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WDI's X-Scream Makeover of WDW's Haunted Mansion: Part 5

Jim Hill

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WDI's X-Scream Makeover of WDW's Haunted Mansion: Part 5

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Picking up where we left off ... As our Doom Buggy exits the Attic, it then descends into the Graveyard. Where diehard fans of Walt Disney World's version of the The Haunted Mansion will notice that something's different about this portion on the attraction. But -- that said -- they'll probably have a problem putting their finger on what exactly has been changed down here.

That's because the Imagineers stuck with that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude that helped them through so many of their earlier decisions on the Haunted Mansion redo. And given that the Graveyard sequence is considered by many to be the real high point of this dark ride ... The guys from WDI took an almost surgical approach to the changes that they made here.

Take -- for example -- the subtle color adjustment that was made to the ghosts in this area of the attraction. Where once these "creepy creeps with eerie eyes" were all colored purple, now this Graveyard seems to be filled with "Green Grinning Ghosts."

"Why the change?," you ask. Because the color purple (especially when viewed through those floor-to-ceiling scrims that you'll find throughout this portion of the attraction) tends to look washed out. Whereas the color green still manages to pop when viewed under those conditions.

The Imagineers also upgraded the audio in this area by placing individual speakers in front of the Audio Animatronics that are found in the Graveyard scene. So that -- as you ride through this revised version of the Mansion -- it now sounds as though the dialogue that's been assigned to a particular character is actually coming from their AA figure.

So now when the Headless Knight sings, you actually hear his voice coming from that head that he holds in his hand. Likewise the Opera Singer's voice now comes out of her body and the Headsman's voice seems to come out his body ... And so it goes with all of the AA figures in this area. Which adds an element of reality to this unworldly setting.

It's this renewed attention to detail that also helps make the new version of Little Leota so effective. Instead of staring off to the side as she previously had (So that this figure's blank face could then line up with that 16 mm projector / periscope set-up that I mentioned in yesterday's article. You know? The old 1960s era technological set-up that used to be used to project Madam Leota's talking head into that crystal ball in the Séance Circle room?), Little Leota now looks directly at the guests as they roll by in their Omnimovers. Thanks to her new on-board internal digital projector, this tiny spectre can finally make eye contact. Which makes Little Leota's instructions (i.e. "Be sure to bring your death certificate") seem all the more eerie.

But as for the rest of the Graveyard & the Crypt (Which is where you'll find those pesky hitchhiking ghosts) ... The Imagineers didn't touch a thing. I mean, why needlessly tinker with something that the public already loves?

Of course, that's not to say that -- even before work ever began on this particular Mansion redo -- that the folks who run the retail side of things at the Magic Kingdom weren't pushing for big changes to be made in this portion of the attraction.

"What sort of changes?," you ask. Well, let's remember that one of the most popular (not to mention the most profitable) Disney theme park souvenirs is the image capture. You know. That picture that's snapped just as your log zips down Chickapen Hill over at Splash Mountain or just as that carnotaur lunges at your Time Rover. But what's the one image capture that WDW guests haven't able to get yet? That moment where you look in the mirror and discover which member of that hitchhiking trio is now the "ghost (that) will follow you home."

According to WDW's own surveys, this is the one souvenir photo that Disney World visitors would most like to have. Mind you, it's not that the guys in WDW Merchandising haven't tried to get an image capture up & running at this particular attraction. In fact, they actually funded the construction of a state-of-the-art test unit for the Mansion a few years back. Which was kept in place in this dark ride until just last year but never turned on.

"And why was that?," you query. Well, this particular image capture system was supposed to make use of the next generation of Disney PhotoPass cards. Where each of these cards would then have had a Smart Chip embedded inside of it.

You see, the beauty of this next generation PhotoPass system was that -- thanks to that Smart Chip -- the computers that monitors all of the image capture systems that are located within Disney World's theme parks would then have been aware of your whereabouts. So that -- if you had this new, improved version of the Photo Pass card on your person as you rode through Space Mountain or Rock 'n' Roller Coaster -- this system would have known to automatically get an image capture of you on that attraction and then save it to memory. So that you'd then be able to view this photo later. Like when you got back to your WDW hotel room later that same night.

