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Mystic Manor is an Imagineering masterpiece, a seamless blend of storytelling and state-of-the-art technology

Mystic Manor is an Imagineering masterpiece, a seamless blend of storytelling and state-of-the-art technology

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"Welcome one and all to Mystic Manor!"

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

This is how Lord Henry Mystic welcomes visitors to his elegant home during the brief, slide-driven pre-show for this new Hong Kong Disneyland attraction. During which Mystic tells us a little bit about himself, his companion Albert (a monkey), his world-class collection of antiquities and artifacts (which we will soon see as we tour his mansion) as well as his latest find:  a music box.

Mind you, if I'd written the introduction to this new HKDL attraction, it would been a little different. I would have said something along the lines of:

"Welcome one and all to the most amazing ride that Walt Disney Imagineering has built in the past 30 years!"

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"Okay, wait," I can already hear you saying. " 'Most amazing ride in 30 years?' You mean that this attraction is actually better than DCA's Radiator Springs Racers?"

You can bet your burning tires it is.

"Has better effects than Tower of Terror?"

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. / OLC, Ltd.
All rights reserved

Drop the comparison.

"Is even more magical than Universal's 'Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey?" "

I feel like such a (golden) snitch for saying something like this. But it's true. It's true.

Copyright Warner Bros. / NBCUniversal. All rights reserved

We are talking a genuine theme park masterpiece, people. A ride of the highest order built around -- wonder of wonders -- an original IP. But why the "past-30-years" caveat? Well, I had to put some sort of time limit on this story. But I could have just as easily said " ... an iconic attraction in the very same league as Pirates of the Caribbean or The Haunted Mansion." Seriously. It's that good, folks. A  brand-new classic straight out of the (music) box.

And I do feel that I'm correct in comparing Mystic Manor to The Haunted Mansion & Pirates of the Caribbean because -- without the artificial adrenaline rush that you get while riding Radiator Springs Racers, Tower of Terror or Forbidden Journey (thanks to those attractions' thrill element) -- Hong Kong Disneyland's new must-see ride wins you over because it plunks you down right in the middle of the fully-realized world of Lord Henry Mystic & his monkey friend Albert and then moves you from room to room as your eyes get to feast on modern age Imagineering at its very best.

But here. Let me illustrate (with some pictures which -- just in case people are concerned -- I took using mostly available light and very little flash. So that my need to document the real wonders found inside of this attraction wouldn't then ruin the enjoyment of the other HKDL Guests who were experiencing this ride at the exact same time as I was) , why I believe that this new ride by Imagineer Joe Lanzisero and his team is the very best that anyone in themed entertainment has done in decades.

A scale model of Mystic Point gives one a general sense of how this recent
addition to Hong Kong Disneyland is laid out. Photo by Andrea Monti

To properly set the stage for this wonderful new attraction, Mystic Manor is nestled in Hong Kong Disneyland's Mystic Point. Which is a lush new green area in this theme park that was added as part of the HKDL expansion project that brought Grizzly Gulch and Toy Story Land.

Mystic Manor -- very much like The Haunted Mansion at WDW's Magic Kingdom -- sits at the top of a hill. And just like you do in Florida, you enter this structure through an entrance on the lower left-hand side. Though, in this case, the entrance is marked "Tour Entrance."

But -- just to be clear here -- this HDKL attraction isn't some reimagined version of The Haunted Mansion. Phantom Manor 2.0, if you will. No, Mystic Manor is a wholly original creation. Though -- if you're paying attention -- you'll notice some fun nods to earlier Disney theme park attractions (More on that later).

Photo by Andrea Monti

So you enter Manor through that "Tour Entrance" and are immediately find yourself in this grand gallery of paintings and artifacts. Mind you, the whole purpose of this space is to introduce you to Lord Henry, his monkey companion Albert, his huge collection of antiquities and S.E.A. (i.e., The Society of Explorers and Adventurers).

As you move through this space, you'll see pictures of various S.E.A. members during one of their more recent gatherings.

