Guillermo del Toro to develop, direct film

Disney is taking another shot at turning its iconic Haunted Mansion theme park ride into a feature film, tapping Guillermo del Toro to develop and direct the 3D live-action pic.

Mouse House and del Toro made the surprise announcement at Comic-Con, where they made it clear that the film will not be a comedy, like the 2003 pic toplining Eddie Murphy.

Del Toro said dark imagery — one of his signatures — is an integral part of Walt Disney’s legacy.

“After all, Disney himself was the father of some really chilling moments and characters — think Chernabog from ‘Fantasia,’ or Maleficent as the Dragon, or the Evil Queen in ‘Snow White,’” he said. “We will make the ‘Haunted Mansion’ the most haunted place on Earth,” he said. “We are not making it a comedy. We will make it scary and fun at the same time. For me, the ‘Mansion’ needs to be the haunted house movie for this generation.”

Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross is likely hoping to launch a film franchise with “Haunted Mansion,” much like the company did with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film series, one of the most successful franchises of all time.

Disney had far less success when it brought the Country Bear Jamboree attraction to the bigscreen in 2002. “The Country Bears” grossed $18 million worldwide.

Though 2003′s “The Haunted Mansion” grossed north of $182 million worldwide, it failed to transform into a franchise.

Last fall, del Toro inked a first-look deal with the Mouse House under his Double Dare You production banner with an eye to making family films with a horror bent.

“Millions of people around the world visit the Haunted Mansion each year, but no one has ever had a tour guide like Guillermo del Toro,” Ross said as he made the announce”Guillermo is one of the most gifted and innovative filmmakers working today, and he is going to take audiences on a visually thrilling journey like they’ve never experienced before.”

News of the “Haunted Mansion” reboot could help explain del Toro’s abrupt decision over Memorial Day to bow out of the two “Hobbit” pics. He’d spent nearly two years working on the project, which even involved him moving to New Zealand.

Del Toro said the Haunted Mansion ride is “sacred ground” to him and that he’s made a pilgrimage to it at least once a year since first discovering it as a “fat” kid.

Open since 1969 in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square, the Haunted Mansion is one of the park’s signature landmarks. It’s known as the dwelling place of “999 happy haunts” and famed for the holographic “hitchhiking ghosts” that accompany riders (with the help of mirrors) at the end of the ride. Versions of the attraction have been built at other Disney theme parks in Orlando, Tokyo and Paris.

Del Toro said he intends to resurrect the Hatbox ghost, which appeared originally in the Mansion but was removed shortly after the attraction’s debut. “This is a dream come true, and I hope to steal as many props as possible,” said del Toro, quipping, “We are not returning Eddie Murphy’s calls.”

Del Toro’s directing credits include “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Devil’s Backbone” and two “Hellboy” pics.

(Marc Graser contributed to this report.)

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