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The following article is taken from Haunted Attraction Magazine #27, with a cover story on Disneyland Paris' Phantom Manor. Author David Goebel takes an in-depth look at the inner workings of this re-make of the classic Haunted Mansion attraction. (Visit Haunted Attraction Magazine online at www.hauntedattraction.com.

Behind the Scenes of Phantom Manor

By David Goebel
From Haunted Attraction Magazine #27

Phantom Manor Phast Phacts:
The ride opened on April 12th, 1992
Ride duration is about 5½ minutes plus a 2-minute pre-show
130 "Doombuggies" are on 240 meters of track, with 6 back-up cars
92 Audio-Animatronics
58 individual special effects
54 animated props and more than 400 special show props
7-9 Cast members on site

In the mid-eighties, when Tony Baxter and his team of "Imagineers" got the assignment of designing the Disney's first ever European amusement park, (at the time called Euro Disneyland), Baxter encouraged his crew to think of what could be done better than in the previous Magic Kingdom parks. Instead of just copying the American attractions as had been done for the Tokyo park, they wanted to improve or completely rethink the concepts that were to be translated into the new park. Technological advances and the different sensibilities of time and cultures were the key causes for concept changes. There was also the concern of language barriers. Patrons would be coming from all over Europe, and beyond. The park and attractions needed to rely much more on visuals rather than dialog to be universally understandable. These factors and the creative vision of the crew at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) played a large part in the design of Phantom Manor, the European version of Disney's popular Haunted Mansion.

When experiencing the Haunted Mansions in Anaheim, Orlando and Tokyo, the general impression, the atmosphere and spirit (no pun intended) of the dark ride is generally the same. The difference between the attractions is mostly in the details, such as an additional effect, a difference in staging or style, or a different vocal track. At Phantom Manor, however, many of the details remained the same (as did the general layout of the attraction), but their context and surroundings were radically changed. Each of the Haunted Mansions certainly has a dark theme, but the mood is mostly of a good-natured, innocent darkness where chain-rattling ghosts sing a merry song. Phantom Manor, on the other hand (while it does have its upbeat moments) builds on a melancholy atmosphere as we witness the fate of an abandoned bride, accompanied by a lush orchestral score.

Jeff Burke was assigned as the executive designer of the Frontierland section of the park that became Disneyland Paris, and thus got the role of Show Producer for Phantom Manor. It is generally felt that the attraction would not be what it is today, had it not been for his determined vision for the attraction. Another person integral to the creation of Phantom Manor is Bob Baranick, a highly regarded Imagineer who caused quite a stir when he left Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) in 1999 to found his own theme design company. Along with show writer Craig Thierault, they devised a detailed storyline for the ride, which was firmly integrated in the overall mythology of Frontierland. One major influence for the attraction was Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of the Phantom of the Opera, and the design crew transported the storyline into an Old West setting. Instead of the catacombs of the Paris opera, the Phantom of the Manor dwells in a Western ghost town, visible near the end of the ride.

The Legend of Phantom Manor

Each of the Disney Haunted Attractions has a somewhat incomplete storyline, either by design or by accident. The "missing details" of each attraction have been filled in over the years by patrons and cast members (park employees), mostly by word of mouth. The popular Disney Haunted Mansion has a wealth of rumors and supposed "official" back-stories most of which are pure fiction. While the storyline is a lot more complete at the Paris theme park's version of the dark ride, the Imagineers never wrote it down in its entirety, and the little that is widely known of it today leaves many interesting questions unanswered. The following is the "official" biography of Phantom Manor, as provided by the park. It is taken from so-called Fact Sheets created in 1996.

Legend has it that decrepit and dilapidated Phantom Manor, tucked away in a lonesome corner of Frontierland, was once home to one of Thunder Mesa's founding families. Among the first settlers to strike it rich during the town's Gold Rush heyday, the family built the best house in town, high up on a hill overlooking the river below and out to a private cemetery on the grounds. On the day of her wedding, the daughter of the Manor was jilted, never to be seen again!

The house, once the showplace of Thunder Mesa, fell into decay and ruin, becoming the sinister-looking residence that we know today as Phantom Manor. Haunted by a host of ghosts-predominantly by the evil "Phantom" and the benevolent "Bride," these restless spirits are constantly at odds within the confines of the house. Daringly curious Disneyland Paris guests are invited inside to experience frightful encounters with various ghouls, banshees and the resident "Phantom" himself.

