Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hitchhiking Ghosts get major upgrade

More big changes have been unveiled at the Haunted Mansion over in Walt Disney World. Last month, I was among the legion of fans of the attraction who railed against changes made to the attraction's queue (You can read my manifesto in two parts: part one and part two.

This week, WDW premiered a big change inside the attraction itself - and to the ride's most famous scene even - the one in which, as you look at your ride vehicle in mirrors, the three Hitchhiking Ghosts appear to be traveling along with you. Previously, these were two-way mirrors that allowed you to see your own reflection along with Audio Animatronic Ghosts traveling along the other side of the wall. The sat there in the middle of the buggy, moving around only a little.

The way things were.

These new versions are computer-generated animations and are significantly more active. What's more - what appears to still be your reflection is actually a projected live-video of YOU too. This allows the Hitchhiking Ghosts to play all kinds of silly new pranks - Ezra may swap heads with you, Gus may take off his beard and put it on your face, Phineas may take your picture. The ghosts may appear next to you or sitting on top of your buggy.

Ricky Brigante over at Inside the Magic has been on top of covering all of these changes to the Mansion. Here's his video of the new Hitchhiking Ghosts:

Here's another video from Jeff Lange DVD:

And now to show you I don't hate any and all changes - even to the Haunted Mansion - I have to admit that I like what I see so far. My complaints against the new queue weren't that I didn't want any silliness in the Mansion, it was that it was silliness in the wrong place. In the beginning you're supposed to be nervous about entering the spooky house. But at the end of the ride, when you meet the Hitchhiking Ghosts and know they're not really dangerous, silliness is perfectly acceptable and welcome.

Plus, while I've been against the ever-increasing use of video screens, projections, and computer-generated characters in Disney attractions, these look to be more-carefully designed and better integrated into the attraction than other examples. All reports indicate, and the video suggests, these ghosts actually appear to have real depth and dimension to them.

A little part of me dislikes that an old-fashioned magic trick is being replaced by modern high-tech. Old stage magic and a haunted house are two flavors that go so naturally together. But in this case it appears the new effect retains some of that old sense of really seeming like magic. I'd hate to see the big-show stopping pepper's ghosts of the Haunted Mansion's ballroom replaced by something like this, but in this single dose, in this specific scene, I rather like what I'm seeing. I'll reserve final judgement until I actually get the chance to visit the Mansion again myself, but it's at least saying something that I'm looking forward to this new addition.

What has me still scratching my head, though, is why the Haunted Mansion is getting all these upgrades right now. It was just a few years ago that WDW's Haunted Mansion received some major upgrades: modern audio and lighting upgrades, the new bride, and the big crazy staircase scene, and even before any of that it was already among the most consistantly entertaining and popular attractions in the park. Not that there's anything wrong with trying to take something great and make it any better (but do it carefully), but why do that when there are many other attractions that could really use the funding and attention? Journey Into Imagination and Ellen's Energy Adventure over in Epcot are so outdated they're embarassing to sit through. An awful lot of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad's effects sit there broken. The grand finale to Animal Kingdom's premiere attraction - the Yeti in Expedition Everest - hasn't been fully functional in years. Again, I do like this upgrade, I'm just confused why they're fixing what ain't broke when other things very much are.

"Hey - HEY! What about ME?"

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