Phantom Manor: The Haunted Mansion's Darker Counterpart?

Phantom Manor: The Haunted Mansion's Darker Counterpart?

A look at the European take on Disney's classic ride.

There are two things that I doubt I will ever lose any love for in my life: Disneyland, and a good ghost story. You'd think a place based on stories meant to bring kids joy wouldn't feature anything meant to scare them, but Disney does not disappoint (and when does it ever?)The Haunted Mansion, a tour through the decaying, ghost-infested grounds of an abandoned estate, is a Disney classic. I have been on the Haunted Mansion countless times; however, in the past year, I finally visited the Mansion’s variants not only in the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, but in Europe’s version of the park in Paris, too. Walt Disney World's version is practically a high-tech replica of Disneyland's, though the addition of the library and twisting staircases, as well as an in-ride version of the gallery that exists only in the line in the original does grant it some extra points. The real marvel of the three, though, was Paris' Phantom Manor, a ride where the similarities to its predecessors basically end at its track.

Before visiting Paris, I was told to expect a pleasant shock upon visiting Phantom Manor. The ride would be a darker, scarier version of the Haunted Mansion, based on "The Phantom of the Opera" and centered around the relationship between their equivalent of the Ghost Host and bride, two of the original mansion's most mysterious residents. (So, basically, a ride I would only think could exist in my dreams!)

From the moment I stepped into the part of the park Phantom Manor calls home, I could tell it was going to be a completely different experience from the Haunted Mansion. Not only is it in Frontierland, as opposed to New Orleans/Liberty Square, but it creates and is completely ingrained in the story of "Thunder Mesa," the American Old Western-style town surrounding it. It is so much a part of its surroundings that it gives new meaning to seemingly plotless rides, like Big Thunder Mountain just across the river. But as important as it is to Frontierland, the Manor grounds are built so that as soon as you step through the gates, the land's area music and the sound of the crowds passing through the town fade so completely that by the time you reach the gazebo in front of the Manor, you have been met with eerie silence.

The fact that this version of the ride is going to be something completely new, despite how familiar its foyer and stretching room may appear, becomes fully apparent during what are normally the Ghost Host's opening words to his guests. The Paris editions of the foyer and stretching room are narrated by a being known only as the Phantom and, though he speaks the exact same lines as the Ghost Host once you enter the stretching room, he completely warps their meaning. Anyone who has been in the Haunted Mansion at either American park is familiar with a few of the Ghost Host's most chilling lines, particularly from the moments following the reveal that he has led you straight into a haunted trap room with no way out: "Of course, there's always my way.” The line is followed by the ceiling giving way to a view of the cupola and the revelation that your charming host was actually driven to suicide while he was still living, presumably after being trapped in the Haunted Mansion himself. Flashes of lightning reveal his corpse hanging from the rafters above you, and your Ghost Host quickly becomes the most intriguing character in the Mansion. Across the Atlantic, Paris' Phantom Manor features the same exact line, but uses it as a means of revealing its murderous antagonist, the Phantom. He stands above the audience, hanging a man above them as Vincent Price's iconic laugh echoes through the room.

Even more uniquely, we are actually allowed to know the story of this hanging man. In fact, guests are introduced to an entire history and plotline inside the manor, which is mind-blowing to someone like me, who has only ever experienced the Ghost Host’s vague hints as to the story of the Haunted Mansion, forcing you to invent your own explanation for its 999 inhabitants. However, the story is not truly centered on the Manor's version of the Ghost Host. Instead, it follows the star of one of every Mansion's most intriguing scenes: the bride in the attic. A heartbeat echoes through the room as guests wind through piles of cobwebbed portraits and dust-covered knickknacks until they finally find the beat's source in the veiled figure at the attic window, watching them pass. In both versions of the Haunted Mansion, the bride is one of the only ghosts you are not accompanied by the Ghost Host in meeting, as he leaves you once you enter the ballroom and seems to have been looking for you since you wandered into the bride's crowded lair, making her a bit of a mystery since her first appearance in the Mansion. The creators of Phantom Manor clearly understood the fascinating presence the bride has had, and centered their entire attraction on the story of their manor’s bride: Melanie Ravenswood, a girl haunted by the Phantom who lured her fiancé into the cupola and hanged him on their wedding night, drove her into madness, and continued to shadow her even after her death. (A fuller version of the story and the Mansion's relation to Thunder Mesa invented by the Imagineers can be found here).

