When Walt Disney Imagineering is given nearly free reign to develop whatever it so chooses, the resulting attractions are always absolutely stunning. Two of those rides, Walt Disney World's Haunted Mansion and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, are among the best that the Imagineers have ever put together. They are so complete and so evocative that they can and should be viewed as works of art on their own.
Where things start to get interesting is when you look at the two attractions side-by-side. If you do this, something interesting resolves itself:
The Tower of Terror is basically a sequel to the Haunted Mansion.
What do I mean by that? Essentially, this: There are some rides at Disney's parks that expand or elaborate on themes and ideas present in other Disney attractions. Rather than just looking at the same general concepts, however, these sequel attractions present a new spin on another attraction's thematic arc.
Disney's actually made a few sequels to its attractions – some direct and some indirect – and I've looked at this phenomena before. However, I thought that this particular case deserved a bit of a closer look.
So, here are four reasons why I think the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror can be viewed as a sequel to the Haunted Mansion:
1. Both share a similar spooky theme and eye-catchingly mysterious architecture
The word “weenie” is an entry in the Disney lexicon that is used to describe some piece of visual design that catches a guest's eye and draws them toward an attraction. The park icons do this. The four “mountain” attractions do this. And, of course, the Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror both do this.
For the Haunted Mansion, its draw is in its mystery and its foreboding atmosphere. It's eye-catching precisely because it is hard to see, but nevertheless, it is spooky and it draws guests in with its creepy aesthetics.
The Tower of Terror tries to do something similar, only it takes these ideas to their logical extreme. It catches the eye not only because of its air of spookiness, but also because it is enormous. And, while the Haunted Mansion resembles a decrepit house (a familiar and safe place that has been overwhelmed by time), the Tower of Terror is a defunct hotel, adding in all the subtle props and set pieces you'd expect there, plus the inherent uneasiness of a place filled with transient individuals.
The result is that both attractions offer spooky show buildings and “weenie”-esque design work, but while the Haunted Mansion accomplishes this with subtle tricks of the eye, the Tower of Terror does so far more aggressively, seemingly trying to one-up everything that came before it with the Haunted Mansion. It is bigger, it is louder, and its visual story is far more clear and imposing.
And, this keeps in with the sequel pattern, where the follow-up is almost always flashier than the original, even if it's mostly exploring the same idea.
2. Both use cast member interactions to set the scene
Being a Disney cast member is a difficult job. In the face of an unending stream of entitlement and pushiness, while experiencing the extreme sun and heat of Central Florida or the cramped quarters of Anaheim, cast members must always have a cheerful attitude and pleasant demeanor.
Unless, of course, they're working at one of these two rides.
While other attractions ask cast members to interact with guests, only these two do so in such a way that cast members are encouraged to be a bit … dour. Their faces are glum, their voices are bleak, and their attitudes can best be described as morose. And yet, all of this adds to the story in a unique and fulfilling way.
This trick paid off so well with the Haunted Mansion that Disney used it again for the Tower of Terror, which only furthers the connection between the two. Much as in a sequel, where we meet familiar characters for another similar adventure, so too do the bell hops at the Tower of Terror seem related to the cast members at the Haunted Mansion. It feels like we're meeting these characters again, and they're guiding us to yet another spooky story.
Ultimately, both attractions use their cast members to personalize the stories they tell, and they do so in an unusual way for Disney. It's the only time guests ever see Disney cast members behaving in this way (well, hopefully), and they're doing it in service of making the story feel more all-encompassing -- like the spooky energy has affected the people around you, too. They're linked because of this, and it really only deepens the sense of a shared theme between the two.