My Thoughts On Phantom Manor & It’s Changes
Phantom Manor, as a ride, has always haunted me. Ever since I was a child It was one of the few things I remembered about the parks, it looming on the skyline, brief memories of the ball scene and Madame Leota and Melanie. If you had pressed me I couldn’t have told you their names or much else. I couldn’t have told you what it was about, but I could tell you all about the feelings it evoked for me.
And it was the thing that kicked off my love of Disneyland Paris again. The trepidation riding it again as an adult, the fear turning to sheer joy as the attraction worked it’s magic. And realizing that, oh, you can go back, you absolutely can. Now, if you press me, I can give you a potted history of the ride, it’s story, and what it means. But I’d rather talk about how it makes you feel when you ride it.
Because It’s more interesting, it’s worth more.
Which is why all this talk of a reworked storyline has, to be blunt, put the fear into me. Because this ride has always been about the story but in a very specific way. Which is ironic given that I don’t think the story is always clear. Especially if you don’t speak French. And unless you ride the riverboats and play close attention your never putting the connection together between Big Thunder Mountain and Phantom. But, well, here’s the thing: that has never mattered, not for a single second.
And I know this sounds counter-intuitive but hear me out: you don’t need to know the story because the attraction itself is the story. You occupy a part in it and a large portion of that joy, and confusion and fear is NOT knowing fully whats going on and being hauled into that world. Of piecing it together, bit by bit like a jigsaw, or never fully managing and getting lost. The story is writ large in the music, and the decoration and the wallpaper. It’s writ large on boot hill and the Doombuggies and your own physical space in the manor. All the tiny details are the story because they help you occupy it.
It’s a story that doesn’t rely on words, it relies on space, and you being within it.
It’s what makes Phantom Manor work on a much higher level than any of the Haunted Mansions and makes the ride more immersive It’s telling a story but is less interested in that story than the role it can make you play in it. I’m not against tidying it up – or
against a few nods to Henry Ravenswood in Big Thunder – but I am against gutting the attraction storyline to force it into line with the American ones or in service to some overarching story. Melanie Ravenswood is not Constance and Phantom Manor is not Mystic Manor and that’s as it should be. I know the ride is from the 90s but you working with something here that was Imagineers at the top of their game.
What do you gain from messing with that? In my mind, not much. And this was my big fear when Disney bought the park. And, don’t get me wrong I was delighted, and still am, but I always had this at the back of my mind: That just because you have the money doesn’t mean you should mess with something and sometimes, just sometimes, you should let well alone.
By all means. Sort out the animatronics – please, please do – and give the Manor a coat of paint and some love. Absolutely highlight those details and make the place shine. If your gonna throw money at Phantom then I’m not gonna say no. And as for those new special effects they’ve got lined up? Bring ’em on. I am all for that.
But I hope they understand what this attraction means to a lot of people. And I know that sounds silly, and slightly melodramatic, but it’s honest. This attraction, for me, is the park and symbolizes everything I love about what Disney do. Instead of being a passive ride, telling you a story, it invites you in. You are the story. Phantom Manor stands above the other attractions of it’s type, it’s unique, and it’s ours.
And it’s perfect.
And maybe that new storyline will engage me, make me see the attraction in a new light, give me a whole new place to fall in love with and whole new role to play. Maybe.