The following notes are from from serious Disney park fans, who offer some intelligent commentary on the details of Phantom Manor.
By Regan B. Pederson
Phantom Manor is absolutely, positively, definitely, my favourite theme park attraction. They did everything right here. The Haunted Mansion (at DL or WDW) is number 3, behind Star Tours. The name change is perfect. At DL and WDW, all the guests call the Haunted Mansion the Haunted House. Now, at DL-P, when they are wrong they are at least completely wrong! Phantom Manor is an original name that belongs to an original house.
The greatest improvement from the Haunted Mansions is the music. Even as much as I love the original Grim Grinning Ghosts, Disney worked some of it's greatest magic here. Grim Grinning Ghosts was re-orchestrated, slowed down, romanced, dignified, changed in the most wonderful ways, and re-recorded in several different versions for different sections of the ride's interior and exterior (and yes, you can finally hear the music outside in the waiting area). You'll forget that it really is the tune of Grim Grinning Ghosts, until you get to the singing busts.
Phantom Manor is in Frontierland, and they made it so it really does fit in. The house exterior is again totally different. They did well in making it intriguing but not blatantly haunted. It looks like an old western house that is seriously dilapidated. The Manor 'yard' is something to see in itself. Like the house it looks like it was very beautiful at one time, but nobody's taken care of it. There's a gazebo, plant holders, lots of nice stairs & structure, all meant to look like it was really nice and lavish at one point in time. The queue winds through part of it, and there is a very large sheltered waiting area with a fountain in the middle.
The entire 'yard' is (of course) built on a hill and the house sits on top. You finally get up to the deck surrounding the house and walk around to the front doors. When you get inside the foyer, Phantom Manor finally begins to resemble the Haunted Mansions. There's the chandelier with cobwebs and the two doors into the stretch rooms. Otherwise, the decor is still very different. It's very antique-western. There is a small mirror in-between the two doors.
When the Phantom starts speaking, you can see a picture of the bride in the mirror. By the way, Paul Frees died before he could play the voice of the Phantom. I don't know who does it now, but you only hear the Phantom speak (entirely in French) in the entrance foyer, in the stretch room, and a little bit in the portrait hall. There is no spoken dialogue during the ride itself. Due to language barriers, and the fact that the scenes are so great and the music so well- done, I think it's good that they don't have much spoken sound.
Incidentally, Vincent Price did the original Phantom narration in English, but it was quickly replaced after the French complained. (You can hear Paul Frees in the Manor, though. He is the voice of the Mayor, using a line from the American parks, "we have 999 happy haunts here, but there's room for a thousand...") It's interesting to note that the floor design of the ride is almost identical to Disneyland. The elevator has rightfully returned to the stretch room (yes, you do really go down at Disneyland Paris). There is also the tunnel where the changing pictures have been returned (these were left out in Florida).
The 'basement' is actually dug into the hill, with the tunnel going beneath some trees behind which the show building is hidden. The tunnel does not go beneath the railroad tracks; the entire attraction is housed within the same building as the Grand Canyon Diorama.
So what is Phantom Manor all about, anyway? I spent hours trying to figure that out - I went on it about 20 times in 2 days. This has become somewhat of an obsession for me, and I am still endeavouring to find out how it really goes. This information was put together from my own personal observations, and also by asking the Manor staff and City Hall. I do not guarantee its accuracy at all, since one CM even told me that the story is based on Hitchcock's Psycho movie! (Only the shape of the house bears any resemblance at all.)
The year is 1860. The Phantom (he probably has a real name but I couldn't find out what it is) owns the Manor and most of Frontierland as well. This is, of course, why the house sits on a hill overlooking Frontierland. When two of the town's residents decided to get married the Phantom insisted they have the wedding and party at his place. All of the preparations were made. The bride got all ready and waited for her groom to show up. She never saw him - for the Phantom had hung him soon after he walked through the door. She waited and waited: her bouquet began to wilt; the wedding presents stacked in the ballroom went unopened; the cake began to sag and topple.
The bride sobbed as she watched the Phantom's guests come out of their tombs. She looked behind her, and out the window she saw the Phantom laughing at her - and she suddenly realized what his real intentions were. He had dug a grave for her, right next to the freshly-filled one for her former fiancee. She decided to put an end to her agony, so still in her wedding dress, and still holding her bouquet, she poisoned herself. The Phantom just laughs, and stands ready to claim his next victim, right after they see their predecessors in Phantom Canyon.
Stretch-room notes from Don Reagin
The portraits in the stretch rooms are specially tailored to Phantom Manor's theme, and are far more macabre than those found in the other three parks. All four of the portraits feature turn-of-the-century characters, with rosy cheeks and winsome faces. One is a beautiful young woman picking roses. When the room stretches, we see beneath her, just on the other side of a hedge, a gruesome corpse coming up out of his grave to attack her.
The second portrait is a happy couple picnicking in a field. When the room stretches, we see a menagerie of rattlesnakes, scorpions, and fire ants approaching them.
The third is a young woman smiling as she sits with a frilly umbrella under sunny skies. The room stretches to reveal that she is in a canoe about to topple over a very high waterfall.
And the final portrait is a young woman in bloomers wading in a small stream. When the portrait stretches, we see a horrible water monster about to grab her leg. All four of these portraits are unique, and give you one of the first indications that this Manor is definitely not your average Haunted Mansion.
Just to confuse matters still further, Scott Kessler has the following thoughts on the Phantom Manor storyline: "I heard (and interpreted) the story slightly differently. It would seem the Phantom was enamoured of the girl. He certainly hangs the husband to be (as we see in the elevator,) but then I thought she entered the house and he more or less captured her and won't let her leave unless she marries him. She refuses, and is thus doomed to spend her life in the house. As the story progresses, we see both the Phantom decay and the bride getting older and older as she waits and hopes that her long-lost fiancee will return. Finally she dies, ultimately joining the Phantom in death."