Walt Disney World has announced new details about Hatbox Ghost coming to Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom later in 2023. This post shares where the new Audio Animatronics happy haunt will materialize, when work is slated to start, and more about the addition to the iconic attraction.
You might recall that Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro originally announced that the Hatbox Ghost would be added to Magic Kingdom back at the D23 Expo in September of last year. At the time, the announcement was brief: “Foolish mortals, prepare yourselves for a new happy haunt at the Haunted Mansion. The Hatbox Ghost has heard your calls and will materialize next year.”
Since then, not much has been shared. During the “Halfway to Halloween” festivities back in April, there was a teaser on TikTok featuring a video of the Hatbox Ghost Audio Animatronics figure, but presumably the one that already exists at Disneyland. This is the first substantive update on the AA since the initial announcement.
Here’s the update from Walt Disney World: “Later this year at the Walt Disney World Resort, one of our most iconic specters will set up residence in the Haunted Mansion of Liberty Square in Magic Kingdom Park.”
“The Hatbox Ghost will appear to guests as they pass the Endless Hallway, welcoming himself inside from the swinging wake in the cemetery and grinning at the Doom Buggies as they set off deeper into the mansion. Guests will soon see temporary barriers materialize as we await his apparition.”
Just a couple of weeks ago, Haunted Mansion was added to the 2023 Walt Disney World Refurbishment Calendar for a closure August 7-9, 2023. This iconic attraction will be shutting its doors for what is, according to Walt Disney World, a “routine refurbishment.” The company later clarified that Hatbox Ghost would not be added during that refurbishment. It’s a near-certainty that the temporary barriers will appear then, though.
For reference, Hatbox Ghost was added to Disneyland as part of a 4-day closure back in May 2015. However, that was after a ton of prep-work was done during the annual Haunted Mansion Holiday removal closure, during which time a scrim went up and the attraction returned to normal operations for the next couple of months. None of that has happened yet in the Magic Kingdom incarnation of Haunted Mansion.
The Hatbox Ghost coming to Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom is the second version of the character, so it’s possible that not as much prep work or install time will be necessary. On the other hand, there’s been a ton of turnover in Imagineering and maintenance in the last decade, so it’s also possible the teams that worked on the first Hatbox Ghost are no longer around. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if this entire process is starting from scratch again.
Either way, it seems unlikely that Hatbox Ghost will debut in August 2023. The best case scenario at this point is probably staging work being done and the temporary barrier being added to the attraction during the quick August closure, and Hatbox Ghost materializing in October 2023 in time for the heart of the Halloween season. Maybe he’ll debut in September, but this announcement not containing a specific date or even timeframe beyond “later this year” does not bode well.
Frankly, we’re a bit shocked by the timeline for Hatbox Ghost at Magic Kingdom. Disney’s Haunted Mansion movie hits theaters today (July 28, 2023) and features Jared Leto as the Hatbox Ghost. After that, the first Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party of the year is on August 11, 2023.
If you asked me earlier this year to choose two dates by which the Hatbox Ghost would be added at Magic Kingdom, those would’ve been my picks. However, as we’ve said repeatedly in reaction to Encanto still not having a permanent park presence at Walt Disney World, this company is not actually as good at synergy as many fans believe.
Missing the start of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party season is also really something. With that, it’s not just a matter of synergy. Walt Disney World could sell more tickets to the special event, as Hatbox Ghost would create more demand for Haunted Mansion, and in turn, increase overall capacity to the event. (That’s really how it works–and precisely why they’ve added ride overlays to MNSSHP and MVMCP in recent years.)
It’s truly wild to me that something announced almost a year ago that already exists at Disneyland and will be prefabricated off-site (it’s not like Imagineers are hand-chiseling Hatbox Ghost inside Haunted Mansion!) won’t be ready for the two big, logical dates that the AA’s debut would make the most sense. We make a lot of jokes about how slowly Disney does everything…and stuff like this is precisely why.
