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A ride malfunction was my best experience at Disneyland


There are people who love Haunted Mansion, and then there are people who, if they spend a day at Disneyland without visiting (or three) the park’s “999 happy haunts”, come away with the impression that the day was a total failure. Since I wrote the previous sentence, it’s probably not hard for you to decide which category I fall into. The attraction is not only my favorite ride in the park, it’s my favorite ride of all the parks I’ve been to (even the death-defying Velocicoaster).

When the ride malfunctioned completely unexpectedly the last time I rode, I was able to discover things about Haunted Mansion that I had never seen or heard of before.

Dare I say it was, in the words of Ghost Host’s narrator, “delightfully unlivable.”

Like anyone else who might be a little obsessed with something about Disney, I’ve done my best to uncover every little aspect of 1969’s dark ride, looking in different corners each time in order to fully absorb the small details. This is the only ride I hope to break down while I’m on it, just so I can spend more time inside. (It’s happened about 12 of the last 15 times I’ve ridden, so lucky for me, if not lucky for the maintenance crews tasked with getting it running again.)

The Haunted Mansion’s new aging portrait.

Julie Tremaine/SFGATE

In my fandom, I braved a long queue on the park’s opening day to ride Haunted Mansion, just as I’d dreamed of doing every 400+ days that Disneyland was closed, only to discover a unexpected return from May to December. portrait that had been removed years ago. Later, I was able to discover the secret entrance to the ride, the one used only for crowd control during social distancing, which is decorated like the servants’ back staircase and full of Easter eggs.

I reunited with Rolly Crump, one of the original Haunted Mansion Imagineers who worked with Walt Disney to create an even scarier counterpart to the ride (which, much to my sadness, was ultimately cancelled). I even stayed in the so-called but probably haunted Queen Mary hotel room, which was once Disney’s prototype room for a haunted mansion at sea.

So when Haunted Mansion reopened last week after closing to remove its seasonal “Nightmare Before Christmas” overlay, I made plans to get there, and fast – because the ride reopened with changes I had can’t wait to find out, or at least I had heard of it.

What I found, the first time I rode that day, were some subtle, if not quite noticeable changes. The recording that plays after you leave the stretch room and wait to get into your Doom Buggy car has been changed slightly. It looks like there will be some additional changes to the part of this room where you load the buggies, as the walls are black and I believe still under construction.

The Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland in May 2021.

The Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland in May 2021.

Jessica Torres / Special for SFGATE

The most interesting things I saw that seemed new to me were in the attic bedroom, where the murderous bride Constance keeps all the memories of her deceased bride and groom. There was a dollhouse-style miniature model of the New Orleans-style mansion that houses the ride — and not only that, but right behind it was a replica of the Dutch Gothic-style building that houses Walt’s equivalent of that ride. DisneyWorld. This room is always so full that I can’t tell if the models are new or just moved to a more visible location on the race track. Anyway, this was my first time seeing this Disney World crossover.

Later in the day I decided to take another ride because I wanted to take a look to see if there were any other changes I had missed. I waited maybe 20 minutes in line and listened intently in the stretch room. (Was the ghost host’s voice still coming from side to side of the elevator depending on what he was saying? That sounded new to me too.) Then I rode in my Doom Buggy, and that’s where it all started.

Or, more accurately, it wasn’t.

I heard the security warning through my car speakers, then I heard nothing else. Other cars had the Ghost Host narration – I could hear it faintly – but my car was completely silent. For a minute I wondered what was going on, then I realized something totally unique was happening.

I started hearing all these little sounds that I had never heard before.

In the hallway, I had always thought there was only one noisy door, the one that bulged as if something nefarious was trying to get through. During this ride, I heard distinct sounds behind each, some of which were human (or incorporeal?) voices and menacing growls.

The sounds are normally so low that even the Haunted Mansion ride script from Disney Parks Script Center save them. In the hallway scene, this script lists the sound effects as simply “Door knockers banging, clock ticking”.

The new — or newly placed?  — Haunted Mansion model inside the ride.

The new — or newly placed? — Haunted Mansion model inside the ride.

Julie Tremaine

When I arrived in the next room, I heard Madame Leota say, “Snakes and spiders, rat tail, call the spirits, wherever they are!” And then I heard a huge blast of phantom wind that I had never heard before. The spirits were really coming! Type of. Whether there are actually ghosts at Disneyland is still up for debate – although some paranormal investigators don’t rule out the possibility.

Without the background noise, each time Madame Leota played an instrument like the tambourine, I heard it fully for the first time. Until that day, I hadn’t realized the horn was playing part of the song “Grim Grinning Ghosts” from the graveyard scene.

This may all seem small, but for a long time I felt like I saw it all in my favorite part of Disneyland. It was a bit like reaching into your pocket to throw out what you think is a receipt and pull out a $100 bill instead.

Without the soundtrack distracting me, I found myself noticing a lot of new visual details as well. For the first time, I paid attention to the meowing cats in the graveyard scene. I had barely looked at them before, let alone realized that they were talking in their feline fashion to nearby ghosts.

It felt like a whole new ride. Or, at least, a sequel that was every bit as good as the original in every possible way – which we all know never happens in real life. Unless, of course, you’re talking about “Indiana Jones”.