Phantom Manor has returned. After an incredible 15 month refurbishment the iconic Disneyland Paris dark ride will officially reopen its doors on Friday 3rd May, allowing all guests to once again delve into the secrets and hauntings of Ravenswood Manor.
Ah but things are not always as they seem. It has been well documented and teased throughout the attraction’s downtime that the refurb is being used to not only update and improve existing effects and technologies but major changes to Phantom Manor’s story. This is anything but a regular refurbishment and, if you ask me, the most significant one we have ever seen in the resort.
I was very fortunate to attend the Phantom Manor reopening event held within Frontierland several days prior to the attraction’s relaunch. Rest assured, curious friends, those looking to experience all that is new and different without having it spoiled can do so in the comfort of this review. If you want to hear my full thoughts – story spoilers and all – you can do so in my spoiler review.
On the outside, Phantom Manor has never looked better. The lengthy refurbishment has given maintenance ample time to fully renovate the queue line, show building and even add a meet & greet spot that has seen regular use since its opening from last Halloween. My personal favourite addition is definitely the new decrepit details added to the Manor itself. A direct reference and homage to the original attraction model made by Walt Disney Imagineering.
This may not be the most surprising of reveals. After all we have all had a full look of the exterior for several months ever since the tarp and scaffolding came down. Actually walking through the queue once again though you can really get a sense of the work that has been put in and the effort to (in a paradoxical way) bring life back into the abandoned and deathly look of Phantom Manor.
Once thing I would note however is the queue line’s music loop. I don’t know if new speakers and/or sound system were installed as part of the refurb but the eerie sounds of wind chimes and subtle beats of the Manor’s medley have noticeably increased in volume. On one hand this does help bring the amazing work by John Debney to the center of attention but if you ask, the queue’s loop worked best in its subtly. The quiet sounds that once populated the queue played into the mysterious, illusionary side of Phantom Manor. Portraying to guests the question whether they are really hearing what they think, particularly when that iconic medley appears.
It is possible however this sound increase was merely for testing or the relaunch event. So take that criticism with caution into the cold winds.
Casting our minds back to last year’s Disney FanDaze conference, a big focus was made on the full restoration and enhancement of effects and technical components to the ride interior. Tom Fitzgerald, lead Imagineer to the Phantom Manor refurbishment project, joked that every screw, wire and nail was to be replaced inside the attraction. His humour wasn’t far from fact.
Inside Phantom Manor the attraction has seen a complete overhaul in effects, bringing everything up to a fully functioning standard. Audio is clearer than ever before, animatronics move as always intended and classic Pepper’s Ghost effects stay flawless. Even the iconic Doombuggys have been revised with padded seating.
Credit must be given to how well work was done in bringing so many classic effects to their intended glory, but even more is due to the enhances that have been made throughout. This is particularly most noticeable with improved lighting to several key scenes, bringing an even more foreboding or dramatic appearance when necessary. A lot has clearly been learned in Phantom Manor’s 27 year history with regards to how guests both see and immerse themselves into different areas. Two scenes in particular I would contest have never looked better.
Where some moments have benefited massively from visual improvements, the second sense of sound has also seen rejuvenation at certain aspects to provide just that added level of depth and authenticity to your tour. Clanking of chains, the beating of rain and wind against windows and other spook-filled sound effects have been added to existing atmospheric sounds.
Of course, no discussion on new sounds within the Manor would complete without mentioning the return of an iconic, chilling voice. Revealed last year, Hollywood horror legend and original voice of Phantom Manor Vincent Price has finally had his cult worshiped spiel return to the attraction. It may not be exactly how I had hoped it to be, but hearing that unmistakable voice and timelessly quotable speech inside the walls of the stretch room is a joy.
I’d love for this to be where I could end my review of the Phantom Manor refurbishment. I wish I able to label it a technical marvel and now is the best time to experience the attraction. Alas, I cannot.
Well before Phantom Manor reopened its doors we were informed – or perhaps warned – that story changes would be coming to the attraction. As someone who has always been a huge fan of the classic story, vowing my beliefs that it should remain untouched, this was always a concern for me. Nevertheless, I promised to go in hopeful and open-minded to any and all alterations.
While any narrative is subjective and up to the individual to decide for themselves, as a die-hard, enormous Phantom Manor fan I ultimate believe the story has been drastically made worse by the changes made.
Major aspects of the core story, including elements tied to characters, motivations and worst of all, the mystery of Phantom Manor have been altered or outright removed in such a way the plot cannot even be seen as the same one rode prior to 8th January 2018.
This ‘new’ version of the attraction’s story is messy and disjointed. There are several moments that directly contradict one another and even fail to make sense under the guise of the new narrative and direction shaped for it.
A popular complaint on Phantom’s classic tale was the use of ambiguity and reliance on further reading to fully appreciate it. While I always argued that was part of the story’s brilliance I understood and accepted the demand for more clarity. These new plot changes though I believe only create even more confusion and less understanding to those entering the Ravenswood Manor doors for the first time.
I praised earlier the work that went in to several scenes adding a new level of atmosphere and immersion through new sounds and lighting. Unfortunately this is a two sided coin, one which hides a part that has done to total opposite.
While the Phantom Manor refurbishment has given us some of the best iterations of some scenes within the attraction, others have been changed so drastically they lose all that made them what they were. In an attempt to push a new story or pay further homage to it’s American cousins, areas and set-pieces have been completely ruined. Their entire original purpose as a narrative, visual or in some cases metaphorical device is destroyed.
The Haunted Mansion is an attraction that will forever be tied to Phantom Manor. The two dark rides share the same core system, a similar soundtrack and famous elements. Indeed, PM’s entire existence is down to the fact the original 1969 idea could not translate into multi-lingual Europe. A decision that later influenced the creation of Hong Kong’s Mystic Manor and thus creating a Haunted Mansion ‘family’, so to speak.
Phantom Manor will always have The Haunted Mansion intertwined as part of its D.N.A. With this refurbishment however it feels less of an ancestral throwback than it does a thematic takeover. Many of my issues with the new story and show changes I can label as having a very Haunted Mansion inspired reason behind them. Whether they directly reference the Anaheim attraction, attempt to aim for a similar tone or just follow exactly in its footsteps, huge elements of the Phantom are now void of what made them so great. The iconic, darker version of a Disneyland classic can still be found, but its soul has been removed. This attraction is now more a Haunted Mansion than it is a Phantom Manor.
There are two ways to look at the Phantom Manor refurbishment. From a strictly technical level this is one of the most impressive and enhancing redevelopments ever seen at Disneyland Paris. While most refurbs merely hope to bring back what once was in an attraction’s engineering health and effectiveness, this was a triumph by not only returning plenty of the Manor to its ’92 glory, but improving upon it.
It’s unfortunate that despite all of these technical achievements, creatively this refurbishment is a disaster. So many changes have been done without merit, iconic scenes and elements tonally destroyed or outright removed. Pair this with the complete story change that fails to live up to the original, has left us with a Phantom Manor that no longer feels like Phantom Manor.
Has your opportunity to experience Phantom Manor post-refurbishment materialised yet? What are your thoughts on the attraction’s new changes and additions? I love to hear others’ opinions so be sure to let me know your’s over on Twitter!