August 31, 2009

Haunted Stories: A Phantom in the Manor

While planning Euro Disneyland, Tony Baxter decided that certain staple Disney attractions would have to be modified for the new park. The Haunted Mansion was amongst these attractions. Jeff Burke was assigned the role of executive producer for the construction of the park's version of Frontierland and with help from Imagineer Bob Baranick and show writer Craig Fleming, it was decided that the story related to Phantom Manor would have to be congruent with that of Frontierland's fictional town of Thunder Mesa. A major influence for the story of the ride was Gaston Leroux's novel, The Phantom of the Opera, which was altered to be set in a Western setting. The architectural style is Second Empire. Like the other Haunted Mansion rides, only the first scene takes place in the mansion structure itself — the remainder of the ride takes place in a building hidden from the view of park guests.The Imagineers made a "real" story around this attraction, unlike the "fan fiction" surrounding the Mansions in the States and Asia. It was inspired by the never built Western River Expedition. Henry Ravenswood was a Western settler that struck gold in Big Thunder Mountain and founded the Thunder Mesa Mining Company, thus creating the city of Thunder Mesa, now Frontierland. Ravenswood became rich and built himself a Victorian manor high on a hill overlooking Big Thunder Mountain where he raised a family and had a daughter, Melanie Ravenswood. Time went by and the gold in Thunder Mesa ran out and Melanie grew from a young girl into a beautiful young woman, and the time came for her to get married. She chose an intelligent train engineer who planned to take her far away from Thunder Mesa, much to the dismay of Henry. Henry did everything he could to stop the wedding but his useless attempts were put to a stop when a terrible earthquake killed him and his wife Martha, and the familiy was never heard from again. After several years, the story of what really happened came out from underneath the rubble. On Melanie's wedding day, a mysterious phantom unknown to anyone in the house appeared in the manor. While the bride was preparing in her room the phantom lured her suitor up to the attic where he hung him by the neck from the rafters. In the ballroom the bride sat alone. Hours went by with no sign of the groom. The guests slowly filed away, leaving the bride alone in the house with the staff of maids and butlers. "Some day", she told herself, "he will come". And so, having never taken off her wedding dress or dropped her bouquet in preparation of her loved one's return, she wandered the house aimlessly, singing melancholy songs of lost love. The phantom was still in the house, laughing at her humanly devotion to her intended husband. One by one he invited his dead, demonic friends from the afterlife to fill the house in an eternal party. The shape of the house was slowly transformed surreality by the evil forces. Years passed. Inside and outside, the house was decaying. Dusty cobwebs cover every inch, the disheartened staff caring not, for it was rumored that the young bride had lost her mind. She wandered the house for years and years, singing softly to her groom while all around her demons and ghosts reveled and danced. Everywhere she went she was reminded of the wedding. The phantom's eternal laughter still carried through the walls of the house. Outside, the once beautiful grounds were falling apart and crumbling. The gilded staircase and structure was dotted with mold and trees and every plant on the grounds died. As if sensing the evil inherent in the house, nothing living tread there. The bride ever so kept her hope in waiting for her loves return, singing songs of melancholy and lost love, and never figured why he had left.The earthquake that killed her parents cut a huge gouge in the west half of the property and the crumbling ghost town of the old Thunder Mesa. The deserted buildings were rumored to be called Phantom Canyon, the supernatural version of the town, and anybody who entered the ghastly old town at night never came back. Today, nobody knows if Melanie Ravenswood is still alive in that old house on the hill. If she is, then she's well over 100 years old. Her beautiful voice still carries over the town at night, though the walls, and night air. And sometimes, people still see lights in the house. Some nights, when the moon is full and the sky is clear of clouds, you can still hear the lonely mourning of the bride, the maniacal laughter of the phantom, and the faint tinkle of glass and laughter of party guests. Whether she's alive or not, what is well known is that poor Melanie never really left the crumbling mansion. She waits for her groom 'till judgment day. There is heavy speculation on who or what the phantom is. Many fans of the ride believe he may be Melanie's father, seeking vengeance from beyond the grave. Others say it is the pure spirit of evil, and a curse was apon the young girl.Like the other Mansions around the world, guests wander through the queue outside, but instead of gravesites and such, they wander through the "front" yard of the manor, and through its overgrown flora and such. And pass by a gazebo with a music box playing. Phantom Manor is teh only Haunted Mansion attraction where guests actually enter through the front door. Once inside the Manor you begin your "journey" like all the others, entering a small foyer then into the Stretching Room.Guests then file into an octagonal room with four portraits of a young Melanie. In one, she picks flowers; in the second, she holds a parasol; in the third, she steps through a stream; and in the final portrait, she is having a picnic with her fiancĂ©. The Ghost Host explains that the tour has begun, and asks if we have noticed that the walls are stretching. The room actually appears to stretch, and the portraits grow taller — revealing some haunting situations the young girl is in:
Melanie picks flowers...above a gravestone...where a skeleton emerges from the ground,Melanie holds a parasol...while in a boat...above a vertical waterfall, Melanie steps through a stream...and, reaching for her foot is a hand...connected to a water monster, and Melanie is having a picnic with her fiancé ants raid their food...and a snake, scorpion, spider and beetle approach.
