Spotlight Classics – Ghosts and Goblins features ParaNorman (2012), Casper (1995) and Labyrinth (1986). All titles are available to rent, buy or stream.
From the Isle of Dogs to My Life As A Zucchini and Fantastic Mr Fox, stop motion animation has given us some of the most creative films of the past twenty years. However, one studio has led the way in this art form alongside British-based Aardman; Laika, the Oregon-based dream factory behind Coraline, The Corpse Bride and the beautiful and brilliant ParaNorman.
ParaNorman pays homage to the classic monster movies of the Universal era and embodies a Spieburgesque quality in taking its audience far beyond the standard kid’s animated outing. Here its visual beauty and engaging narrative shine with a love of classic horror while embracing the emotion and heart of supernatural movies ranging from The Orphanage (2007) to Hocus Pocus (1993). But its defiant core message is less about ghosts and ghouls and more about diversity and inclusion; as ParaNorman proudly states, weirdness and difference are cool.
READ MORE: HOCUS POCUS
Our story opens with a geeky homage to 70s and 80s cinema – a movie within a movie that quickly cuts to Norman and his grandma in front of the TV. However, Norman’s grandma has been dead for some time, as young Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) casually chats to her spirit. Norman watches the trashy zombie movie on the TV; his spectral grandma, showing a keen interest in the action on screen, asks, “What’s happening now?” Norman replies, “Well, the zombie is eating her head”. His grandma keeps knitting before saying, “He’s gonna ruin his dinner. I’m sure if they just bothered to sit down and talk it through, it’d be a different story”. Norman shrugs before being called to take out the trash by his parents, played by Leslie Mann and Jeff Garlin. This one segment summarises the heart and soul of the movie to come.
ParaNorman is about embracing mortality, celebrating those we have lost and embracing the differences that make us who we are. It’s a movie about love, friendship, community and family and each person’s powerful effect on our lives, both good and bad. The rollercoaster of comedy, emotion, and fun that follows is glorious and utterly beautiful, from the animation and performances to the theatrical score by Jon Brion. ParaNorman isn’t afraid to bathe in its own unique world, and it reminds us horror itself is a celebration of diversity and difference.
Casper the Friendly Ghost was created in the late 1930s by Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo, with his first animated appearance coming in 1939. However, despite the popularity of the comic books carrying his name, the character did not make it to a live-action film until 1995, when Steven Spielberg hired director Brad Silberling to bring the famous apparition to the silver screen. A screenplay was quickly developed by Sherri Stoner, Deanna Oliver, and an uncredited J.J. Abrams.
Despite Spielberg’s backing, Casper did not receive universal praise on its release. Many reviewers pointed to the challenge of stretching the short cartoon into a feature-length film. However, many reviewers missed the delicate, loving and tender exploration of grief at the film’s heart, with Casper providing a delightful children’s adventure and encouraging discussion on death – a subject many children’s films struggle to reflect in a meaningful way. Here, Casper wraps its comedy and visual beauty within the deep and highly emotional theme of childhood mortality and parental loss. The result is a fascinating, funny, emotional rollercoaster ride that appeals to all ages.
Director: Brad Silberling
What do you get if you take the powerhouse of Lucasfilm and merge it with the creative energy and beauty of The Jim Henson Company? The answer is, of course, the delightful and ingenious cult classic that is Labyrinth.
Following the equally stunning The Dark Crystal in 1982, Jim Henson and Brian Froud quickly began drafting a new fantasy adventure. However, this time the aim was to produce a lighter tale wrapped in comedy. The inspiration for this tale would come from The Wizard of Oz.
A young girl (Jennifer Connelly) finds herself navigating a maze searching for her baby brother, taken by the Goblin King (David Bowie) under her reckless instruction. To navigate the maze and rescue the infant, the girl meets a circus of travelling companions, from the deceitful yet loving Hoggle to the mighty yet scared Ludo, and the fearless but eccentric Sir Didymus.
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However, while inspiration may have come from L. Frank Baum’s Oz and possibly Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Labyrinth is, at its heart, a coming-of-age film. Here the maze represents the journey every teenager takes to adulthood and our need to discard childhood fantasies as we enter our adult lives. Deep in its soul, Bowie’s Goblin King represents the invasion of sex and desire that consumes our minds as we grow into sexual beings as he stalks our young heroine. These coming-of-age themes raise Labyrinth far above a children’s fantasy adventure label. Yet, Labyrinth retains its power to speak to audiences of all ages.
Henson’s movie is full of colour, depth, music and joy, simultaneously engaging young and old minds. With a screenplay by Monty Python, Terry Jones Henson’s movie is alive with joy, wonder, fear and humour.
Director: Jim Henson