How it Differs from the Mansion
A Kissing Cousin to the Original Attraction
Though there are very few differences between the three Haunted Mansions, Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris (click the link to read the official Disneyland Paris storyline) marks a large step forward in attraction design (though it is still quite clearly a kissing cousin to the other Haunted Mansions, containing many of the same gags and effects, the same general ride layout, and the same theme song throughout.)
A Darker Premise
Phantom Manor carries the "cinematic" ride concept a step further than the Haunted Mansion does, by firmly setting mood with sound and music in a more dramatic fashion. This is not to say that Phantom Manor is "better" than the Haunted Mansion; it's hard to argue that there isn't inherent value in the pure originality of the first Mansions.
The Disneyland Paris attraction also contains material of a darker, more graphic nature than any of the Mansions do, being similar in tone to Disneyland's Indiana Jones Adventure, as evidenced by these photos. The decay of death, which is mostly absent from the Mansions, is in full display in the Manor. The "Phantom" of the Manor can be seen digging a fresh grave. In the catacombs, you will see a tribute to the Haunted Mansion's conservatory scene as a restless spirit tries to wrestle its way out of a mouldering casket. And using a common head seen a number of times in the Haunted Mansions as a base (most notably as the skeletal hitchhiking ghost,) additional scultping has been done to create a hideously malevolent Phantom as he threatens to pull you into the afterlife near the end of the ride experience. Unlike the smooth skull-like visage the Phantom posesses while in the world of the living, we are exposed to his corruptible, mortal state when we encounter him beyond the catacombs.
Original English-language narration deemed unneccessary
When Disneyland Paris first opened (then called "Euro Disneyland,") Phantom Manor contained an opening spiel very similar to that of the American "Ghost Host." Being an English-only feature, this verbage was quickly discontinued once the park's demographics were more clearly understood. In fact, while the other Haunted Mansions contain a running narration, Phantom Manor manages to carry a coherent storyline with no narration at all.
Nevertheless, this now-missing original introduction was especially notable as it was delivered by the inimitable monster-movie maverick Vincent Price, a veteran of numerous spook shows and creepy films.
Madame Leota's incantations (voiced by Oona Lind) are also a bit different in Paris. Her predictions are more eerie, and take on a malevolent tone as she reads tarot cards and predicts a "ravishing bride, but a vanishing groom..." Her verbage is also delivered bilingually. As was the case in the Haunted Mansion (until new improved projection technology was installed in the Mansions recently), Leota's disembodied head is actually a static opaque form with expressions projected from within the head via fiber optics.
Clear Similarities, as Well...
Phantom Manor definitely has much in common with its Haunted cousins. The floorplan of the attraction is very similar, and the ride "inside" the Manor is essentially the same, though the props and characters tell the tale of the bride throughout the otherwise familiar scenes to give everything a cohesive purpose. The Manor shares an extreme attention to detail with its cousins, which includes everything from the theming in Frontierland as you approach Phantom Manor (an undertaker hangs his sign near the path toward Thunder Mesa), and even the custom door knockers lend the area an aura of foreboding.
Many familiarities await fans of the Haunted Mansions. For example, though the stretching portraits are quite different from Marc Davis' original concepts seen in the Mansion, the candle-holding gargoyles that protect them remain exactly the same in both Mansion and Manor. And an evil-looking statue that seems to follow your every move is a sister to statues found in the Haunted Mansions.
According to Imagineer Jason Surrell in his book "The Haunted Mansion - from the Magic Kingdom to the Movies," French officials "weren't interested in a wholesale reproduction of Disney's American parks." So when Imagineer Tony Baxter led the team to recreate the classic attractions for a new European audience, part of the task was to translate the experience to a different culture. It is to WDI's credit that so many familiar details were inserted into Phantom Manor, to pay tribute to its roots.
A Familiar Backstory
Though the American "Wild West" is as much myth as history, it has become legendary worldwide, thanks to the cultural impact of Hollywood's westerns and the cowboys and indians mythos. So Baxter and his crew set out to create a mysterious Frontierland that would echo the common perception of the classic western, yet contain an original tale for those intent on seeking it out. Much as the original WED team did for Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, a tale of a woeful bride was developed, though this time her story would be echoed throughout all of Frontierland.
In this telling of the story, Henry Ravenswood, the lord of Thunder Mesa (due to a highly profitable gold mining operation) built a stately Manor for his wife and daughter, Melanie, who was planning to be married. The home, built high on a hill, overlooked all of Frontierland. But a series of unfortunate incidents befell the family, causing the Ravenswood fortune to be lost, culminating in an earthquake that apparently killed them all, leaving the Manor to sit empty and abandoned.
But all is not as it seems. Echoing the tales told at WED in the '60s, it seems that the intended bride may have been planning to marry against her father's wishes. The body we see hanging from the rafters at the beginning of the attraction may, in fact, be the unfortunate groom-to-have-been. And, perhaps, the Phantom of the Manor is Henry Ravenswood himself, driven to madness after losing his fortune and family. Perhaps the Phantom is doing whatever he can to keep his family together... forever.
Extended fan reports provide additional insight
The following links lead to a few reports and impressions of Phantom Manor, all with differing viewpoints. Read them all for a pretty solid impression of what Phantom Manor is all about. But heed this warning: spoilers abound in these articles! If you ever plan to visit the Manor with no preconceptions or notions of what's inside, I suggest you skip these reports.
Steve Fink presents a very comprehensive report, explaining why the original Mansion is superior to its kissing cousin, the Manor... Click here
While Ariel L. provides a youthful counterpoint, describing everything that gives the Manor originality and a fresh approach to haunted attractions. Click here
Regan Pederson describes the intense craftsmanship and artistic flair behind the Manor's story and soundtrack, as well as providing a moving testimonial to its emotional impact. Click here
Finally, T.R. Wolf examines every aspect of Phantom Manor that differs from the Haunted Mansion, and offers a detailed trip report. Click here
A Musical Journey Through the Underworld
On the following page, you'll have a chance to listen to many samples of cues from the Phantom Manor attraction. The soundtrack to the attraction was one element of the ride that could provide an homage to the original Haunted Mansion. The singing busts in the catacombs of Phantom Manor use the same recorded tracks that are used in the Haunted Mansion - and the Haunted Mansion's Ghost Host, Paul Frees, makes an audio "appearance" as the mayor of the local ghost town...