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WDI's X-Scream Makeover of WDW's Haunted Mansion: Part 4

WDI's X-Scream Makeover of WDW's Haunted Mansion: Part 4

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Picking up where we left off ... By now, I'm sure that you've all heard about the neat effect that's just been installed in Walt Disney World's version of the The Haunted Mansion. Where Madam Leota's head now magically floats above the table, calling " ... in the spirits, wherever they're at."

Of course, Disneyland fans are quick to point out that their version of the Haunted Mansion actually got this effect first. That their Leota has been floating above her table since January of 2005 ... So nanny nanny pooh pooh !!

(Sorry about that, folks. But West Coast Disneyana fans are not taking kindly to the idea that Disneyland's Haunted Mansion is now  considered inferior to the East Coast version of this same attraction. There has reportedly been much grousing both at that theme park as well as on-line about how WDW's Mansion now has a Portrait Gallery with 3D sound as well as that super-cool new M.C. Escher-like Grand Staircase sequence. While the Anaheim version of this much beloved attraction still has the same old stuff.

But the good news coming out of Glendale is ... Both Anaheim & Tokyo's versions of this classic Disney dark ride are supposedly slated to receive these well-received enhancements sometime over the next two years. So you just have to have a little patience, people. Okay? ... Anyway ...)

Me? I'm not really much of a who-got-which-effect-first kind-of-guy. I'm more intrigued by the back-of-the-house stuff. Like the long term cost savings that the Operations side at the Magic Kingdom will now allegedly enjoy. Thanks to WDI's decision to make Madam Leota a digitally projected effect.

"And what's so cost effective about doing something like that?," you ask. Well, to understand that, you first have to know a little something about the way that the Imagineers originally achieved that talking-head-inside-of-a-crystal-ball effect. Which (not to give in any of WDI's secrets away, but ... ) involved a 16 MM projector, an endless loop of film as well as this periscope-like device.

That last item in particular had to be checked every day by a cast member before the Mansion opened for business. Just to make sure that the projected image of Leota Toombs' face lined up properly with the blank face that was encased inside of that crystal ball on the table. Otherwise, the Madam Leota effect would look awful and/or wouldn't work at all.

And let's not forget about the wear & tear on that endless film loop. Even though this strip of celluloid unspooled into a special cooling box (Which -- in theory -- helped prolong the life of that loop as it moved through the projector 10, 12, sometimes 16 hours a day), it would still only last two weeks. Then -- because this film loop was either torn, broken or faded at this point -- it then had to be replaced.

So when you consider the manpower & material that had been dedicated to just making sure that this one effect at the Mansion worked and then multiply that out over 36 years ... We're talking about a considerable chunk of change here.

Whereas going with a digitally projected version of Madam Leota (Where the image is projected from within, rather than from outside. Which is why this new version of the Mansion's mystic now looks great from both the side and the front) immediately eliminated all of that extra cost & effort ... And because this digitally projected effect is a self-contained unit, it was now possible for Leota to levitate right up off of her table.

"And how exactly does she do that?," you query. Madam Leota's upward mobility actually involves three separate cables. One that pulls her left & right, one that moves her up & down, and a third which provides power for her on-board electronics.

As for the rest of the Séance Circle room ... All the enchanted objects that are floating through the air here have received new black light paint treatments so that they now pop out more. In some cases, the props themselves had been replaced. Take -- for example -- that trumpet that turns & floats in the air. The original haunted horn had to be removed because ... Well, even though it was an authentic trumpet, it was far too hard to spot as floated high in the air in this dimly lit room. Which is why WDI replaced that horn with an over-sized version which was much easier to see.

Speaking of the dim lighting ... Check out that flickering candle on Leota's table. Doesn't that brand new effect look terrific? Like you're staring at a really-for-real candle?

Also, even though the rehabbed version of the Mansion has been open for almost seven weeks now, the Imagineers are continuing to fold additional props & effects into this Magic Kingdom favorite. Just in the past few days, WDI added a new floating table to this scene. You can find it among the objects that are now circling around Madam Leota.

But now it's time to say "Sayornara" to Séance Circle. As our Doom Buggy motors on to the Grand Ballroom. Which is probably a lot brighter and certainly a lot more colorful than you may remember it being.

Mind you, that's because the Imagineers changed the lightning scheme that they used to use in this room. Gone are the large spotlights that once powered the Pepper's Ghost effect in the Grand Ballroom. In their place, WDI has installed a series of much smaller, specifically focused lights. Which help individual characters in this scene stand out more.

Now factor in the new wigs & costumes that were created for all the figures in this sequence. As well as the colored lights that are now being used to help make individual ghosts stand out more in this crowded setting. And the end result is that the Grand Ballroom (while it really hasn't been touched during this rehab) now seems much grander than it ever has.

Oh, sure. The Imagineers added some new speakers here & there to help improve the sound quality in this portion of the attraction. Now -- because of the new acoustic signature of the Grand Ballroom -- you really do get the sense that you're looking down on this otherworldly party.

Plus to protect those enormous sheets of glass that play such a crucial part in the Pepper's Ghost effect, WDI just installed easy-to-clean lexan at the Grand Ballroom. Which should make life a whole lot easier for the Magic Kingdom's maintenance staff. Given that these poor slobs have to spend hours squeegeeing spit off of those huge glass sheets. All because some truly gross theme park patrons who feel the need to hock at & on the props whenever they're traveling through the Haunted Mansion.

