'Haunted Mansion' sets get a 2nd life

For Sale: Stately antebellum house called Gracey Mansion. Situated on charming bayou. Victorian ballroom, grand staircase, spacious (burial) grounds, secret passageways. Tours available Wednesday through Christmas Eve at El Capitan Theater in Hollywood. Contact: Madame Leota or nearest zombie. Caution: Avoid cobwebs and don't accept rides in horseless hearse.


When veteran animation producer Don Hahn ("Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King") and his creative team at Disney finished making "The Haunted Mansion," a live-action comedy thriller opening Wednesday, with its computer-generated imagery based on the famed Disneyland attraction, he didn't want to junk the carefully crafted sets, so he asked studio chief Dick Cook if he had any suggestions.

Cook's response: offer moviegoers at El Capitan a chance to tour the film's sets in a tented arena behind the theater. Along with the sets are examples of Rick Baker's special-effects makeup, Mona May's elaborate costumes and demonstrations of visual effects developed by the film's computer artists.

Directed by Rob Minkoff ("Stuart Little") and written by David Berenbaum ("Elf"), "The Haunted Mansion" stars Eddie Murphy, as a real estate agent, and ... the mansion. "John Myhre, the production designer, said it best," Hahn noted. " 'Eddie Murphy is the star of the show and the comedian, but we needed a straight man to play opposite him, and the mansion is the straight man.' "

Arriving in the same year as Disney's blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," a movie based on another Disney theme park attraction that has grossed more than $300 million in North America, "The Haunted Mansion" would seem to have more than a ghost of a chance to become another hit. But that wasn't the view when Hahn and his team began the film.

"We started out making the movie and everyone said, 'Are you nuts? You're making ride movies?' " he recalled. At the time, Disney had released "The Country Bears," another film based on a park attraction, which had less than stellar returns -- $17 million domestically.

But if "The Haunted Mansion" works as well as "Pirates of the Caribbean," then give some credit to Gracey Mansion. If not, blame the 999 great, grimacing ghosts who inhabit the place.

-- Robert W. Welkos

For The Record Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 26, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction 'Haunted Mansion' display -- Sets from Disney's Eddie Murphy movie "The Haunted Mansion" will be on display behind the El Capitan Theatre today through Jan. 4. An item in the Week Ahead column in Monday's Calendar section incorrectly said the exhibit would close Christmas Eve.
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