Coaster Kingdom

Phantom Manor (Disneyland Paris)

The following review will go into explicit detail regarding the attraction and the surprises it may conceal. If you choose to read on, be warned that it may detract from your first ride on the attraction.

Phantom Manor is one of Disney's many trademark rides. From park to park, the concept has changed little, and the ride remains, even in its older incarnations, an entertaining jaunt through some rather unsettling scenes. It stands as more of a showcase of Disney's animatronic skills, as opposed to a ride designed to scare the daylights out of you.

Like many rides at Disney, there is a story behind this, more so than most, and although you can normally get away with riding their rides unaware of the story that goes in hand with it, it helps in this case if you are at least clued up on the legend behind Phantom Manor.

The house stands high and proud upon a hill in the far corner of Thunder Mesa. When thriving, the house was the pride of Thunder Mesa, and a favourite haunt with visitors to the town (pun unavoidable). The daughter of the Manor was, however, jilted on the day of her wedding, and from that day was never seen again.

The house fell into a state of disrepair, and residing within it, ghosts, ghouls and predominantly, the Phantom and the spirit of the benevolent Bride herself. The original Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland Anaheim was originated in the years preceding 1969, Walt Disney supervised the plans for it, although tragically never lived to see the end product.

The mansion itself stands high on Boot Hill overlooking Thunder Mesa, the river, and the manors private cemetery to the right hand side. It’s a foreboding building, decaying and aged, tiles fallen, windows clouded with dust and railings rusting and crumbling.

As you pass the entrance gate, climbing the carriage road, past a desolate gazebo with muted music echoing from it, you approach a garden pavilion. Inside, the remains of a fountain, cracked and covered in moss and algae. And so the patented cattle pen queue begins, and after a few minutes of shuffling, you follow the path under the buildings main porch before entering through the front door.

Visitors are let into the mansion in groups. The first room is darkened, the doors slam shut behind you, and a mirror in the far corner reveals a fading image of the jilted Bride herself. You then enter a candle lit chamber, wood panelled walls, seemingly no way out. The room begins to lower you down into the heart of the mansion, paintings of happier times elongate showing a much more evil twist to the story each painting has to tell. There’s a crack of thunder, and the doors open.

From here, you must walk through the gallery; take the time to glance at the paintings as they glance at you. Not a particularly original trick, but the eyes move, and upon reaching the end of this gallery, you pass a full-length portrait of the bride herself.

It is here where you must board a ‘doom buggy’, a Vekoma designed and engineered carriage that will take you through the remainder of the house. Each hooded vehicle is controlled to turn to face the action and seats two people. You board in the shadow of a grand marbled staircase in a beautifully decorated hall, lightening flashing dramatically, lighting the hall for seconds. Once in, the bar will lower as the light dims and you begin your haunting journey.

As you pass under a balcony from which the bride welcomes you, to the right, a never ending hallway, a clever trick using mirrors. In the gloom, the bride re-appears, briefly before fading out into the darkness.

As you pass the piano which is inevitably playing itself, doors move and the eerie wallpaper, patterned with grim eyes glows in the dark. As the car turns, you are in a large circular hall. A séance table in the centre has the crystal ball glowing with an apparition of Madam Leota reading and chanting.

The grand reception in the following room is one of the best scenes. As people dine around a table and waltz on the dance floor, ghouls and spirits leave the organ on which a dark character plays. Standing on the staircase, our bride, and in the window with the wind catching the elegant curtain, the phantom who haunts the house to this day.

Before leaving the house into the graveyard, a harrowing scene of a crying bride, now rid of her beauty, looking into a scummy mirror resembling the shape of a skull. As the curtains billow in the wind, a dim light shines upon a painting of the bride, her beauty captured.

Outside, wolves growl over open graves and shattered coffins. As you descend, you do so into a superbly graphical crypt with coffins splitting open, explicit emaciated living-dead figures laugh with malevolence. For children, the sheer excellence of their animation will leave them restless.

A quartet of singing busts ruins the fantastically gloomy atmosphere so far set by preceding scenes, and soon after, the mayor welcomes you to his dilapidated and rotting town. The ground is cracked from decay, and upon lifting his hat, the mayor’s head soon follows.

A few more scenes follow that the ride could have done without. A pharmacy where the chemist drinks his own cocktails meeting a predictable demise, a game of poker and a bank robbery. All are a bit too settling, tacking in appearance, black-lit, and don’t fit in with the rest of the ride, a shame, but to be expected in most haunted houses, not this one.

As you pass the bride in her final scene, skeletal figures clad only in the ragged remains of her bridal wear, the car turns to a wall of mirrors. If the image of yourself isn’t un-settling enough, a ghoul squats on the hood of your car before it turns, and you are invited to leave the house, and with this somewhat anti-climatic ending, you are brought back into the living world.

The attention to detail throughout the house is fantastic. If you know the story, that really adds to the experience, however, upon leaving her bridal suite for the brief stint outside among singing statues and howling wolves it does seem to lose the plot somewhat.

This is a shame. Other than this aspect, it does nothing but inspires awe. You don’t come out with hairs on the back of your neck standing up, but you do come out impressed at the amount of concentration the imagineers have clearly spent on theming every square inch of the ride.

The story is a good one, and it suits the ride. It is also a fantastic, high capacity family attraction. Compared to other dark rides though, it set trends and as such, has nothing new to offer in the days of motion based simulator vehicles and the like. As it stands though, it is one of the finest examples of a haunted house you can be expected to find.