Over the years, Disney has had tremendous success adapting its standout theme park attractions like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the recent box-office smash “Jungle Cruise” into big-screen experiences for film audiences around the globe. Katie Dippold was enlisted to write the screenplay for Haunted Mansion, inspired by the classic theme park attraction, a story about a woman and her son who enlist a motley crew of so-called spiritual experts to help rid their home of supernatural squatters.
Dan Lin and Jonathan Eirich, the producing team responsible for Disney’s smash-hit live-action Aladdin,
had a strong vision for a big-screen adaptation of the Haunted Mansion, one of the most beloved
attractions in the theme park canon. They believed it was important to the fans of the ride that a film
version would be faithful to the spirit of the ride, with its humor, thrills and, of course, large array of
ghosts, but within the framework of a modern-day story featuring a diverse ensemble of characters.
Known for her feature film comedy projects The Heat and Ghostbusters, as well as the hit television series Parks and Recreation, Dippold began an immersive deep dive into the source material, with constant visits to Disneyland to experience the attraction, and a trip to New Orleans, where she locked herself away in a hotel room reputed to be haunted to work on the script.
She emerged with a script that captured all the fun and scariness fans of the attraction love while adding a surprising amount of emotion to the screenplay.
She fashioned a mysterious, comedic adventure in which a haunted mansion on the outskirts of New Orleans is the story’s central character, around which a group of living human characters attempt to wrestle control from the house’s ghostly inhabitants. Each of the characters, it turns out, has experienced some sort of challenging circumstance that has prevented them from moving forward in their lives.
“The beautiful script by Katiee Dippold takes us outside of the story of the Mansion itself,” says director Justin Simien, known for his sharp writing and visually inventive directorial work on his movie Bad Hair and his film and TV series Dear White People, who had his own rich personal history with the Haunted Mansion theme park attraction.
“She created characters that have their own story going on that fits perfectly over what I think the Mansion ride is all about. They’re like us when we visit the ride for the first time. Their experience in our ‘Haunted Mansion’ mirrors that of everyone who sits in a Doom Buggy on the ride.”
LaKeith Stanfield, who plays a scientist who specializes in paranormal activities and is at an existential crossroads, was impressed by the script’s skillful blend of horror, comedy and heart. “There are moments
that are super funny, and then there’s just enough element of creepy and some introspection as well, so
you get a glimpse into the characters’ humanity. It’s not ofen that you see a movie that has all of those
things, and this one does, so it’s special.”
We have a widowed doctor from New York, Gabbie, with a 9-year-old son, Travis, who has trouble making friends, both hoping to start a new life in New Orleans, where Gabbie’s mother once lived. They move into this unusually affordable antebellum-style spread on the bayou, just outside the city, only to discover that the place is much more than they bargained for: the Mansion is home to a wild mix of spirits, some playful and some “dead” serious.
Desperate for help, they contact a priest, Father Kent, who specializes in exorcisms and who, in turn, enlists various “experts” to rid the Mansion known as Gracey Manor of its unwanted guests: Ben, a former astrophysicist grieving the death of his wife and currently leading walking “ghost tours” of the city; Harriet, a French Quarter psychic/medium who does readings at bar mitzvahs; and Bruce Davis, a Tulane University professor proficient in New Orleans’ haunted history.
They each arrive at this home for different reasons, unaware that whoever enters will be unable to leave
without one of its ghosts forever joined at the hip with them. Once they learn the gravity of the situation
the hard way, they realize they must find a way to work together as a team to free themselves and the
Mansion from the grip of the spirits. Along the way they discover not only the Mansion’s twisted history
but also that they each must bravely face their fears and confront their own internal demons to overcome their shared predicament and banish the ghosts from the house and their lives for good.
Director Justin Simien he grew up loving the Haunted Mansion ride
“Simien actually worked at Disneyland when he was in film school, spending all his breaks on the ride,” says producer Jonathan Eirich. “Much of his family is from Louisiana and the New Orleans area, so he knew of the area’s rich history as well, and it just felt like he understood every single element of what makes this attraction so special. He knew right away how to really best capture the tone of the script and to create a visual landscape in the film that could do justice to the ride.”
“I’m a fanboy at heart,” enthuses Simien. “I wanted to be really faithful to the ride because there’s a lot of brilliant storytelling and inspiration there, and in adapting such a beloved and iconic touchstone like ‘Haunted Mansion’ to the screen is the opportunity to build upon this legacy.”
“Of course, the most potent special effect in any movie is the ineffable charisma and chemistry provided by the actors. To make the movie really sing, it was vital to craft an ensemble comedy cast that had the star power a movie of this size requires but that also had the personalities that complement and contrast in all the right places. Like a well-tuned jazz band, everyone makes a different individual sound that nevertheless works with the others to create something unique. The results are what I hope to be a classic family movie. Like the ride itself, I also hope our film pulls a little bit of a magic trick on the audience, because while it’s a story that should absolutely make us laugh and feel a sense of escape, if we’re lucky, the film could also transform our own fears about death and grief into something we can actually face.”
JUSTIN SIMIEN (Director) is an award-winning writer, director and producer. In 2014 he made his feature
film directorial debut with the critically acclaimed “Dear White People,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film won the Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent and was picked up
by Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions. After the theatrical release of Dear White People, Simien then adapted the film into a critically acclaimed Netflix series of the same name. Simien served as the show’s head writer and directed several episodes throughout its four-season run. Both the film and the series follow the lives of a group of black college students attending a predominantly white and fictionalized Ivy League school and tackle issues of racial tensions, identity, gender, sexuality and class in the modern era. Simien returned to Sundance in 2020 with the world premiere of his second feature film, “Bad Hair.” Hulu acquired the horror sa4re, which drove a record number of subscriber sign-ups for the streamer during its “Hulu-ween” rollout. Next, Simien will direct and executive produce the historical docuseries “Hollywood Black” for MGM+. Based on the book by historian Donald Bogle, this four-part docuseries tells the epic story of the actors, writers, directors and producers who fought for their place on the page, behind the camera, on the screen and in the credits. It is a definitive chronicle of a century of the Black experience in Hollywood and a powerful reexamination of a quintessentially American story—in brilliant color.
Simien is currently executive producing a slate of TV projects through his production company, Culture
Machine, and recently began an overall deal with Paramount TV. Under the deal, Simien and his Culture Machine banner will develop premium television series for the studio for broadcast, cable and streaming platforms.
KATIE DIPPOLD (Writer) was a writer on “Parks and Recrea4on” for several seasons before she sold her
spec feature “The Heat” (directed by Paul Feig with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy starring). “The
Heat” won an American Comedy Award for best comedy screenplay and a People’s Choice Award for
favorite comedic movie. Dippold also wrote “Snatched” for 20th Century Fox. ,She also co-wrote “Ghostbusters,” a reboot of the classic 1980s films of the same name, alongside the film’s director Paul Feig. Dippold started out as a journalism major at Rutgers University before becoming a writer/performer at UCB in New York. She moved to Los Angeles for her first writing job at “MADTV.”