You see, the beauty of this system was ... If you want to have some imagery of your family enjoying themselves while you were all vacationing at Walt Disney World but wanted to avoid the hassle of bringing a camera with you to the parks ... Not to worry. This Smart Chip-driven system would do all of the heavy lifting for you.

What's more, once you got back to your on-property resort that night, you could then use the television in your hotel room to first review the photographs that had been taken that day. Then if you wanted to share any of these images with friends & family back home, you could then use this same Smart Chip / TV / computer set-up to e-mail these photos to whomever you'd like.

I know, I know. The system that I've just described here sounds like something of Steve Spielberg's "Minority Report." But I've had Mansion insider swear to me that this Smart Chip-driven image capture system was actually in place in that attraction as recently as last year. But that the Mouse never ever turned it on. At least not while any WDW visitors were riding through that show building.

Why For? Well, there were two reasons, actually. One was obviously tied to privacy-related concerns. Disney execs were reportedly worried that guests would really be put off by the idea that -- thanks to the Smart Chip that was supposed to be embedded inside of these next generation Disney PhotoPasses -- that their movements around the resort could now be tracked.

Truth be told, though, it wasn't those privacy-related concerns that temporarily put the kibosh on this new image capture system. But -- rather -- the high cost of these Smart Chip-driven PhotoPasses and Disney's worry that guests might then lose them that ultimately put an end to any field testing of this new technology.

Mind you, once the per-unit cost for those Smart Chips drops down to a price point that the Mouse's management team is much more comfortable with ... Well, you can then expect the guys in WDW Merchandise to circle back around to this idea. All with the hope that they'll then be able to sell image capture souvenir photos to any guest who's ever walked around one of their theme parks with a next generation Disney PhotoPass in their pocket.

Of course, one of the other improvements that's long been proposed for the Mansion is building a gift shop in its exit area. One where every WDW visitors who was getting off of this Liberty Square attraction would be forced to walk through before they could re-enter the Magic Kingdom.

As I understand it, the blueprints for this proposed store have been drawn up for almost a decade now. Phase One of construction would involve ripping out that post-show Mausoleum area. During Phase Two, the Yankee Trader shop would triple in size until it was finally connected to the Mansion itself.

"Why would this expanded version of the Yankee Trader have to be so large?," you ask. Well, you have to keep in mind that over 2600 people typically cycle through the Haunted Mansion every hour. And with that many people continually getting off of the Omnimover for 10, 12, sometimes 16 hours a day and then walking straight into your shop ... Well, you're going to need an enormous amount of retail space if you ever hope to handle that much flow-thru traffic.

It's worth noting here that -- ever since the Magic Kingdom's Skyway system closed back in November of 1999 -- that the folks who handle the retail side of things at that theme park have been pushing for the creation of this massive new version of the Yankee Trader. Which would be this ginormous store that would straddle both Fantasyland & Liberty Square while also serving as the Mansion's new exit area.

One of the other incentive for going ahead with construction of this new Haunted Mansion gift shop / exit area combo is that it would then allow the Imagineers to completely overhaul the attraction's off-load area. With an eye toward making this section of the Mansion that much more accessible for folks in wheelchairs and/or any WDW visitors who need special assistance in order to properly experience this dark ride.

"So why wasn't these design changes made this time around?," you ask. Well, let's remember that the Imagineers were only given $30 million to cover all of the construction costs of this latest Mansion redo. And given that previous estimates for the revamping of this dark ride's exit area / the expansion of the Yankee Trader put its construction costs somewhere in the low $40s ($40 millions, that is) ... It just didn't make sense to spend all that money on a Haunted Mansion-themed gift shop when the attraction itself was so desperately in need of some TLC.

Of course, this is not to say that -- four or five years further on down the line -- that the Imagineers won't then circle back around to this Haunted Mansion gift shop / exit area overhaul idea. The belief in-house right now is that the Mouse is missing out on millions annually because it doesn't yet follow the example of "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" and have all of the Mansion's riders exit through a retail environment. And given how much Mickey likes money ... You can bet that this idea is going to come up again sometime soon.

But as I said earlier, that's at least four or five years further on down the line. So for now, we get to savor our new gift-shop-free version of WDW's Haunted Mansion. Which sets the bar high for all Disney theme park ride revival projects that follow.

