It smacks of tempting fate to start a movie with the words, "Welcome foolish mortals," even if they greet riders of the Disney theme park attraction that inspired this mildly spooky comedy. Fortunately, the eerily uttered threat is more a goofy warning than a comment on the film's quality. During the mid-19th century, a lavish ball at the titular mansion turns to tragedy when a beautiful bride-to-be poisons herself and, in true Romeo and Juliet fashion, her devastated betrothed commits suicide. As a result, the mansion's residents are all condemned to dwell forever in a ghostly state. In the present day, eager real-estate salesman Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy), armed with the cheesy assurance that he wants his buyers to be happy "for evers and evers," is perpetually on the lookout for the next big sale. He delays a family vacation when his business partner and wife, Sara (Marsha Thomason), gets a call from spooky butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp), who tells her that the mansion's owner is interested in selling the property. Jim drags his wife and children out to the house, where they're invited to have dinner with the mysterious owner, Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker), who's anxious to divest himself of the estate because he feels the need to move on. A convenient storm and its attendant flood keep the family trapped on Gracey's palatial grounds for the night, and Jim is soon separated from his wife while 10-year-old Michael (Marc John Jefferies) and 13-year-old Megan (Aree Davis) traipse upstairs to the attic in pursuit of a ghostly apparition. The Everses soon realize that something isn't right, and become deeply embroiled in a plot to free the house from its unearthly residents. It's notoriously difficult to balance lighthearted humor with the spookiness a good ghost story requires, but director Rob Minkoff is surprisingly successful, delivering a satisfying mix of laughs and mild scares aimed at a young audience. Murphy's goofy awkwardness occasionally degenerates into mugging, but his good-natured attitude and cute young costars make those moments relatively bearable. The lush-looking estate and special effects are eye-catching, but woe betide anyone or anything trying to steal a scene from Stamp. Fans of the Disney attraction will be pleased to note "appearances" by the ride's memorable stars, notably Madame Leota and the hitchhiking ghosts.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: PG
- Review: It smacks of tempting fate to start a movie with the words, "Welcome foolish mortals," even if they greet riders of the Disney theme park attraction that inspired this mildly spooky comedy. Fortunately, the eerily uttered threat is more a goofy warning tha… (more)