Even critical minds have expressed their fondness for the architectural appeal of the attraction. Everything from the manor house itself, to the surrounding gardens and gazebo, look as if it was once beautiful, but has fallen into decay and neglect. One early concept for the queue line was a roofed structure resembling a barn, or stables, that would have covered part of the waiting area. This was discarded in favor of a simpler garden pavilion structure, probably due to budget restrictions. The look of the southern part of Frontierland, where Phantom Manor is located, was inspired by Virginia City, Nevada, and along with influences from classic Haunted Houses and early concept art for the original Haunted Mansion, the looks of Phantom Manor were developed from a building in Virginia City known as the Fourth Ward Schoolhouse.

Fourth Ward Schoolhouse: On the south end of Virginia City is a 4-story Victorian school built in 1876 as a centennial birthday present to the state. It included state-of-the-art (for the time period) running water, flushing toilets and central heat, with a gymnasium on the top floor. The building now houses a Museum that includes an extensive collection of artifacts and exhibits, which focus on the area's incredible past. Open May-Oct., admission is $2 for adults. Children under 12 are free. For further information call 775-847-0975.

The interior styling of the manor, while similar to the Haunted Mansions, maintains an air of the wild west, and Imagineers traveled all around the globe to acquire real antique items that would be appropriate for a wealthy American family in the mid to late 19th century. What could not be purchased had to be manufactured. Artist Julie Svendson created twelve original paintings of the manor and the young bride. The Stretch Room is, like at the Disneyland mansion, a disguised elevator used to transport the patrons one floor down to the ride level. The following hallway, the Portrait Gallery, tunnels patrons through the hill and behind a line of trees that hides the actual show building. As with the Haunted Mansions, Phantom Manor uses the WEDWay OmniMover system equipped with "Doom Buggies" to carry the patrons through the rooms of the attraction. The Buggies rotate on the track to control site-lines, and to direct the patrons' attention to key elements of the ride. The buggies are pre-programmed to turn as much as 180-degrees, to the left or right in the direction of each scene. The track (manufactured by Vekoma, Netherlands) has a length of 240 meters and uses twelve engines to propel the vehicles.

For all the changes in styling and the technological progress of the years between the original Haunted Mansion at Disneyland California and Phantom Manor, the special effects are still essentially the same as those used almost twenty-five years earlier. The singing busts (a front projection) along with the disembodied head of Madam Leota in her crystal ball (a rear projection using fiber-optic transmission) and the Grand Ballroom (the grandest of all Pepper's Ghost Illusions) continue to enchant the attraction's patrons. Slight variations of rear projection and Pepper's Ghost are seen near the end of the ride in Phantom Canyon. The pharmacist animatronic is equipped with a rear-projection of his face morphing into a monster as he drinks his own concoctions (an effect that never worked for long before stopping all together), and in the gambling parlor, invisible card players smoke and drink whisky with the help of a screen onto which the animation is projected, then reflected using the Pepper's Ghost technique. Phantom Canyon was inspired by the never-built Disney attraction Western River Expedition, and was conceived by legendary animator turned Imagineer Marc Davis, who also created many of the original concepts for the first Haunted Mansion. Another variation is in the Endless Hallway illusion. In the Haunted Mansions, a lone candelabra floats in what appears to be a very long hallway. At phantom Manor, this same scene is used, but the ghostly presence of the young bride holding the candelabra fades in and out of view.

One of the most outstanding parts of Phantom Manor is its musical score. Movie composer John Debney (who went on to write the music for films like Hocus Pocus, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Disney's The Emperor's New Groove) took the Haunted Mansion original theme song, Grim Grinning Ghosts written by X. Atencio and Buddy Baker, and transformed it into a magnificently haunting orchestral piece. In the same way that a movie soundtrack creates the mood of a film, Debney's score builds up the atmosphere and underlines the dramatic tale of the unfortunate bride and the malevolent Phantom. To this end, each room has a one-minute looping music track that (for the most part) uses the same chords, time and tempo as the music of the previous and following rooms. Thus creating a smooth transition between the scenes. There are a few points in the ride where the music even changes from 3/4 time to 4/4 time, and even here, the transitions work out right, thanks to clever planning of the musical arrangements. The music for Phantom Manor was recorded with the London Chamber Orchestra, using a total of sixty musicians, at the Abbey Road Studios in England (best known for housing recording sessions of the Beatles, who even named an album for the renowned studio). Several of the solo instruments were played by Debney himself, and an original music box disk was created for the music of a gazebo outside in the queue line. A studio chorus rounds off the music with Imagineer and part-time opera singer, Katherine Meyering, delivering the soprano parts that accompany each appearance of the bride. (After all, the attraction was strongly influenced by the musical The Phantom of the Opera.)

