Last week saw the fan favourite and legendary Hatbox Ghost make a long awaited and historic return to the Haunted Mansion. After nearly 50 years absence, the old groom has found his way back to his original spot in Gracey Manor with some new technology and projections to help bring this ghoul into the 21st century.
By the use of projections and clever mapping, the Hatbox Ghost is now capable of achieving its famous moving head effect effortlessly in spite of the attic’s brighter ambience. Additionally, new animatronics and voice effects has given old Hattie a foreboding laugh as his old body shakes and creeks menacingly at passing by guests on their way to the graveyard. This global news within the Disney world has lead to many fans (include myself) wonder whether or not we’ll ever see this famous happy haunt make the trek to France and to Phantom Manor. It’s no secret that I’m a huge PM fan but I can easily say without any doubt, I hope not.
Before I go into my reasoning behind my restraining order on old Hattie, I want to make clear I cannot sing the character’s praises enough. As a big Haunted Mansion fan I was very excited to discover then watch the Hatbox Ghost’s return to California. Additionally, I think the technology additions are fantastic and perfectly have the balance of traditionally history and new technological experiences. So why don’t I welcome him with open arms? I’ve already said why, history.
The Hatbox Ghost has always been a Haunted Mansion legend, the tall tale of the missing character that appears in almost every item relating to the attraction, but no sign at all within the walls; a literal ghost within the swinging wake. In the 46 years of his absence, fans speculated not only the reason why the prop disappeared from the attraction but also whether or not he actually existed in the first place. Indeed, it was only until the age of the Internet was it truly laid to rest with thanks to fan photos and videos hitting the mainstream. This huge history behind a single prop is exactly why Disney decided to bring Hattie back in the first place, and precisely why it wouldn’t work in Phantom Manor; we don’t have that history. The Hatbox Ghost was never a part of PM’s original roster and then removed like the Haunted Mansion, nor has he ever appeared in merchandise or any other product relating to Phantom Manor. Some may argue the Hatbox Ghost has more similarities with the Phantom as to any other character within Ravenswood Manor which only cements this argument even more. The Hatbox Ghost wouldn’t work in Paris the same way the Phantom wouldn’t work in Anaheim.
Geographic location isn’t the only issue with Hattie making a debut in Disneyland Paris, actual attraction location is also a problem. Studying the Haunted Mansion layout against my memory of Phantom Manor, I estimate the Hatbox Ghost’s home in relation to its French cousin is in the graveyard scene exactly where the third Phantom stands. There is no way in the living or undead world will the namesake character of an attraction will be replaced, especially arguably the most recognisable incarnation of the Phantom. So this means the Hatbox Ghost would need find a new home within the haunted walls, but where? The winding corridor of doors has no room for such a huge figure, his effect would be completely wasted in the ballroom due to guest distance from characters, we’ve already established the graveyard isn’t possible which only leaves Phantom Canyon. This may seem like the logical solution then, but would a cloaked ghost brandishing a hatbox fit into a demonic Wild West town? No.. Or at least, not this way.
As I mentioned at the top of this article, I am a huge fan of the new Hatbox Ghost’s technology. I feel it is exactly what an historic attraction such as the Haunted Mansion needs to keep it up to date while still preserving the original charm of the Imagineers’ hard work. I believe this so much so that I think the technology does have a place in Phantom Manor and could be used to inject some life into what many see as a lacklustre finale. Due to its arguably more lighthearted approach and inconsistently operational animatronics, many fans have seen Phantom Canyon as the weakest area of Phantom Manor and one that needs improvement. The introduction of this technology could be exactly what PM needs to bring this section from a ‘disappointing’ end show to the most technologically impressive finale in all of Disneyland Park. This doesn’t mean new characters would be removed and replaced from the Canyon, quite the opposite in fact as I believe this technology could easily be implemented into the existing animatronics. Imagine the bandit literally losing its ghost head after being shot by a rival cowboy, or the chemist transforming into a Mr Hyde like creature right before your eyes as you as you pass his hut.
Of course, this is all speculative, as of yet there have been no rumours of the Hatbox Ghost or any other additions making their way to Phantom Manor, but as the 25th anniversary edges closer and closer, I feel DLP must look at Vincent Logozio’s work for inspiration in improving the 999 ghosts atop the hill of Thunder Mesa.