As a Disney Geek, one of the things that I most enjoyed about Mystic Manor's S.E.A.-related backstory was the all too obvious nods to the late, great Adventurers Club at WDW's Pleasure Island and the Tokyo DisneySea version of The Tower of Terror. Which -- because the Japanese weren't all that familiar with the "Twilight Zone" TV show -- was built around a brand-new character, Harrison Hightower III.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Who -- if you'll look closely -- you'll see is standing in the left corner of the above painting.

And this is where a tip-of-the-hat has to go to Joe Lanzisero. You see, Joe started working at Disney back in the 1970s as an animator. And given that Lanzisero -- now the senior vice-president of Walt Disney Imagineering -- wanted to make sure that Hong Kong Disneyland Guests would immediately bond with Mystic Manor's characters ... Well, that is why -- falling back on his old animation skills -- Joe had Lord Henry & Albert designed with cartoon-like features (i.e., round eyes, big smiles, etc.).

As for the other members of S.E.A. that you can see in this group portrait. If you'll look closely, you'll notice that they're modeled after Lanzisero himself and his two lead Imagineers on the Mystic Manor project.

Photo by Andrea Monti

And given that music -- as it always does in the very best Disney theme park attractions -- plays such a huge part in Mystic Manor's success ... Well, it only made sense that Emmy & Grammy Award-winning composer Danny Elfman (who is responsible for this ride's haunting theme) would wind up with a portrait of his own in this pre-show gallery space.

Now before we get started with talking about the specifics of this attraction, I'd like to take a moment to discuss the ride system which powers Mystic Manor. For the trackless vehicle at the very heart of this new Hong Kong Disneyland attraction is a genuine breakthrough. Those who thought that Mystic Manor's ride system would just be a clone of the one which powers Pooh's Hunny Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland are in for a shock. For there have been plenty of advances in the development of trackless vehicle technology over the past 10 years. And the Imagineers have taken full advantage of those advances.

One of the biggest innovations with Mystic Manor's ride system that this attraction's ride vehicle is actually two vehicles in one. First there's the bottom-most portion of this vehicle which is where all of the trackless ride technology is located. But then there's the top-most portion of this vehicle. Which has two rows of seats (which can hold a maximum of 3 Guests each) which spin & move just like the Doombuggies do in The Haunted Mansion.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

And in the Disney tradition of giving every piece of its theme park attractions a bit of a backstory, the Imagineers have come up with a mythology to explain the ride system that powers the Mystic Manor attraction. According to the tale that WDI spins, the Mystic Magneto Electro Carriage (AKA the trackless vehicle that zooms & spins through this attraction) is actually an invention of Lord Henry himself. Who took this device to the 1900 Worlds Fair in Paris where it then won first prize.

The best part of this next generation version of trackless ride technology is that it allows Lanzisero and his team to use cinematic techniques to tell Mystic Manor's story. And just like in those classic Disney theme park rides Pirates & Mansion, the ride system which powers this attraction -- while it's ground-breaking and genuinely innovative -- is always in service of this ride's story. Its main purpose is to tell a story by taking Hong Kong Disneyland visitors on a journey through Lord Henry's world.

And speaking of Mystic Manor's story ... It seems that Lord Henry has just received this mysterious new artifact, a shining golden musical box which Albert simply can't keep his hands off of. Which this curious monkey might be wise to do. For legend has it that -- if this musical box is opened -- a magical tune will then begin to play which will then bring inanimate objects to life.

Photo by Andrea Monti

Though Lord Henry quickly dismisses this tale, claiming the legend of the music box to be just "superstitious nonsense," he then leaves us alone in the artifact cataloguing room. Albert now appears. And since this curious monkey just can't help himself, he lifts the lid of this legendary music box ... and as a strange golden light emanates from that box and then travels through the room, musical magic begins to occur.

From this point on,  our Mystic Magneto Electro Carriages move through the various rooms of Lord Mystic's collection.

As our ride vehicles travel through the music room, the instruments on display here glow with the music box's mystical light and then start playing Danny Elfman's Mystic Manor theme.

Photo by Andrea Monti

Our Mystic Magneto Electro Carriages then move single file through a Mediterranean-themed corridor full of Roman & Greek paintings and artifacts. Which -- once they also seemed to be touched by the magical golden light that escaped from that music box -- then come to life.

