PROFILE: Meet Gris Grimly — The Creative Force Behind Disney’s Animated Haunted Mansion Special

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Photo courtesy of Riley Kern. Learn more about her work at  www.rileykernstudio. Used with permission.
Photo courtesy of Riley Kern. Learn more about her work at www.rileykernstudio. Used with permission.

By now you’ve heard that Disney Television Animation is developing an animated special based on the enormously popular and pseudo-mythological Haunted Mansion attraction. At this point details are sketchy, but what we do know is that the special will be animated by horror artist, New York Times best-seller, and children’s book illustrator Gris Grimly. Gris’ unique style and artistic flare are the absolute perfect fit for this expression of the Haunted Mansion.

You may not be familiar with Gris, but his fingerprints are all over the pop culture and novel art world. He has produced and directed music videos, collaborated with feature film director Guillermo del Toro, and created critically acclaimed short films in addition to his best-selling illustrated projects, the earliest of which are already somewhat rare and fairly valuable. His illustrated works include Gris Grimly’s Wicked Nursery Rhymes, Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness and Tales of Death and Dementia, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Pinocchio. Most recently Gris released his vision of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

About his latest project, Frankenstein, one reviewer described it as “… by turns grotesque, whimsical, and surreal.” Another pointed out how “Grimly’s unique and twisted style blends perfectly with the material and breathes new life into these characters and situations.” Given his artistic bent and a history that has crossed paths with the Disney universe multiple times, it’s no wonder Disney Television Animation tapped Gris for its Haunted Mansion project. There is reason to be excited about this project even if you’re not among the legions of Haunted Mansion aficionados out there in the Disney fan community.

WDWNT had a chance to catch up with Gris as he prepared for ScareLA last week. Below is a short Q&A with the visionary who will drive the story, art, and design for Disney’s upcoming Haunted Mansion animated television special.

WDWNT: Thanks for taking a few minutes to be with us.
GRIS: It’s an exciting time.

WDWNT: The Haunted Mansion is probably the most discussed Disney attraction. Admittedly, I didn’t “get” all the affection the Haunted Mansion receives early in my relationship with the Disney parks. But now I get it. Mixed plots, a who’s who of imagineering, the years and iterations between concept and completion all contribute to Haunted Mansion mythology. What about the Haunted Mansion is most interesting to you?
GRIS: I’ve always been intrigued by the Museum of the Weird. Rolly Crump’s designs are so dark, whimsical, and just completely strange that you can’t help but be drawn to them.

WDWNT: Speaking of whimsical, the Haunted Mansion story can be inaccessible—which also happens to be one of the aspects that makes it great. In fact, the attraction is really an imagineering “anthology” in some respects with multiple story angles. How are you going to approach the various story elements and narrative threads present in the Haunted Mansion?
GRIS: The lore of The Haunted Mansion is certainly rich. I recently had the privilege to explore this mythology that Disney keeps secure in their vaults, and it’s amazing. That experience and some of the elements have inspired our story, but overall, we are expanding in our own direction.

WDWNT: What characters or scenes from the Mansion are most intriguing to you and why?
GRIS: The entire Haunted Mansion ride is brilliant. But I would have to say my favorite section is the cemetery. Then again, I’ve always loved creepy cemeteries. I used to ride my bike to the cemetery, sit amongst the gravestones, and draw.

WDWNT: Surely there are some basic details you can share about the Haunted Mansion animated television project beyond the press release. Can you tell us when you are scheduled to begin production, more about your role, or when the show is scheduled to be released?
GRIS: Actually, I can’t. I can only repeat what has already been released. I’m Art Director and Executive Producer on the Haunted Mansion Special currently in development for Disney Television Animation. I’m working very closely with writers Scott Peterson and Josh Pruett. Maybe sometime in the near future we can reveal more, but not at this point.

Art courtesy of Gris Grimly and Mad Creator Productions. Used with permission.
Art courtesy of Gris Grimly and Mad Creator Productions. Used with permission.

WDWNT: Gris, in what ways has your relationship with Disney influenced your art?
GRIS: The archived collection of Haunted Mansion art I was able to study in the vaults has definitely inspired me. The artwork from Rolly Crump and Marc Davis in particular has shaped me as an artist. The vast collection of unreleased material is almost overwhelming.

WDWNT: You live in Southern California so you might not make it to Walt Disney World very often, if ever. But Disneyland, I’m guessing, is a different story. Where would I most likely find you during one of your visits to Disneyland?
GRIS: I usually frequent the same spots at Disneyland. Three of the most obvious places I hit are Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, and of course the Haunted Mansion. But there are some less obvious spots I hit every time. I like to catch the troubadour show at the Golden Horseshoe. When I was young I was in awe on the Jungle Cruise so I will usually hit that up for some nostalgic comedy. Sometimes I’ll pop into the Main Street Cinema and watch the old black and white Mickey cartoons. And I never miss the Tiki Room with a frosty Dole Whip in my hand.

Art courtesy of Gris Grimly and Mad Creator Productions. Used with permission.
Art courtesy of Gris Grimly and Mad Creator Productions. Used with permission.

WDWNT: Two more questions. I’ll lose my job if I don’t bring it up so here it goes. Will the Hat Box Ghost be making an appearance in the special? (Please just say yes.)
GRIS: Ha ha. No comment.

WDWNT: Fair enough. One more. Being an artist, there’s got to be a favorite piece of Disney history that you have acquired. What is your favorite Haunted Mansion collectible?
GRIS: I’m a vinyl record collector. So some of my favorite items are old 60s storybook records.

Look for future updates about this special here at WDWNT. We’re excited to see how Gris brings the Haunted Mansion and its story into animated life. Follow Gris on Twitter @GrisGrimly and find out more by visiting www.madcreator.com.

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