The first demo soundtrack mix used the laughter by horror movie legend Vincent Price borrowed from the end of the hit song Thriller by Michael Jackson. "Once everyone heard this, it became impossible to imagine Phantom without Vincent Price's laugh," remembers audio producer Greg Meader. "Fortunately for us, Vincent agreed to do the ride narration." Casting director Gabrielle Reynolds negotiated the contract, and in May 1990, in the Walt Disney Imagineering recording studios, Vincent Price recorded his lines for the first scenes as the Phantom of Phantom Manor (the rest of the ride doesn't have narration; a testimony to the multilingual audience of Disneyland Paris), plus at least a dozen variations of evil laughter for the later appearances of the Phantom character. Unfortunately, the actor's performance did not stay in the attraction for long. Being an English-only feature, this verbiage discontinued shortly after opening, once the park's demographics were more clearly understood. French park officials insisted on a French narration, and actor Gerard Chevalier re-recorded the Phantom's dialogue. While Vincent Price's trademark laughter can still be heard during the ride, his narration was only in place for a few months. (Fortunately for fans and collectors, a demo track featuring the original performance, mixed by Greg Meader in 1991, has been released on the Haunted Mansion 30th Anniversary CD, at the time of writing available at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.)

Actress Oona Lind provided the voice of Madame Leota, the medium in the crystal ball, Little Leota as the bride, at the end of the ride, as well as the load, unload, and emergency spiels for the ride. Her bittersweet (bilingual!) performance is a perfect counterpart to either Phantom narration. Paul Frees, the narrator of the American Haunted Mansions, also has a cameo appearance as the voice of the mayor of the Phantom Canyon ghost town, welcoming patrons using excerpts from the original Haunted Mansion recording sessions.

A minimum of seven employees is needed to run the attraction properly (and safely), although eight or nine are the standard. Operator duties range from purely technical aspects to speaking rolls in the show as the manor's sinister butler or maid. Their costumes are designed to fit into the role, and are kept in the symbolic colors of gold (wealth) and purple (Death). Every 15 minutes, the operators, or Cast Members, as Disney employees are officially called, move into another shift position, after one complete rotation, there is a 15 minutes break. Over the years, the employees gave their positions appropriate names: the person standing at the outer gates is called "portier," the person in the Foyer is the mansion's "majordomo," while the person at the unload position (in the Wine Cellar) is known as "sommelier," or wine waiter.

Unlike the Haunted Mansions, little attraction-related merchandise is available in the park. There is a post card showing the facade of the house, and a souvenir photo is taken in the waiting area from time to time, with a Cast Member dressed as the Phantom character posing with patrons. It comes in a nice display case featuring concept art by Dan Goozee, who also created the art for the attraction poster.

With over 200 animated props and special effects, Phantom Manor is one of the most elaborate attractions in any of the Disney Theme Parks. Since its opening on April 12, 1992, Phantom Manor has attracted a small, but steadily growing, dedicated fan following. The story, of which little has been known before now, may never cease to offer food for discussion, and the internet provides a fabulous link between the fans located all over Europe (and beyond). According to park officials, Phantom Manor is the most asked about attraction at Disneyland Paris, and I am very sure that the ride will be as popular in twenty years as the Haunted Mansion is today. It certainly has the potential to be a classic.

David Goebel, is a design and illustration student at Ecosign Akademie in Cologne, Germany, with a life-long love of theme and amusement parks. His other interests include music, animation and web site design. You can reach him via email at ravenswood@t-online.de or visit his web site devoted to Phantom Manor at http://ravenswood.free.fr

Copyright © 2001 Haunted Attraction


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