Albert is then trapped in the solarium by a carnivorous plant which also snatches at us. Our ride vehicles then travel into the Slavic-Nordic chamber where we see a painting of the sun turn into a snowstorm. Which then sent the temperature of this room in the attraction tumbling.

Our Mystic Magneto Electro Carriages are then sent into Mystic Manor's Medieval Arts room where suits-of-armors come to life and then wind up trapping poor Albert inside of a cannon.

Photo by Andrea Monti

From the Medieval Arts room, we head into the mansion's Egyptian gallery. Where -- much in the style of an effect that's seen in Universal's "Revenge of the Mummy" coaster -- we experience what it must be like to have a sarcophagus full of bugs enter our ride vehicle.

In the next room of this Hong Kong Disneyland attraction ... Well, Lanzisero & his team obviously wanted to pay tribute to that classic theme park attraction, Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room. Only this time around, the Tikis are very, very large and menacing. And some of them even shoot arrows at poor Albert.

Finally we reach Mystic Manor's climax. Where -- as our Mystic Magneto Electro Carriages enter the Chinese room -- we circle around a giant statue of the Monkey King whilst the paintings on the walls start coming to life. And as the music (which has gradually growing in urgency as we move through this show building) reaches a  crescendo, a hurricane-force wind seems to blow the very walls of this room away. And this is where we see Albert frantically trying to catch up with that music box.

Photo by Andrea Monti

At the last possible second, Albert finally grabs the magic box and slams down the lid. The very next moment, we're back in the artifact cataloguing room. Where everything seems to be just as it was before our adventure began. Lord Henry then pops back into the room and asks Albert "You didn't touch that music box, did you now?" The curious monkey then dismissively waves his hand as if to say "No way." Lord Henry then smiles and says "Good. Because who knows. That legend may just be true."

And as we then head back to Mystic Manor's off-load area, it's impossible not to smile. Given that we've just experienced an Imagineering masterpiece. A distinctly Disney story told with great skill & charm in a theme park setting.

Trust me, folks. Videos and photos really don't do this attraction justice. So if you want to experience the magic of Mystic Manor for yourself, you're just going to have to go to Hong Kong Disneyland. But don't worry. This ride is definitely worth the journey.

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  • While I'd love to go to Hong Kong Disneyland, I don't see it happening anytime soon. For that reason and the fact that they're sorely lacking in new attractions, this should be put in Walt Disney World or Disneyland!  They can re-theme it a bit to fit the certain land, and people would lose it.  I don't see why Disney wouldn't save the money by copying it, but that would assume they'll add anything new in Florida. It's not likely for most of the parks.

  • Did you really use a flash on a dark ride? Man... I hope I never have you on a ride I'm on... I can't stand it when people do that.

  • Did they really use the turn of the century Glendale Sanitarium as the model for Mystic manor?

  • Hi Andrea, you are correct the attraction is top notch and tremendously innovative in Disney story development and advanced technology.

    The question remains why the very thoughtfully developed larger animatronic character of Lord Henry Mystic isn't also as articulated in advanced movements as the smaller form of Albert?  Even Albert's AA figure appearances remain limited  other than when Albert is projected as a 3D digital image.

    Current competition for new advanced show quality audience standards isn't an option anymore.  Walt Disney noted many times that audiences shouldn't be talked down to, give the audience more than what's expected.  Presently, expectations far exceed beyond anything previously produced which if cost cutting is utilized akin to limited stiff animation from the Lord Henry Mystic character's  starring role - it diminishes show continuity & believability of other amazing elements which are obviously modern E-ticket advancements.  

    Presently, technologically advanced theme parks are opening all over the world in places like Singapore, through out Asia & all other major populated countries.  Competition is fierce in the modern age.  This wasn't always the case.  Disney has remained the best and needs to remain so by allowing itself to consistently further to lift show quality to newer levels just as Walt Disney did in 1955 when he originally opened Disneyland.

    Presently, Disney Co. needs to advance it's animatronic figure technology far beyond anything being currently developed anywhere or Disney shows will certainly fall behind.  Technology is here now.

