On Saturday at the D23 Expo, a special panel celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Haunted Mansion. Hosted by Imagineer Kevin Lively, this panel celebrated what continues to make the Haunted Mansion great 50 years on.
The panel began with a look at the people who made Haunted Mansion great originally, moved on to some of the effects and effect makers that continue to enhance it and make it great, and then ended with a look at the script that is so indelible. Lively was joined by Daniel Joseph, a senior special effects and illusion designer for Walt Disney Imagineering. He was also joined by Kelsey McCullough, granddaughter of Disney Legend X Atencio.
The event began with a montage about the Haunted Mansion. The video showcased a host of Imagineers sharing what they love about the Haunted Mansion. Then, Lively kicked things off with a touching tribute to Marty Sklar. He noted that this was the first D23 Expo without Sklar and gave a heartfelt recognition to the former Imagineer who passed shortly after the 2017 D23 Expo.
Daniel Joseph was the first person to join Kevin Lively on stage. The Imagineer, or perhaps Illusioneer is a better description, shared some tricks of the trade for how the happy haunts could be brought to life at the Haunted Mansion. It was quite the brief demonstration that offered a glimpse into the magic making that happens in Imagineering.
Chris Merrett was brought up on stage next. A friend of Imagineers Marc and Alice Davis, Merrett shared memories of how he met this incredible couple. Merrett shared about the art that Mark Davis created for the Haunted Mansion. It is worth noting how much of what is seen in the Haunted Mansion today is very similar to what Davis originally drew.
At this point, a brief sidetrack was taken. Kevin Lively, a former Jungle Cruise Skipper, brought two current Jungle Cruise Skippers to the Haunted Mansion for a tour of the Haunted Mansion, with deadpan humor of course. The two made a video of their tour that was quite humorous and had those in attendance laughing multiple times.
Following the video, Jillian Pagan joined on stage. She shared about the writing that went into the script of the Haunted Mansion. This was done by Imagineer X Atencio. Soon, X Atencio’s granddaughter Kelsey McCullough, joined her and the conversation on stage. X Atencio didn’t just write the script and song for Haunted Mansion, but also Pirates of the Caribbean. It was noted that he was an animator before Walt Disney saw something in him and decided he should be a writer. The conversation led to the reveal that the grand finale of the panel would be a dramatic reading of an earlier script for the Haunted Mansion.
At this point the tightrope-walker from the Haunted Mansion Sally Slater joined them on stage, along with another voice that would be iconic for this performance. The iconic voice that was chosen was Uncle Deadly from The Muppets. Kelsey McCullough performed the part of Madame Leota, or “medium” as she was known early on. The script they performed was similar with some differences. Most of all, it was very entertaining and the attendees loved it!
The last portion of the panel involved two pieces of art that were being created throughout the panel. These were revealed at as the panel concluded. Both were being donated to Ryman Arts and would be sold at their D23 Expo booth as a fundraiser. Both pieces were beautiful!
Haunted Mansion: Celebrating 50 Years was a very enjoyable panel that captured the spirit of those who made the Haunted Mansion originally and those who continue to enhance that magic. It was a fitting tribute to this iconic Disneyland attraction and a very enjoyable panel at the D23 Expo.