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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bridal March

Some news about the enhancements currently being installed in the Haunted Mansion as we speak.

Since Pirates is down, a lot of the work is being done overnight over the next few weeks so that guests don't have to suffer the loss of the two biggest E-Tickets at once. So if you ride the HM in the next few weeks, keep your eyes open. The soft opening of the attraction with the new enhancements could start in the first week or two of April.

Many of you have read the report of the upcoming enhancements on Miceage, so I won't rehash. Much of the report (perhaps sans bloody weapons) is likely true, but it misses the point of the new insertions, according to some.

I think, stepping back, that to fully appreciate the enhancements to the attraction, you need to try to grasp the weight of both the Mansion's oral mythology and historical backstory. Most true Mansion fans are fond of saying that the "non-story" is as simple as this: "The Haunted Mansion is a home for 999 happy haunts, but there's room for a thousand... any volunteers?" I myself have even been known to cut people off from trying to canonize the old mythology (about a sea captain, murder, and love lost...)

But the Mansion's true history is a complicated one. There were, in fact, two camps in the development of the attaction back in the '60s: one with a goal of creating a truly eerie journey, and one with a lighthearted approach toward designing a family-friendly attraction. The story of the sea captain was in fact developed within WED as work on the attraction went forward, and as such, it deserves more attention than the standard "there's no story there!" quip from in-the-know Mansion fans.

So riding through the attraction, there is a clear mark between the forboding first act and the vibrant second act (some even divide the Mansion into a three-act show, but let's keep things simple for now). The ballroom forms both a figurative and literal "bridge," as the ghosts Leota summoned start to break free... but the change is abrupt, without drama or easy explanation.

The new enhancements serve the purpose of helping guests put together the idea that the Mansion's former occupants are "crossing over," as it was described to me. Many subtle and not-so-subtle changes (some occuring even before Leota's seance circle, in fact) will help "flesh-out" the concept (so to speak), which keeps fully in line with the situation currently set up in the attraction, as narrated by both Leota and the Ghost Host.

The attic, however, is the showpiece for the new enhancements, with a scene that has actually been in the works for some three years. The mute bride will no longer stand silently to the side, and takes a much more "active" role in the new scene. A victorian era character, she interacts creepily with new sepia-toned portraits of gentlemen that will line the attic. And her bouquet does provide a stunning new piece of eye-candy. I'm not sure precisely what to expect from the audioanimatronic figure, but it should be phenomenal, judging by the current generation of AA figures being developed (consider the amazing motion and rear-projected face of Buzz in Astro Blasters, for example...)

One participant in the creation of this scene refuses to describe it as an alteration to the existing mythology, in a conversation we had recently. She sees the "new" bride as just another of the Mansion's many past inhabitants, helping other residents "cross over" in her own way. There need be no implication that she owned the Manse, at least according to this source.

In related news: I've also had occasion to see the new archway leading to the crypt with the hitchhiking ghosts, and it's quite imposing, and very different from what stood in the graveyard before. Replaced in part to ensure that wheelchairs could have more access to the Doom Buggy path, the crypt will soon have a bit more personality as the destination which ushers you out of the mayhem of the graveyard.

Of course, '60s purists will find reason to be disappointed in the enhancements - which is a reasonable point of view, as long as should you hold it, you also recognize that it directly contradicts Walt's own personal desire that Disneyland never be "finished." As for me, I like the fact that WDI is attempting, via some spectacular effects and clever storytelling, to clarify situations that already exist in both the mythology and actual storyline, as it's described in the narration of the original attraction and in stories developed long ago within the walls of WED.

RIP.

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