The surprises don't stop at Phantom Manor's unique plot. The ride also features a full orchestral soundtrack throughout the entire tour. In the Haunted Mansion, music is only heard if there is a source for it (the organ in the ballroom, the piano in the attic, etc). In the Manor, sweeping violins, Melanie's melancholy voice, and a children’s choir accompany the ride, turning it into something close to a cinematic experience. Fans of the original ride will be glad to hear that the Manor doesn't stray so far from its roots that it omits "Grim Grinning Ghosts," though. The busts are still singing, even accompanied by strays of music reminiscent of the Haunted Mansion's theme as well as a cameo by the Ghost Host's voice in the body of a headless mayor, which brought a huge smile to my face. However, these references to the original ride actually exist within one of the largest differences found in the entire Manor. Rather than a graveyard as its final scene, Phantom Manor brings its guests through the supernatural underworld of Thunder Mesa, a rift in the Earth called Phantom Canyon, filled with smiling skeletons and ghoulish town residents. It's definitely more eerie than the jump scares and animated spooks of the Haunted Mansion's finale.

That isn't to say Phantom Manor is any better than Haunted Mansion, though. The rides are so different from each other its even a bit hard to truly compare them. People insist on it, though, and compare them so often that it is hard to find any article, even one meant to be unbiased, that does not call Phantom Manor a "darker" version of the original mansion. When I first got on the ride, this seemed to be true to me. Phantom Manor is surrounded by a rich past filled with deaths and madness, carried by the menacing presence of the Phantom throughout. Where the Haunted Mansion is a little more comedic, treating itself as a tour through a sort of potential retirement home for ghosts, Phantom Manor is a tour through history. But, at its core, that's just what it is. The Manor is a trip through an animatronic story, about as dark as the other dark rides found in Fantasyland. Its skeletons could come straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean, its residents from their very own fairytale. The feeling that Phantom Manor is darker than the Haunted Mansion doesn't come from the history it has been given. If anything, it comes from the role you as a guest of the Manor must fill as a character in the ride, interacting with the Manor and its ghosts. It is the story of you, tricked and trapped inside a seemingly inescapable mansion until, somehow, you manage to find a way out. To that end, the Haunted Mansion and Phantom Manor really aren't that different. The secret to understanding which ride is "darker" may lie in uncovering your role in the ride as a character and guest to the house a little further. In one version, you escape the stretching room after the Phantom threatens to murder you and venture deeper into the house, where you learn the story of the girl who once lived there. As you leave her bedroom, the Phantom who trapped both you and her here appears. You fall into a pit as you try to get away and find yourself in a Wild West Underworld. The Phantom follows you and appears before you can escape the canyon, holding an open casket for you. His once smooth, skeletal face is now covered in ragged, hanging flesh. The ghostly, skeletal form of Melanie appears and points you toward the exit. You escape, but not before the Phantom makes one last appearance, holding to the back of your carriage, cackling.

The Haunted Mansion is a bit harder to figure out, since it has no real coherent plotline, but once you think about the path you take as you go through the Mansion, more than a few ideas of what your role in the ride might be come to mind. In the ride, you are allowed from the stretching room by the Ghost Host and follow his disembodied voice as he invites you on a tour of his home, though the fact that he himself is only in the mansion because he was trapped there like you hangs in the back of your mind. He never threatens you as he shows you what life after death in the Mansion is like, but he never loses the slight smile in his voice as he asks you repeatedly to join him and the rest of the inhabitants of the Mansion. It all seems tame enough, until you realize that he is basically calling for your suicide. His calm and kind manner as he leads you through the Mansion does not make it seem like he means to kill you himself at all, but his continued suggestion that you join him, tempting you with promises of endless song and dance, is, essentially, a polite way of asking that you die.

