Another movie spun off from a Disney ride? It seemed dicey after ”The Country Bears” bombed last summer. But now that ”Pirates of the Caribbean” has cut a $232.8 million box office swath so far, ”The Haunted Mansion” looks like prime real estate. ”Believe me,” says director Rob Minkoff, ”we’re all breathing a sigh of relief that ‘Pirates’ worked so well.”
Minkoff capped an 11-year career at Disney animation by codirecting 1994’s megahit ”The Lion King,” but left the studio to make the ”Stuart Little” pictures for Sony. He was invited back by Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, who had a script by neophyte writer David Berenbaum (see ”Elf”) and a tentative commitment from Eddie Murphy. Minkoff says the draft he first read ”was not quite right yet for Eddie, and a number of story things didn’t add up.” Revisions were tailored specifically to Murphy, who plays a workaholic real estate agent named Jim Evers. He promises his kids and his wife (Marsha Thomason, a Brit who costarred with Martin Lawrence in ”Black Knight”) some quality weekend time, but then the family gets waylaid at an estate, where scores of spirits (including Terence Stamp as Ramsley, an evil butler) ultimately scare him into being a better dad.
One frightened face you won’t be seeing around the house is Don Knotts’. Minkoff, who’s fond of Knotts’ 1966 opus ”The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,” wanted him for a cameo as a groundskeeper, but says ”there wasn’t enough for him to do, according to his agent.” (The character was dropped.) Meanwhile, Jennifer Tilly was surprised to find her role as fortune-teller Madame Leota was a neck-up-only, technically torturous affair. ”They’d already shot my scenes with an empty crystal ball,” she explains. The plan was to then sandwich Tilly’s close-ups into existing shots. Getting a floaty, otherworldly effect, oddly enough, required her to be extremely still. ”They strapped me to a chair and actually put my head in a vise because I move it around too much.” Still, she didn’t mind terribly, since ”it’s the only movie I haven’t had to lose weight for.”
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