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When Two Holidays Collide...

A Tour Through Jack Skellington's Winter Terror-land

By Scott Bruffey

Chocolate and peanut butter. French fries and mayonnaise. Disney’s Haunted Mansion and The Nightmare Before Christmas. At first glance, it would appear that some things should not go together; the small list above offered as evidence. Should not. But, despite our expectations, they do go together. They go together quite well, in fact.

The gate to Disney's Haunted Mansion Holiday

I love Disney’s Haunted Mansion and all of its variations: the rides, the merchandise, the mythology, the fan base, pretty much anything to do with Master Gracey’s Manor. I also love Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (from hereon referred to as NBC). But put the two together? No. N-N-N-OOOO! They both have their own (very different) appeal. Separate but equal.

Thank God Disney never asked me my opinion, because put them together they did, and the results are wonderful.

This is not a minor refurbishment, no "stick a Jack Skellington puppet in the corner and call it new." This is a major overhaul and could in many rights be considered a new ride (albeit in some very familiar territory).

The crowd in line was treated to prerecorded orchestral codas, to which they were encouraged to "scream along" in order to make the time in line go faster.

When Disney first officially unveiled the ride October 3, 2001, they did it up in typical Disney style, complete with a live show comprising some of the talent that created the original NBC, including the film’s director, Henry Selick. Conspicuously not present were Tim Burton and Danny Elfman who had been scheduled to appear but bowed out at the last minute without explanation (at least none that we were given). This didn’t sit well with the fans that were there; Cynthia Harris was booed by the audience when she announced their absence (boos which turned to laughter). Burton and Elfman did have brief video interviews prepared, so their decision to not appear couldn’t have been too unexpected.

Disney had two packages available for attendance that night; a low-priced ticket that got you into the show and a ride-through only. A higher-priced ticket ($200) got you the show, dinner in the Blue Bayou with Disney artists Elisabete Gomes and Eric Robison (both of whom created some of the special merchandise that was available at the special event), plus a ride-through that was a little different from the one enjoyed by the lower-priced ticket holders earlier in the evening. These slight differences will be noted in this article.

Important note: if you have not ridden on the Haunted Mansion / NBC refurbishment and want to be surprised (which I highly suggest), then read no further. What follows is a detailed description of the ride-through. That said, let us step into the shadows of our favorite dark ride and see what we can see.

Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland

Haunted Mansion Exterior and Grounds

Haunted Mansion Holiday facade

The scale of changes is evident right from the start. The solemn twin brick columns and wrought iron archway you walk under when first entering the grounds now boast a left column that has a large Jack in a Santa suit sitting atop a pumpkin and holding a spinning snowflake. The arch is covered with garland, and a large stylized bat (the same one that Jack uses for a bow tie) rests above a sign that reads “Haunted Mansion Holiday.” The right column has a small “Pumpkin Man” (a snowman made from three pumpkins stacked atop each other instead of the traditional three balls of snow) standing on an evergreen chandelier. Both columns have the Haunted Mansion Plaque set in the open mouth of a wreath with eyes and fangs.

The hearse to the right of the walkway is covered and filled with Jack O’ Lanterns wearing Santa hats.

While waiting in line, creepy "scarols," arranged by John Debney with lyrics by Steven Davison, were played for the queued guests to enjoy.

Then we come to the Haunted Mansion itself. The once stately, reserved manor is now ablaze with hundreds of candles and grinning, glowing Jack O’ Lanterns on all railings, gables and rooftops. Above the left wing sits Jack’s sleigh, a converted coffin laden with gifts and a long scrolling list that has spilled out and rolled down the side of the manse. Above the center porch is a large backlit clock with the months of the year in place of hours and below that, a sign counting down the days to Christmas. The windows are wreathed in evergreen garland.

Haunted Mansion Holiday foyer

The Foyer

There are not too many changes from the traditional Haunted Mansion here. The walls near the ceiling are draped with evergreen garland and skulls and crossbones. The ride narration (here, as well as the rest of the ride) is from a completely new script, and was recorded by Corey Burton, in a pitch-perfect homage to original Ghost Host, Paul Frees.

“T’was a long time ago, longer now than it seems—In a place that perhaps you’ve seen in your dreams. For the story that you are about to be told, began with the holiday worlds of old. I know you’re curious to see what’s inside… It’s what happens when two holidays collide...”


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