Your host leaves you on your own after showing you the ballroom, giving you to the mercy of the house's iconic attic. You meet the bride, just before the ride does something entirely odd: the carriages turn completely backwards and send you from the attic to the graveyard facing the night sky, as if your doom buggy fell from the attic window (or, rather, the attic balcony, since the inclusion of the Hatbox Ghost). Some people believe that this is meant to signify that the character you play in the mansion was so desperate to escape that they chose to jump from the attic window/balcony, fulfilling the Ghost Host's wishes and bringing home the idea that the only way out of the Mansion is to die. It would explain why the Ghost Host lets you leave so easily in the end once he finds you in the graveyard (and makes you wonder how many of the "999 happy haunts" in the mansion were also convinced to "stay" by your host.)

So, Phantom Manor's plotline as it relates to you, the rider, may be a bit more frightening while you are on the ride, but the Haunted Mansion's is just as haunting once you give it more thought afterward. Even if you don't believe that you died on your way from the attic window to the graveyard below, the idea of the Ghost Host taking you through the Mansion, urging you down the same sad path toward escape that he took as he shows you the fun you can have in the afterlife is pretty eerie. The Mansion hides tragedy behind humor where the Manor displays the tragedy of its past as essential to its existence, making it seem darker than it may be.

Honestly, though, both rides come from places that are both dark and tragic, and fun and exciting, and as someone who loves stories, I loved the new element that the Paris version of the ride brought forward. I definitely prefer Melanie over the frankly poor effects and forced plotline that accompany the current bride of the Haunted Mansion, Constance. If you love the Haunted Mansion, or just Disneyland in general, and have the chance to go to Paris, you should absolutely take the opportunity to see its darker side. Phantom Manor is so different from the Haunted Mansion that Americans are familiar with that I can't possibly capture it in words. To understand it, you truly need to be trapped there yourself.

Cover Image Credit: getnews

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Dear Shondaland, You Made A Mistake Because April Kepner Deserves Better

"April Kepner... you're not average"

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I'm sorry, but there's nothing creative about doing the exact same thing you've done to all the other characters who have left the show. We've endured the loss of many beloved characters when you chose to write off George, Henry, Mark, and Lexie. We even took it when you did the unthinkable and wrote McDreamy out of the show - killing off one half of the leading couple. (WHO DOES THAT???)

But April Kepner? Are you kidding me?

She may no longer be with Jackson, but she was so much more than half of Japril. While most of us hate that Jackson and April are over, we probably could have dealt with it if April was still on the show. Now they're done and you think there aren't any more stories to tell about her character. Why? Because she'll just get in the way of Jackson and Maggie?

How could you not see that she was way more than Jackson's love interest?

She's so much more than you imagined her to be. April is the headstrong, talented trauma surgeon no one saw coming. The farmer's daughter started off an ugly duckling who became a soldier because she needed to be one and turned into one big beautiful swan who constantly has to fight for her coworkers and family to see her as such.

She's proven to be a soldier and swan on many occasions. Just take giving birth to her daughter in a storm on a kitchen table during an emergency c-section without any numbing or pain medication as an example. If she wasn't a soldier or a swan before, how could she not be after that?

Yet, you - the ones who created her - still see her as the ugly duckling of a character because she always had to take the backseat to everyone else's story and was never allowed to really be seen.

But we see her.

She's the youngest of her sisters who still think of her as the embarrassing little Ducky no matter how much she's grown.

