Spook Series 2013 continues! A few days ago, I started the spooky season off with 13 Creepy Classics (see Part One here and Part Two here), but now it’s time for a tonal shift. Maybe you’re looking for something with a more lighthearted Halloween vibe—something good for the whole family. Well, I’ve got just the ticket. Once again, I’ve split my list into two parts. Here’s Part One of my Family-friendly Frights, numbers 11 through 6.
#11: Halloweentown (1998)
Synopsis: When Marnie learns she’s a witch on Halloween night, she follows her grandmother to a magical world where mythical creatures live and where it’s like Halloween every day. But evil is stirring in Halloweentown, and it’s up to Marnie and her family to set things right.
Why It’s Frightfully Fun: Kids, they don’t make Disney Channel Original Movies like this anymore. I am thoroughly convinced that Halloweentown was the peak of the Disney Channel’s golden age. There are a slew of other Disney Channel Halloween movies I’d love to recommend, but since this is the only one I can find on DVD, it’ll have to be my one representative. Now bear in mind, this movie is pretty corny, and the characters often fall a little flat, but you know what? I still love it. I’m sure there’s some nostalgia involved, but I admire how much personality Halloweentown has—the film itself as well as the actual town. This is a place constantly decorated for the spooky season, and the people about town are equally decked out. Witches say hello on the street. Zombies run a broom shop. Ghosts go to the gym. Werewolves cut hair. These monsters are fun, not scary, which makes the film perfect for children. Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) is the chief heroine, and we’re swept along for the ride as she follows her grandmother (Debbie Reynolds) to this new world. Brown is likeable enough as the protagonist, and Reynolds is wonderful as her kooky, witch grandmother. The plot is predictable and the ending is super cheesy, but for me, Halloweentown is great. Best for kids, perhaps, but still fun.
My Grade: B
#10: Casper (1995)
Synopsis: “A paranormal expert and his daughter bunk in an abandoned house populated by three mischievous ghosts and one friendly one.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Frightfully Fun: Who doesn’t love a friendly ghost? Especially one as adorable as lonely little Casper. A lot silly, a little sappy, and not the least bit scary, Casper is nonetheless a fun film and a great go-to for family night during the month of October. The neat thing about the character of Casper is that he’s spread across the generations—older folks might remember him from cartoons as early as 1949, and young kids might know him from TV movies and cartoons from just a few years ago. But I do think most people are familiar with this live-action movie because it revived everybody’s favorite ghost in a big way. The story begins with entitled snob Carrigan Crittenden (Cathy Moriarty) inheriting a haunted mansion from her father only to find the place haunted by Casper (voiced by Malachi Pearson) and his three nasty ghost uncles. Carrigan tries to drive away the spooks, calling in a priest (who is clearly meant to spoof The Exorcist) and even a ghostbuster (thanks for the cameo, Dan Aykroyd) before reaching out to a ghost psychiatrist. That’s right—a psychiatrist for ghosts. Just…go with it. So Dr. James Harvey (Bill Pullman) and his daughter, Kat (Christina Ricci), move in, hoping to contact the spirits and convince them to move on. Though Dr. Harvey finds a handful in the ghostly uncles, Kat finds a lifelong (deathlong?) friend in Casper. With some laughs (mostly for kids) a few touching moments, and very fun ghost animation, Casper is a solid film for all ages.
My Grade: B
#9: Hotel Transylvania (2012)
Synopsis: “Dracula, who operates a high-end resort away from the human world, goes into overprotective mode when a boy discovers the resort and falls for the count’s teen-aged daughter.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Frightfully Fun: I feel like Hotel Transylvania is a great monster manual for young kids. It’s a wonderful, non-scary (but still Halloweeny) way to introduce children to the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, mummies, werewolves, and so many other creatures because this film manages to make all of them cute and lovable. Who wouldn’t want to play with the werewolves’ adorable pack of kids or give the chubby, CeeLo-Green-voiced mummy a hug? Even Dracula manages to look sweet with his baby blues and frequent smiles. But of course the monsters are at ease in Hotel Transylvania, a monster-friendly vacation resort built by Dracula (Adam Sandler) to protect himself, all of his monster friends, and his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez) from the hostility of the humans who fear them. It’s an outrageous, fantastic place where witches are maids, zombies are bellhops, and shrunken heads act as outspoken “Do Not Disturb” signs. But when clueless, good-natured human Jonathon (Andy Samberg) wanders in, all of the peace Dracula has built within these walls is threatened, and he has to come up with a desperate scheme to protect his hotel—and overly curious Mavis. This film is definitely geared toward children, but it has a decent amount of laughs thrown in for adults as well. Hotel Transylvania may be a little shaky in the plot department and fairly weak with its themes, but its inventive premise, fast-paced fun, and frequent humor make up for its flaws.
