Aaaaaand we’re back! It’s time to unveil my top five Family-friendly Frights. If you missed Part One yesterday, just click here to see the first half of the list. If you’ve already read that, then continue on, brave soul…
#5: Corpse Bride (2005)
Synopsis: “When a shy groom practices his wedding vows in the inadvertent presence of a deceased young woman, she rises from the grave assuming he has married her.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Frightfully Fun: Apparently Tim Burton is just the go-to guy for family Halloween movies because this is the third film associated with him on this list. So way to go, Burton. Keep up the good work. Anyway—Corpse Bride. Again, the Nightmare Before Christmas buffs are probably shouting at me. “Why, Cara?! Why does this beat out Nightmare Before Christmas?!” Here are a few reasons: the darkly beautiful animation, the superb voice performances, the likeable and sympathetic characters, and the fact that it’s based on a macabre Russian folktale that has a wonderfully grim, almost Poe vibe to it. I’m a sucker for Poe, and I’m a sucker for this film, too. The story begins the day before sweet, timid Victor (Johnny Depp) is to be married to equally sweet and timid Victoria (Emily Watson). Victor is a bundle of nerves, and when he can’t get his wedding vows right, he flees to the woods to rehearse alone. That’s when he accidentally weds Emily (Helena Bonham Carter), who happens to be a corpse. Emily, a bride murdered on her wedding night, has been waiting for another chance at wedded bliss, but poor, terrified Victor doesn’t want any part of it and desperately seeks a way back to his beloved Victoria. Though most diehard Burton fans probably don’t regard Corpse Bride as highly as The Nightmare Before Christmas, I believe it has a wonderful, less frantic pace that lets us get to know the characters better, enjoy a richer and more heartfelt story, and appreciate the moonlit beauty of the animation in greater detail. But hey—just an opinion. This film isn’t really scary, but it is very dark, so, families, keep that in mind. I’d recommend ages 7 and up.
My Grade: A-
#4: ParaNorman (2012)
Synopsis: “A misunderstood boy takes on ghosts, zombies, and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Frightfully Fun: ParaNorman is one of those little animated films that takes you by surprise when you first watch it because it has so much more heart than you expected. It puts us in the shoes of outcast kid Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), who has never quite fit in with the people around him. Why? Because he’s too busy talking to ghosts. That’s right—Norman can see dead people. He gets along with them much better than the living folks, who all think he’s nuts. But when Norman inherits a responsibility to keep a powerful curse at bay, he has to step into the spotlight and stand up to the naysayers. What I love most about this film is its personality, which oozes from everything—particularly the stop-motion animation. It’s beautifully done, and it makes the characters wonderfully quirky with outrageously exaggerated features. And the humor is great, often catering to both kids and adults. There are even a couple of nods to some classic horror films, which is always fun (see if you can spot the Halloween and Friday the 13th references). But truly, one of the best things about this film is its message. The last 15 or so minutes of the film are surprisingly moving, taking a firm stance against bullying, which is, of course, a very worthy endeavor. Plenty of spooks, lots of humor, and a meaningful message? Your family should definitely settle in to watch ParaNorman one night this month.
My Grade: A-
#3: Hocus Pocus (1993)
Synopsis: “After 300 years, three sister witches are resurrected in Salem, Massachusetts on Halloween night, and it’s up to two teenagers, a young girl, and an immortal cat to put an end to the witches’ reign of terror once and for all.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Frightfully Fun: I’ll be honest: I’m a little biased when it comes to this film. For me, this was (and still is) the Halloween film of my generation. So, naturally, I love it. But upon inspecting what the critics had to say about Hocus Pocus, I was thoroughly shocked to find primarily negative opinions. As a family-friendly film for the spooky season, I’m of the firm opinion that Hocus Pocus is among the best. To heck with the naysayers; they just can’t handle all of the fun. This film has it all—lots of humor for kids and adults, three awesomely silly and over-the-top witches, a zombie, a talking cat, and even an extremely catchy very of “I Put A Spell On You” sung by Bette Midler. It all starts when Max (Omri Katz), a non-believer in all things supernatural, lights a cursed candle that raises the Sanderson sisters (Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy) from their graves. Revived after 300 years, the sisters immediately return to the witchy business for which they were hanged: collecting the souls of children to retain their youth. It’s up to Max, his would-be girlfriend, Allison (Vinessa Shaw), his younger sister, Dani (Thora Birch), and cursed cat Binx (voiced by Jason Marsden) to save the town. Can this film be a little cheesy? Sure. Are there flaws in the plot and/or script? Yes. But I still have a ball every time I watch it. The witches are fantastic (especially Midler), the plot is unique, the humor is solid, it’s got a nice pinch of creepy, and there’s even some good ol’ brother-sister bonding. I would call that a nearly perfect family film.