And speaking of props ... How's this for irony? All of those antiques, every piece of junk that you now see in the Mansion's Attic sequence is brand new. This part of the attraction was actually stripped to the bare walls as the Imagineers got the place ready for Constance AKA the Bloody Bride.

Now that I know that a number of Disney theme park fans have already expressed their concerns about this new addition to the Attic. They say that Constance and her little silver hatchet are far too frightening for a family fun park.

Well, if you'd actually been paying attention early on in the Haunted Mansion, you'd have noticed -- all the way back in the Portrait Gallery / stretching room -- that picture of the Merry Widow. Who -- as that room reaches its full height -- is revealed to be perched on a tombstone. And at her feet is a bust of her late husband who has a hatchet sticking out of the top of his head.

You see what I'm saying here? That ladies who off their husbands with hatchets have always been part of the Haunted Mansion. From the time that the very first version of this attraction opened in Anaheim back in August of 1969 right up until today, that painting has always been prominently displayed in the portrait gallery. So why start squawking now about a gag that this attraction has featured for almost 40 years now?

Anywho ... Getting back to the radically revamped version of the Mansion's attic sequence ... There is really some exquisitely detailed storytelling going on in this scene. Little touches that really make this part of the dark ride just sing. Take -- for example -- how in each wedding portrait that you encounter as your Doom Buggy rolls through this room, with every new husband Constance acquires, she also get another string of pearls.

Or -- better yet -- how about the cake toppers that are positioned right next to each portrait? If you'll look closely, you'll notice that -- while the bride figure remains intact -- the groom figure is either broken in half or has his head neatly cut off. Or how about those bird cages that you'll find behind each of the wedding portrait? Please note that all of these cage's doors are open. Signifying that Constance once again got away with killing yet another husband. That she's now free as a bird.

By the way, much has been made about WDI's decision to remove that wedding band used to be embedded in the cement near the Mansion's Mausoleum / exit area (Okay. I know. It wasn't really a ring. It was just a piece of a stantion that got snapped off at ground level that -- over the years -- people then began saying was a wedding band. Now let's not let the truth stand in the way of a good story, okay?) ... Well, as it turns out, there is actually a story-driven reason that the Imagineers had that ring removed.

You see, if you listen closely to Constance's spiel as you move through the Attic, you will eventually hear the Bloody Bride say " ... in sickness and in wealth." And -- at that exact moment -- you'll see a glint of gold glimmer on Constance's ring finger.

So -- in this revised version of the Mansion's backstory -- the jilted bride doesn't toss her wedding ring out the window. Constance marries six different men and then manages to kill all of them without getting ever caught. So it's not in the Bloody Bride's nature to ever throw anything -- especially jewelry -- away. Those ever-increasing strands of pearls as well as that glint of gold on her ring finger prove that.

Speaking of Constance killing her six husbands ... There was a gag that the Imagineers wanted to include as part of the Attic sequence of WDW's Haunted Mansion that was actually going to be a callback to Disneyland's Hatbox Ghost. You know? That AA figure that was originally installed in the Attic of Anaheim's version of the Mansion but was ultimately removed. All because the Imagineers couldn't the Hatbox Ghost's gag (i.e. With each beat of the Bride's heart, the Hatbox Ghost's head would disappear off of his shoulders and then reappear inside of the hatbox that this ghoul was carrying) to work properly given the fat-too-light lighting conditions that existed in the Attic area of Disneyland's Mansion.

Anyhow ... The way the Imagineers wanted to have WDW's Mansion pay tribute to the Hatbox Ghost was by placing a series of hatboxes -- one stacked right on top of the other -- to the left of Constance. And as she'd say one of her more sinister-sounding lines, which include:

  • Till death do us part ...
  • As long as we both shall live ...
  • I do... I did ...

... You'd see a red head-shaped ... something glow from within each of those hatboxes. Suggesting that not only had Constance offed all of her husbands, but that she'd also kept a few ... souvenirs.

In the end, the Imagineers opted not to go ahead (forgive the unintentional pun) with adding this particular story detail to the Attic. Feeling that this gag put far too gruesome a tag on the end of this scene in the Mansion. And given that these WDW guests were about to begin their descent down into the fairly high spirited Graveyard portion of this attraction, it was felt that the Attic sequence really shouldn't end on such a murderous note. Which is why the heads-in-the-hatboxes bit wound up getting axed.

Speaking of the Graveyard ... Tomorrow, JHM finally completes its ride-thru of WDW's newly enhanced Haunted Mansion. Where we'll then talk about what the future (A Hitchhiking Ghost image capture? The Yankee Trader becoming the Mansion's official new exit area / gift shop?) may hold for this much-beloved Magic Kingdom attraction.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Do you want to do this long distance Daddy a huge favor? If so, first go to this website & then vote for No. 37. On behalf of a certain 13-year-old daughter that I know & love, I thank you.

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  • Am I the only one who can't get this article to load??? I'm dying to read it, but no matter what I do the page won't display!

  • Wow.  Four installments out of five completed.  One to go....but not holding my breath.

    Anyway.  Really enjoying this series.  It's why I used to check out this website every day.  I happened to be one of the first of the general public to ride the upgraded HM and rode it several times that day.  It is the best refurb ever, IMO.  I can see why the DL fans would be jealous.  I was jealous of DL's HM after riding it earlier this year.  I can only hope that the SSE refurb (and the yet-to-be-announced-but-one-day-inevitable Imagination refurb) will be as equally thrilling.

  • I cannot wait to see the attic in January.

    It sounds great.

    The hatbox gag would've been cool, but it would've quite morose, even for the HM.

  • proofread?!?

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