Documentary Review: FOOLISH MORTALS (2017)

Welcome witches and warlocks,

Today I will be reviewing the Disney themed documentary FOOLISH MORTALS: A HAUNTED MANSION DOCUMENTARY by director James H. Carter II. To best describe the story I will turn to the press materials:

“FOOLISH MORTALS is a documentary that focuses on the fan culture surrounding the iconic Disney ride: The Haunted Mansion.” 

Right off the bat I have to admit that I love the idea behind this documentary. Choosing to focus on the people who love the ride The Haunted Mansion rather than the history of the ride itself is a different, novel approach. The fact that this conceit still allowed the makers to pepper in some information about the creation of the attraction without ever losing focus on the fan culture shows the cleverness of the concept.

As this is a documentary, to properly comment on the quality one must examine the strength of the interviews. First of all I have to say that I enjoyed the mix of people picked as subjects as they ranged from theme park fans, to celebrities, to theme park designers. Casting such a wide net allowed for the conversations to range from insider stories on the making of The Haunted Mansion to those commenting on how they got engaged while on the iconic ride. Seeing so many different angles made this feel like a complete package when it comes to capturing the spirit of the ride.

Speaking of the spirit, the dialogue ranged in tone from light to quite serious and I am happy to report that both are handled with equal aplomb. We, as the audience, felt joy when we saw one woman discover her love of making Haunted Mansion inspired costumes, laughed when another rider told about being dragged on by his father, and still were able to empathize with an artist who just wants to be a Disney animator, but has yet to realize his dream. Being able to switch between two polar opposites without breaking stride adds some depth to the documentary without severing the flow of the proceedings.

The tempo is also upheld nicely by the absolutely brilliant score which never misses a beat. There was a dark whimsy to the compositions which perfectly captured the feel of riding on The Haunted Mansion without ever retreading the same ground. I was so enthralled with the score that I found myself craving a soundtrack immediately after the credits ended, just so I could listen to the music on my drive home.

I will admit that given how top notch the majority of the production values were, I found the computer graphics to be a bit jarring. For the most part, the animations looked as if they were from an early to mid-nineties film, which just never quite worked for me. Luckily, the computer work was kept to a minimum (and mostly used for transitions) so it was not egregious enough to get on my nerves, but it still seemed out of place given how good the rest of the feature looked.

One other critique would be that near the end the wrapping up of one subject’s storyline seemed as if it would have been better put a bit sooner in the documentary. There is a point where the

interviewees are being asked about what they feel the future of The Haunted Mansion will be and after we hear some of their answers, the focus shifts back to an earlier subject and his struggle to become a Disney artist.  While it may seem like this could work from a flow standpoint, when his tale comes to its end we are once more regaled by the remaining guests with their theories on the ride’s future.  Once again, this was not a major issue, but it just struck me as odd to break up the thematic through line of the conversations in this fashion.

All in all, this was an enjoyable documentary that managed to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time.  The passion for the subject matter is just as apparent in the creative team behind the film as it is in those who are being interviewed.  By the end it made me want to take a spin on The Haunted Mansion so badly that my wife and I ducked into Disneyland just before they closed to go for a ride.  Fans of documentaries like Trekkies (1997) or Done the Impossible (2006) will find this to be an equally entertaining romp.

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