This swan of a resident got fired for one mistake but came back fighting to prove she belongs. Not only did April Kepner belong there, but it was her talent, her kindness, her strength that made her Chief Resident. This simply wasn't enough for Dr. Bailey or her other residents so she fought harder.

She endured the pressure but always ended up being a joke to the others. When she was fired yet again, your girl came back a little shaken. She doubted herself, but how could she not when everyone was against her.

Despite everyone telling her she couldn't, she did rise and no one saw her coming because she remained in the background. She went off to Jordan broken and came back a pretty risky trauma surgeon.

We've watched for years as she was handed promising stories that we never got to see fully develop because she was in the background. We never got to see her rise. We get the beginning and the end, but hardly ever the middle.

I thought we were finally going to have an amazing story arc in season 11 when she loses Samuel, but what did we really get? Two or three episodes of her coming to terms with the loss of her baby and then April's disappearance from the show while she's grieving off screen so that Dr. Amelia Shepherd can shine her first season on the show. Where is April's life-changing surgeries? What does April get? She's background music.

Now what?

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Before her story is even wrapped up, you announce that this season will be her last. So we're forced to realize that the only reason we're getting this story now is that you're writing her off.

No matter how you end it, it's not going to do her story justice. If you kill her off to end her crisis of faith story, you're not reaching the many Christians who watch the show. If you have her leaving Seattle and taking Harriet with her, you didn't know April. If you have her leaving Seattle and abandoning Harriet, you really didn't know April. So anyway you choose to end her story, you lost out on one great character.

You messed up.

Both April Kepner and Sarah Drew deserved better.

Cover Image Credit: YouTube

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Leonhard Euler Was Smarter Than You

A short biography on the smartest man you've never heard of.

To those of you who have taken Calculus, let me say a few words that are sure to send chills down your spine: Euler's Method!


Remember that? You had to approximate the derivative, and then approximate it again, and again, and again, and again, and again...

You get the point! What kind of maniac would invent something like that? Until last week, I was sure that he must've been some kind of psychopath, wrapped in a straitjacket, only allowed to be free when he was asked to do math.

But much to my surprise, I was completely wrong! After learning about some of the smartest men in the history of mankind in my History of Calculus class (I'm not as boring as you think, I promise) we finally got to the man at the forefront of every Calculus 1 student's nightmare, Leonhard Euler.

Not only is he not a maniac, but he is also much smarter and way more dedicated than you and I can ever hope to be.

Euler was born in 1707 and began attending the University of Basel in Switzerland in 1720, where he initially planned on studying theology. You read that right: while you and I were busy picking our noses and playing with tamagotchis, Leonhard Euler was already in college. And you may be thinking: well yeah, but he was studying theology, so big whoop.

And that's exactly what I thought too! (No offense to you aspiring priests and nuns. Please forgive me.)

Upon getting at Basel, however, Euler decided to switch his focus from theology to mathematics, and ultimately changed the course of history.

He graduated with his MA from Basel in 1723 (for those of you keeping track, that's a BA and an MA in three years) and started on writing what would ultimately amount to 900 books on mathematics. He shed light on some of the most important concepts in mathematics like the natural logarithm, the taking of derivatives, and I'll stop now before you fall asleep.

The math isn't important (well, it is, but bear with me). What is important that is that in 1738 he went blind in one eye due to a fever (mull that over, anti-vaxxers), yet he continued to produce mathematical proofs at a prolific rate.

But then, in 1766, he went completely blind, and...

HE KEPT DOING MATH! IN HIS HEAD! But how, you might ask, was able to write it down?

He would dictate to anybody who would listen, and they would write it down. His children. His grandchildren. His friends.

He even made sure that his servants were fluent in Latin so that he could dictate to them as well. Do you know how hard it was to find a servant who knew Latin in the 18th century?

About as hard as it is to find anybody who knows Latin today.

Have you ever done anything remotely as impressive as all of that? Have you ever been that dedicated to anything in your life? No?

Me neither!

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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