue to be entertained satisfactorily by “technology” that was obsolete before most of them were born (if the popularity of the Millennial Pink Minnie mouse ears are any indicator of the park’s demographics). And yet the bears can still be found strumming banjos and talking to taxidermied heads in Frontierland.
The Country Bears (2002) is beary disappointing. The bears are basically just people wearing dopey bear costumes, and the movie is live-action, with bears and humans mixing unreservedly. However, little Beary Barrington (voice: Haley Joel Osment) knows that he is different from his human brother and human parents. He’s adopted. The only kinship he feels is toward The Country Bears, a defunct country-rock band made up of bears, who have since broken up. When Beary runs away from home to The Country Bears’ favourite venue, he finds it derelict, and about to be torn down. In a bid to save it, he tries to reunite the band for a fundraiser reunion concert. It’s a bafflingly bad film with zero laughs. I don’t know how it got made, I don’t know which 17 people went to a theatre to see it, and I don’t know how The Muppets got away with stealing this exact plot line 9 years later. And yes that’s Christopher Walken in the photo.