My Grade: B
#8: The Witches (1990)
Synopsis: “A young boy stumbles onto a witch convention and must stop them, even after he has been turned into a mouse.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Frightfully Fun: Bald heads, bony hands, stubby toes—witches have never been less pretty. However, with Anjelica Huston’s help, they’re also pretty awesome. And very devious. The Witches portrays the title creatures in a pretty scare light, but not so scary that little ones can’t enjoy it. Based on a children’s book by Roald Dahl, The Witches follows Luke (Jasen Fisher) and his grandmother (Mai Zetterling) to a hotel in England. Everything is going smoothly, and they’re having a great time—until Luke stumbles upon a witch convention that reveals a dastardly plan for the children of England. Now Luke and his grandmother must stop the witches before they leave the hotel. All the while Luke is dealing with a debilitating (though adorable) curse. Though Luke and his grandmother are likeable, clever characters, the real star of this film is the Grand High Witch (Huston). A dangerously clever and evil witch, she’s the one who comes up with the plan for England’s witches, whom she believes haven’t been ridding the country of enough children. Huston’s performance is wonderful—intimidating and eccentric without going too over the top. It’s a nice little adventure inside the hotel, filled with thrilling moments and eerie magic. A fun, fantastical film, The Witches is a pleasant addition to your family’s Halloween movie lineup.
My Grade: B+
#7: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Synopsis: “Jack Skellington, king of Halloween Town, discovers Christmas Town, but doesn’t quite understand the concept.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Frightfully Fun: The diehard fans of this film are probably punching their screens in outrage right now. Nightmare Before Christmas lovers, please don’t take a hit out on me for having this film so far down on the list. The Nightmare Before Christmas is about the most popular guy in Halloween Town, Jack (voiced by Chris Sarandon with Danny Elfman as the singing voice), and his discovery of Christmas. Halloween has left Jack feeling empty, but Christmas makes him feel alive again. As alive as a skeleton can be, that is. Jack becomes obsessed with Christmas and eventually decides to hijack the holiday, creating his own bizarre version of yuletide cheer. Here’s the ugly truth: I don’t love The Nightmare Before Christmas. I love its wild creativity, its vivid stop-motion animation, and the fact that it has blazed the trail for so many other animated films, but I’ve never been able to understand all the hoopla. I feel like it wows you without really leaving much of a message at the end, unless you count…I don’t know—listen to your would-be girlfriend’s advice? Don’t have an angsty midlife crisis? I’m just not sure how it’s supposed to make me feel, so I simply end up being impressed by the visuals, the music, and the imaginative plot—nothing more. So forgive me, cult fans, for I have sinned. Still, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a classic and definitely one worth viewing around Halloween. Just keep in mind that though I’m labeling this “family-friendly,” it might be a little too scary for younger kids. It’s PG, but I would recommend ages 7 and up.
My Grade: B+
#6: Frankenweenie (2012)
Synopsis: “Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Frightfully Fun: While Tim Burton is often hit or miss with me, this film is a lovely little homerun. Frankenweenie is relatable on a lot of levels. It’s about being lonely, being an outcast, needing love and acceptance, and, on a simpler level, it’s about a kid and his pet. So many of us understand what it’s like to own a pet. We grow up with them, and they’re there for us when no one else seems to be, loving us unconditionally. When they pass away, they leave an almost unbearable ache. We would do just about anything to bring them back. Turns out, so would Victor. When his dog, Sparky, suffers a premature death, the young, brilliant Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) uses his science smarts to revive his pet. But word of Victor’s success spreads, and other kids want in on the action. The resulting chaos threatens the whole town. There are so many fun allusions to the classic Frankenstein story in this film—little Edgar “E” Gore (Atticus Shaffer) with his hunched back and crazy eyes, a poodle that acquires a hairstyle very similar to a certain monster’s bride, a couple exclamation of “It’s alive!”—all great stuff. The humorous nods to several classic monster movies plus the fact that the entire film is in black-and-white give a rich, old-school vibe to Frankenweenie that is very enjoyable. For pet lovers especially, this film is a Halloween must.
My Grade: A-
So these are the bottom six family-friendlies. Want to know which films are the best of the best? Come back tomorrow for the conclusion!