In terms of non-timeline commentary, the other surprise is the location of Hatbox Ghost in Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom. Walt Disney World has confirmed that the Audio Animatronics figure won’t be in the same spot as at Disneyland. In the New Orleans Square version of the attraction, Hatbox Ghost appears following the end of the attic scene after the Bride.
The figure is slightly shoehorned in even there, but it makes sense and more or less works. If you didn’t know Hatbox Ghost was added in 2015, you’d probably never question the placement. Hatbox Ghost fits with the flow of the attraction and fills some dead space at Disneyland.
Walt Disney World has indicated that Hatbox Ghost will appear as guests pass the Endless Hallway. This is much earlier in the ride, where guests see a candelabra floating in a never-ending hallway (hence the name). Outside the Endless Hallway, there’s an armor suit on one side and a chair on the other; our guess is that one of those is being replaced–probably the chair–by Hatbox Ghost.
This means Hatbox Ghost will appear before Madame Leota’s Séance Circle, and the narration indicating that the “happy haunts have received your sympathetic vibrations and are beginning to materialize. They’re assembling for a swinging wake…”
The placement of Hatbox Ghost in Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom is thus bound to upset some fans. He’ll be the first ghost to appear in the attraction, and come before Madame Leota has summoned them. Prior to this point in the attraction, there’s the casket–but that’s technically a corpse and not a ghost.
Honestly, it’s been a while since I’ve dug deep into the lore of the Haunted Mansion (obligatory plug for the excellent Boundless Realm), but my general take is that a lot has been made up or modified over the years, with fan theories becoming canon, other ‘rules’ being retconned, etc. (For some reason, I also thought different “rules” applied to Hatbox Ghost.)
Basically, what I’m saying is that I don’t know off the top of my head whether this is an acceptable placement for the Hatbox Ghost. And, if it is acceptable, by what standards? 1969? 2007? 2023?
For me, it more comes down to a smell test. When I think about it, the placement strikes me as slightly odd–the logical progression of Haunted Mansion seems to suggest that a ghost shouldn’t appear prior to Madame Leota’s Séance Circle. With that said, perhaps there’s a compelling story or historical reason for this, of which I am unaware.
Moreover, that’s what I’m thinking while sitting at home. I’m honestly not analytically scrutinizing or dissecting Haunted Mansion while riding it. From my perspective as a guest, the attraction is more a series of vignettes, and there are multiple points at which ominous or foreboding imagery protends of something to come. Hatbox Ghost could pass muster as that.
To be clear, none of this is to say that Haunted Mansion should be a total free-for-all, with story and history both being meaningless because the attraction is all about vibes. To the contrary, I have more reverence for Haunted Mansion than any other attraction, and believe that it is, to this day, the pinnacle of Imagineering. (Right up there with Pirates of the Caribbean.)
Consequently, every change should be done carefully and it’s all well worthy of scrutiny. Haunted Mansion is a work of art, not just mindless theme park escapism. Treating Haunted Mansion with respect and reverence is not the same as being a Dino-Rama disciple.
If you don’t care about any of this, fine; that’s your prerogative. But this type of thing does matter and isn’t simply a matter of diehard dorks taking theme parks too seriously. You’re probably a fan in the first place because someone took all this stuff so seriously when creating it.
Ultimately, what I am suggesting is that the story and history of Haunted Mansion do matter. With that said, I’ve been around the block a few times with Haunted Mansion changes, and still vaguely remember the backlash followed by the “well, actually…” in response to the 2007 reimagining. As someone who is not an expert in Haunted Mansion lore, I’ll defer to those who are on this one.
All I can say with certainty is that Hatbox Ghost appearing that early strikes me as suboptimal placement when thinking about it now, but will probably strike me as ‘cool new foreshadowing’ while riding. I am even more certain that the installation of Hatbox Ghost is taking way too long, and the figure should’ve debuted today.
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What are your thoughts on Hatbox Ghost finally coming to Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World? Disappointed by the long delay between announcement and installation, or that he won’t materialize until after Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party season starts? Thoughts on the placement of the Audio Animatronics at Magic Kingdom vs. Disneyland? Any insight into whether this breaks any ‘rules’ or lore for Haunted Mansion? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!