Trust me, folks. This ride -- which was great fun before -- is now truly spectacular. Never before have the Imagineers been so smart about how they've used their available resources. Making changes to this dark ride only where they really needed. Where they'd then have the biggest impact on the guest and/or give the biggest boost to this 36-year-old attraction.

Anyway ... Be sure and check out the revamped version of the Haunted Mansion the very next time you're down in Orlando. You'll be so glad that you did.

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  • Awww man, they didn't add an Eddie Murphy AA figure?

  • Jim,

    Great story!!!! But bigger news you did it!!! You finished a 5 part story!!!! Now can you go back and grab a few of your old ones and touch those up?

    J

  • Jim- as someone who occasionally gives you grief about some of your articles, I wanted to say that I truly enjoyed this series. These are the kind of stories I love, and this series was awesome. Thanks.

  • I shuddered at that gift shop idea.  I love knowing that there's at least one major attraction that doesn't ruin the theming by trying to rob your of your money the instant you get off the ride.  It's my least favorite part of Pirates now.  Just no.

    Great article, Jim.  I'll be riding this in less than a month.

  • Now then. Finishing a series wasn't that hard, was it?

    Great series all the way through.  Just like I like my JHM.  Thanks!

  • I have no problem with the Gift Shop idea. Honestly, one of my favorite parts is wandering around the exit gift shops. It not only doesn't hurt the theme of the ride, if done properly, it improves it. Tower of Terror is almost a perfect theming, as most hotels would in fact have a gift shop selling towels and robes.

  • Good Job Proud of ya Son you accomplished something and saw it through to fruition ,,,,  All kiddings aside...  I dont have a problem with the gift shop either and hope sooner rather than later they get the photo problem solved

  • Jim, I personally don't like the gift shop idea. I think it feeds into the Walmarting of Disney complaint that's spreading around the internet. However, I know that WDI knows how to do things right and if they do in fact build a gift shop exit it'll probably be very well done. Maybe they could sell re-issued Haunted Mansion merchandise from the past.

  • Great series Jim, and well worth it despite any site and/or internet problems!

  • Great article. Now, what about those photo's you promised to include?  Or is that not going to happen since the text that promises them has been deleted?

    I voted, so let's see those photos!

  • TheKaz said:

    Jim- as someone who occasionally gives you grief about some of your articles, I wanted to say that I truly enjoyed this series. These are the kind of stories I love, and this series was awesome. Thanks.

    Totally agree, Jim. I'd say that, bar none, this was the best series you've ever written. I really enjoyed it immensely. It was well-written, contained great info, and was just overall absolutely enjoyable to read.

    Thank you so much for seeing this through!

  • I really enjoyed this series!  My fave articles are always the ones about park attractions and this one was fantastic!  Many thanks!

    That said, I'd like to point out one or two things that bother me.  Where were the rest of the subtle inclusions of Nightmare Before Christmas characters?  In one of the earlier segments, you mentioned the book in the library, and that there were a few other spots where they hinted at the addition of Jack Skellington & Friends, but I never saw where any of the others were?

    Another thing that kinda bothered me was the way the new Bride fits into the "Gracey" storyline.  As I understood it, (via the "Haunted Mansion" comics they were putting out), Gracey hung himself after his bride died under mysterious circumstances (or he murdered her).  Now that the Bride is the murderess, have they come up with any kind of an alternate story.  I don't mean to sound nitpicky; the Bride was always my least favorite part of the ride and I'm thrilled that now she fits in better, I guess it just makes it seem like she's the one who offed Master Gracey now.  

    Last is ... where can I find the pics?  ^_~

    Awesome article, keep rockin'!

  • Quarterfinals:  http://www.toysnjoys.com/survey.html  

    Just finished watching our annual viewing of Jeff Lange's Halloween Treat DVD.  I'm really pleased with the way JHM keeps up with my favorite holiday.

    (sings) "It's the most...wonderful tiiiiiiime......of the yeeeeeear!"

  • Great series, Jim.

    However, I can't tell if I'm more dissapointed that the last installment wasn't just as riviting as parts 1-4 or in Disneys repeated attempts to bludgen it's comsumers to death with marketing.  Oh well.

  • So when are the pics going to be put in to the HM articles?  It was promised, right?  I keep checking back but...

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