Welcome, foolish mortals, to the final part in our weeklong exploration of the Hatbox Ghost and his gloriously ghoulish return to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. For part 1, detailing the history of the Haunted Mansion attraction, drag your body here, for part 2, which looked at the removal of the Hatbox Ghost, move into the dead center of the internet, for part 3, about the rumors that persisted after the Hatbox Ghost was removed, shriek your way here and for part 4, about the Hatbox Ghost’s return, materialize at this location. In today’s installment (the last in our series), we talk to some Imagineers the Hatbox Ghost’s reappearance in the Mansion.
Of course, the Hatbox Ghost didn’t materialize from the beyond without the help of some fiendishly clever mortals. This is obviously a project that was a labor of love for the Imagineers, who toiled to bring the fabled character to life (in a big, proper way worthy of the 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration) as part of the New Magic initiative. (This is the same initiative that brought new Abominable Snowmen to the recently reopened Matterhorn and some as-yet-undisclosed embellishments to Peter Pan’s Flight in July.) We were lucky enough to jump on the phone with a couple of the Hatbox Ghost’s terrestrial minders: Jeff Shaver-Moskowitz, a producer at Walt Disney Imagineering and Ray Spencer, an executive creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering.
We spoke about the technological advancements that made the Hatbox Ghost a reality, walking the fine line between fan service and universal appeal, and what the chances of the Hatbox Ghost appearing at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom are.
Jeff: As Imagineers, we’ve always looked for opportunities to bring him back. We knew he was a part of the Mansion 45 years ago and the effect never worked and over the years various Imagineers have thought of different ways to bring him back. But we thought that for the Diamond Celebration, using today’s technology, we had an amazing special effects wizard on board with us, Daniel Joseph, and a small team that was very passionate about Hatbox Ghost. We worked really hard and used our modern technology to bring him back in a way that we were proud of and ready to put him out there for the guests.
Was there one technological or storytelling moment where you finally realized, This is the key to finally bringing him back?
Jeff: We did some mock ups last summer, just to really prove out our effects and capturing the creative intent that we wanted to put out there. The moment we stood in front of those mock ups and saw the head completely disappear off the shoulders and reappear in the hatbox and it was seamless and we were standing just a few feet away from it and could not tell where it went or how it happened, we knew we had struck gold with that one.
What’s great too is that there are hints of the Hatbox Ghost even before he makes his big appearance.
Jeff: Yeah, you have actually seen him for years throughout the corridor of doors, there are actually numerous pictures of him up and around. So he’s always been there but when we decided to create this new scene and this new balcony, we wanted to make sure we tied that storyline together. We knew there was the shadow playing the piano and playing “Here comes the Bride” and we wanted to find another way to tie the Bride’s story to the Hatbox Ghost. So you’ll notice that each one of the headless grooms has his own hatbox standing amongst his belongings. So it really quietly and I think elegantly ties those two storylines together and lets the guests piece them together themselves.
Are there plans, tentative or otherwise, to bring the Hatbox Ghost to the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World?
Jeff: Well we always look for new opportunities at all our parks but for right now he is specifically here for the Diamond Celebration only at Disneyland.
Is it tough, on both of these attractions, with wanting to cater to the die hard Disney fan while at the same time appealing to someone who maybe has never been to the parks?
Jeff: I would say that we’re Imagineers but we’re also fans. I think when we look at storytelling, we look at it as creative storytellers. We want to make sure we’re creating a compelling story, a thrilling story. But we also look at it as fans and knowing the DNA of these attractions and of Disneyland and definitely use that to make sure that we respect the story that was there and are only adding to it.
Ray: I would second that. There’s always going to be an element of our fan base who are not going to be satisfied or happy about these changes. For instance, I saw, on a blog, where someone was disappointed that on the Hatbox Ghost we didn’t exactly reproduce the original Hatbox Ghost in size and shape. And the thing is that this icon has been represented in so many ways in figurines and print over the years. We want the essence of the character but believe me if we had reproduced him exactly as he was, it would be, in my mind, very disappointing to people. He had some really odd proportions and by today standards, crude dressing. We really need to keep these things fresh and if you look at any Disney products over the year, as time marches on, these classics evolve with today’s standards in mind and what our guests expect. We have to respect the past but evolve as need be. That’s what we’ve done with the Haunted Mansion with the Hatbox Ghost.