The lights go out, lightning and thunder effects fill the space and the ceiling turns invisible showing us the attic and The Phantom hanging the groom from the rafters with a noose. The ceiling above is a piece of fabric called a scrim, which conceals the attic scene until it is lit from above. The stretching room's light slowly come back on and a hidden door opens, revealing a hallway lined with portraits. As the guests walk down this hallway, they see that one portrait is that of a knight and his horse on a cliff. There is another of a young woman in a temple; a third of a ship sailing across the sea; and a fourth of a woman reclining on a sofa. The portraits morph into more macabre versions: The knight becomes a ghost; the woman in the temple became the horrible Medusa; the ship becomes a ghost ship sailing through a storm; and the reclining woman becomes a were-panther. At the end of the corridor is a large portrait of the character Melanie Ravenswood, wearing a bridal gown.Guests then turn a corner and enter a large hall with a grand staircase leading to the floor above. Old furniture lines the walls. Sitting on a shelf is a bust of a stern-looking woman who appears to turn and face the guests as they pass. An unbroken train of black Omnimover vehicles known as Doom Buggies moves through the centre of the room, alongside a moving platform to enable easy loading. Guests board the Doom Buggies, each buggy accommodating two persons, and the carriages move upwards into a dark space past an audio-animatronic of young Melanie who is bowing to passing guests while holding a candelabra.A twitching suit of armour then comes into view, although this effect is not obvious and can be missed in the semi-darkness. Beside the armour is a seemingly endless hallway, with the vision of Melanie appearing and disappearing in the distance while the candelabra that she is holding remains in view. On the left side of the corridor is a conservatory containing a piano appears. At first glance it seems to be playing by itself, achieved with a projection of a phantom pianist's shadow that falls on the carpet, together with mechanically-moving keys. A large, red-eyed raven sits on a music stand next to the piano and squawks angrily. The Doom Buggies then pass through a corridor lined with doors. As guests pass each door, they hear pounding, knocking, or shouting behind it. When the last door is reached, guests see two skeletal hands clutching at the top. The vehicles pass a small hall containing a demonic grandfather clock. A large "13" is on its face and its hands spin backward as it chimes.The buggies enter a round space where a crystal ball sits on a central table. In it, wrapped in a mist, is the disembodied head of Madame Leota. As guests watch, she summons ghosts and dark creatures to a mysterious ball in both English and French "Goblins and ghoulies, creatures of fright! We summon you now, to dance through the night...Spirits and phantoms on your proud stallions, escort the beautiful bride into the night... Warlocks and witches, answer this call, your presence is wanted at this ghostly ball... As twelve strokes of midnight sound from the bells, we will waltz through the night, gruesome debutante... Join now the spirits in nuptial doom, a ravishing bride, a vanishing groom..." Guests leave the seance room and move along a balcony, looking down into a ballroom, where a ghostly wedding party takes place. Melanie stands on a staircase, singing and looking up at the Phantom who stands in an open window, laughing menacingly. Ghostly guests sit around the dining table - fading in and out of view, where a moldy wedding cake sits. A pile of unopened wedding presents sit in the background. Elegantly-dressed pairs of ghostly dancers twirl around the ballroom. A spirit organist sits at a massive organ, playing a haunting waltz on it as wraiths fly out of its pipes.The vehicles enter the Bride's Boudoir. Guests see, a now elderly, Melanie sits weeping in front of a mirror filled with the shape of an enormous skull, while a music box plays.The Doom Buggies fly out of the upstairs window and swoop down into a vast graveyard, past the Phantom standing before an open grave. Beside him growls an undead dog. The DoomBuggies then travel underground, into some catacombs, and see a series of coffins being opened by their skeletal residents. Four white marble busts then come into view, bearing the expressive faces of four phantoms singing Grim Grinning Ghosts.Through a hole, the buggies then enter Phantom Canyon, which is a twisted, supernatural version of Thunder Mesa. Rifts in the earth surrounding the buggies suggest that there is an earthquake happening, which reenacts Thunder Mesa's turning point from a prosperous community to a ghost town. An eerie-looking figure stands before a ramshackle train station, offering to sell train tickets to the underworld. Guests see a ruined town hall where a mayor figure stands, inviting guests to be the manor's 1000th ghost. As he tips his hat, his head comes with it. A gun battle scene follows between a bandit, fleeing a bank on a mule, and a cowardly sheriff with Big Thunder Mountain in the background. Guests see a Pharmacy where a green-faced Pharmacist figure drinks a deadly-looking Medicine, followed by a saloon whose front wall has caved in. Inside it there is a dancing showgirl, a bartender, and a man playing a honky-tonk piano. Four invisible gambler figures play poker nearby.Another figure of the Phantom leads guests into an open grave. As they see the silhouette of the Manor ahead, they enter a dark passage and see Melanie's corpse pointing to the way out. The vehicles enter a subterranean chamber lined with large, gilt-framed mirrors in which a ghostly image of a spirit can be seen above the Doom Buggies along with a reflection of the guests themselves. Guests travel through a wine cellar where Cast Members await to help them disembark their Doom Buggies, and they walk toward the exit. As guests travel up toward ground level, a tiny figure, Little Leota, stands to the side of the passageway behind bars, telling guests to "hurry back" and to "bring their death certificates". Finally, guests exit into Boot Hill, a cemetery filled with humorous gravestones.

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