My Grade: A-
#2: Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Synopsis: “Monsters generate their city’s power by scaring children, but they are terribly afraid themselves of being contaminated by children, so when one enters Monstropolis, top scarer Sully finds his world disrupted.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Frightfully Fun: Ok, I’m cheating a little on this one. This film isn’t the slightest bit scary, and it doesn’t really have a Halloween vibe to it. But during a time of year when seriously spooky TV shows, movies, costumes, and decorations are abundant, why not take a timeout to show the little ones (or maybe even yourself) that not all monsters are scary? Disney Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. presents monsters in a very nonthreatening, humorous light, and like pretty much every Pixar movie, it’s just a barrel of fun. Set in an imaginative world of monsters, the film follows Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman), employees at Monsters, Inc. The company produces energy for the city by scaring children at night, and Mike and Sully just so happen to be the top scaring team. But everything changes when an adorable and very brave little girl (Mary Gibbs) wanders into the monster world. It’s terrifying for the monsters because they believe humans carry deadly diseases. In fact, they’re more afraid of the girl than she is of them. Through a series of mishaps, Mike and Sully end up stuck with the child. Slowly, the two monsters begin to realize that human children are not what they expected. All of the voice talents are spectacular in this film, especially Crystal and Goodman, who have a wonderful rapport. Even little Gibbs does a fantastic job as Boo, who’s so darn cute it should be a crime. In my opinion, this isn’t Pixar’s top film, but with wonderful animation, a creative premise, lots of humorous moments, and a very touching ending, it makes being a Pixar runner-up look pretty sweet. So take a break from the scary stuff. Watch Monsters, Inc.
My Grade: A
#1: Coraline (2009)
Synopsis: “An adventurous girl finds another world that is a strangely idealized version of her frustrating home, but it has sinister secrets.” –www.imdb.com
Why It’s Frightfully Fun: It’s funny—the first time I saw Coraline, I distinctly remember not being that impressed. Maybe I wasn’t really paying attention to it? Because after seeing it again, that’s the only reason I can imagine not being blown away by this film. Breathtakingly beautiful, wildly imaginative, and disturbingly creepy are just a few ways you could describe this stop-motion gem. When Coraline (Dakota Fanning) and her parents move into a new home, Coraline quickly becomes bored and restless. With her mother (Teri Hatcher) constantly griping at her, her father (John Hodgman) cooking up disgusting food, and both parents constantly working, Coraline feels neglected, frustrated, and lonely—until she discovers the world of the “Others.” Here, her “Other” parents and neighbors are exactly how she wants them to be—constantly doting on her and providing elaborate entertainment. However, Coraline quickly realizes that it’s all far too good to be true. That’s when things get scary. The animation in this film—particularly in the “Other” world—is intricate and gorgeous. It’s a whimsical fantasy land, but it’s also got a creepy edge to it that becomes more apparent as Coraline discovers its secrets. Quite literally, things begin to unravel, and it is so, so cool to watch. The plot is inventive, the animation is stunning, and the characters are all filled with life. What more can I say? Watch Coraline. But, like some of the other films listed here, maybe limit it to older kids. I’d recommend ages 7 and up.
My Grade: A
That’s a wrap for 11 Family-friendly Frights, but there’s much more to come from Spook Series 2013! Up Next: 10 Ghostly and Ghoulish Greats. Check back for Part One of that list soon! I’ll provide the full list of my 11 family-friendlies below. What do you think? Are any of these in your family’s Halloween lineup? Any you would add? Let me know!
#1: Coraline (A)
#2: Monsters, Inc. (A)
#3: Hocus Pocus (A-)
#4: ParaNorman (A-)
#5: Corpse Bride (A-)
#6: Frankenweenie (A-)
#7: The Nightmare Before Christmas (B+)
#8: The Witches (B+)
#9: Hotel Transylvania (B)
#10: Casper (B)
#11: Halloweentown (B)