    Walt Disney developed audio-animatronics when man was yet to arrive at the moon - no one had seen anything like Disney audio-animatronic attractions.  This is no longer the case.

    Future robotic technology exists  today and Disney Co. seems very slow to garner it to consistently forward Walt Disney's own "can do" spirit.    Google Boston Dynamics for yourself.    Boston Dynamic's is creating many real life applications of robot uses which far exceed mere showmanship.  This was Walt Disney's end of life thesis:  EPCOT.    Make it better, make it usable in the real world and always achieve what's never been done previously.  Boston Dynamics was a far fetched sci-fi dream when Disney first created audio-animatronics in the 1960's.

    Disney needs to stop getting caught up in corporate bureaucracy and watch what other companies like Boston Dynamics are doing with their Alpha-Dog robot or applications of far advanced humanoid robots now being tested.  Many tech companies other than Disney are doing the same thing.

    Why Walt Disney Imagineering doesn't demand true leadership over these apparent miscarriages of their own tech direction is beyond me.  Disney Co needs to get with it  -  most all animatronic figures within Disney parks all need technological upgrading  -  anyone ever heard of competition akin from Apple computers or new iPhone technology?  It's a race out there and whoever is best wins.

    Mystic Manor is a great show attraction  -  and  -   all the physical animatronic figures should also consistently reflect the same high level of show tech  -  make the audience believe the viewer is really experiencing Lord Mystic's world rather than merely viewing another show.  

    Lord Henry Mystic's animated movements should be at the same high cutting edge qualities for eye appeal as all the technology of the remainder of the attraction show.  But instead Lord Henry's animated figure and some of the Albert character as well although obviously digitally controlled, mostly seem to remain stuck in lower ranges of movement with character animations found in very old Disney rides like the Haunted Mansion.  Which is a great ride, it's merely 4 decades old.

    The ride technology of Mystic Manor is incredible, the show elements are very cutting edge - the show producers should've been allowed to fully utilize the "illusion of life" as has been achieved in many other recent animatronic applications.  Instead overly-used stiff "mannequin" figure technology was applied to central main characters thinking the international guest audience which daily views the show aren't sophisticated enough to tell the difference.  Most all the audience likely has cell phones in their pockets which may be more sophisticated than the actual show elements they're experiencing inside the ride facility.

    Mystic Manor is a great attraction, and when it receives life like character animation updates hopefully someday: perhaps then it'll seem like the show elements were properly brought to full completion.

  • Great article Andrea!! Nice to see Disny Imagineering at its best. Looking forward to getting over there.

  • @Barbee While flash photography is a pet peeve of mine as well, I doesn't seem like flash was used on the ride itself, but rather on the posters at the pre-show queue.

    @Dohman I would like to respectfully disagree, I don't feel that the articulation is that limited or if it were, it's not as problematic as it may seem. I think there's a lot to be appreciated with many of the Albert models, which clearly exhibit more complex and more sustained sequences.

    I do, however agree, that Lord Mystic himself is quite limited. I think this is emphasized by his highly cartoony proportions. While I'm a huge fan of the Albert redesign, I would have preferred that Imagineers would have showed greater restraint in the toonifying Lord Mystic.

    I also agree that over theme parks, such as Universal Studios Singapore, have been very aggressive, perhaps more so than HKDL in creating new attractions and attracting local & foreign guests, I just don't think the claim that they're using more advanced technology applies. I'd take the Mystic Manor AAs over projected HD 3D videos of actors/robots.

    But as much as disagree with some points, I wholeheartedly agree with the desire to see a return to some innovation of yesteryears, EPCOT of the 1980s remains the best theme park experience I've had.

  • Great article. I was there a few weeks ago and totally agree! The first time (of approx. 20 times we visited the Manor), we exited the ride with such a big smile, we were saying "this ride alone was worth the 11-hour flight". Mystic Manor shows what Imagineering is capable of without restrictions of some stupid movie tie-in.

    If you're a real Disney themepark enthousiast, save up your money and visit Hong Kong Disneyland, as Mystic Manor is the ride of the decade :) The rest of the park looks small, but there is enough to do, to spend 2 or 3 days. And don't forget Grizzly Gulch, it's pretty amazing too!

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