Ghosts and Goblins – a collection of supernatural and fantastical kid’s films.
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 alongside British-based Aardman; Laika, the Oregon-based dream factory behind Coraline, The Corpse Bride and the beautiful and brilliant ParaNorman.
Released in 2012, ParaNorman would pay homage to the classic monster movies of the Universal era while embracing a Spieburgesque narrative path. But more importantly, ParaNorman would proudly state that weirdness and difference are cool in a film that embraced a core message of diversity and belonging.
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 sitting in front of the TV. However, Norman’s Grandma has been dead for some time, and as young Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) casually chats with her spirit, we quickly learn he has a rare and beautiful talent. As Norman watches a trashy zombie movie on the TV, his spectral Grandma shows a keen interest in the action, asking, “What’s happening now?” Norman replies, “Well, the zombie is eating her head, Grandma”. His Grandma keeps knitting her spectral top 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”. This one segment summarises the heart and soul of the movie, a celebration of mortality, difference and love.
At its heart, Paranorman is a movie about belonging, friendship, community and forgiveness, celebrating what makes us human in life and death. Beautiful, captivating and funny, with a stunning score by Jon Brion, ParaNorman celebrates everything that makes us different and unique in a world that often wants us to be the same.
Casper the Friendly Ghost was created in the late 1930s by Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo, appearing in animated form for the first time in 1939. However, despite the popularity of his comic books and animated adventures, Casper would not appear in a live-action film until 1995. The man behind Casper’s arrival on the big screen was Steven Spielberg, but he would place the directorial responsibility for Casper in the hands of Brad Silberling, a TV director with hits such as Doogie Houser, M.D. under his belt. Meanwhile, screenplay development was handed to Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver, who had extensive experience in animated films and series, while an uncredited J.J. Abrams also worked on rewrites.
Casper was to be an immense effects movie, pushing the very boundaries of the newly emerging world of CGI. This was to be the first film ever to introduce an entirely CGI main character, with the effects work taking two years to complete while paving the way for fully digital characters in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Star Wars. But the story at the heart of Casper’s big-screen arrival sets this movie apart. For all its delightful spectral musical numbers and slapstick comedy, Casper is, at its core, a loving and tender exploration of human mortality, friendship, first love and letting go. Casper died on the verge of puberty, his spirit forever held in the void between childhood and adolescence. He is lonely, unsure of himself and eager to find someone who could love him and show him the power of the kiss he never received as a boy. As Casper turns into his human form (Devon Sawa) at the movie’s end, he whispers, “Can I keep you?” to his first love, Kat (Christina Ricci), even though he knows his time is short and he must return to a lonely spectral plain.
For many girls and boys, Casper wasn’t just a ghost story; it was a coming-of-age movie that discussed the painful fact that life is short and death is inevitable; therefore, life is valuable. In the years since its release, Casper has benefited from a critical reappraisal of its core themes and artistic beauty and earned a special place in the heart of many new generations, making it an undeniable classic of modern cinema.
GHOSTS AND GOBLINS
What do you get if you merge Lucasfilm’s powerhouse with the creative energy and beauty of The Jim Henson Company? The answer is the delightful and ingenious cult classic Labyrinth. Following The Dark Crystal in 1982, Jim Henson and Brian Froud began drafting a new fantasy adventure. However, this time, the aim was to produce a lighter tale that would take its inspiration from The Wizard of Oz.
Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a teenager with a vivid imagination who resents her daily responsibilities and longs for a life of fantasy. When her infant brother, Toby, is taken away by the Goblin King Jareth (David Bowie), Sarah embarks on a journey through the intricate and treacherous Labyrinth to rescue him. Along the way, she encounters an array of fantastical creatures and must solve riddles and overcome obstacles to reach the Goblin King’s castle.
While the core inspiration may have come from Baum’s Oz, there are more than a few nods to Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the fantastical story that unfolds. However, at its heart, Labyrinth is a coming-of-age tale. One of the central themes in “Labyrinth” is the power of imagination. Sarah’s journey through the Labyrinth represents her journey of self-discovery as a young woman. During her adventure, she encounters obstacles and confronts her inner fears as she realises that her abundant imagination can support her need for adult recognition. The maze represents every teenager’s journey to adulthood and our need to move beyond childhood fantasies, while Bowie’s Goblin King represents the arrival of desire as we grow into sexual beings. These coming-of-age themes ensure Labyrinth transcends the simple label of a children’s fantasy adventure. Jim Henson’s movie invites us to embrace the challenges of growing up, reminding us that our imagination needn’t be lost as we become adults, just fine-tuned.
HOCUS POCUS (1993)
When exploring Disney’s 1993 box office bomb Hocus Pocus, one should always start with the classic Christmas template born from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Scrooge had lost all faith in Christmas and his fellow man as three Ghosts arrived to remind him of his life and reignite his joy of family, Christmas and kindness. You may wonder what this has to do with Hocus Pocus. The answer is simple: Hocus Pocus takes the classic Christmas movie template and moves it to Halloween. Max (Omri Katz) has lost faith in the joy and meaning of Halloween. He dismisses Halloween traditions while viewing time with his young sister, Dani (Thora Birch), as a chore. Max isn’t a bad lad; he’s just a teenager desperate to shake off his inner child, but the supernatural world has other plans, as three witches, a black cat, and a zombie return to remind Max that Halloween is full of unexpected scares.
Hocus Pocus plays joyously with this classic Christmas template while injecting more than a few nods to classic horror; for example, the vulnerable virgin girl of classic horror becomes a virgin teenage boy hunted by a group of female witches. Our delightfully camp and controlling witches’ coven of Midler, Parker and Najimy dominate every man, sticking two fingers up to a male-dominated genre where women are primarily victims, not villains. Here, Hocus Pocus carries some rather adult themes beneath all the music and laughter, from a complex exploration of innocence to the silent and unseen loss of Max’s virginity before the final act. Hocus Pocus very nearly slipped into the mists of time, its lacklustre theatrical run, disappointing reviews and poor box office receipts earning it the title of a flop. But, like many 80s and 90s films, its saviour was VHS. Here Hocus Pocus has much in common with The Muppet Christmas Carol, a movie that would also bomb at the box office only to earn its cult status years later. Like Brian Henson’s Christmas Carol, Hocus Pocus is now passed down from parent to child, uncle to nephew, and aunt to niece every Halloween, its place in our celebrations cemented alongside pumpkin pie and trick or treat.
GHOSTS AND GOBLINS
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1994)
WORDS BY SAB ASTLEY
The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of those universal films everyone has seen. Henry Sellick does a fantastic job translating the spooky, oddball styling of Tim Burton into a delightful, kid-friendly adventure without losing too much of the horror – I’m not sure Jack Skellington would be quite so friendly and charming if we saw him in the (lack of) flesh. Many may not know that The Nightmare Before Christmas began as a poem by Burton rather than a script. However, a lot of stalling and rejections for being “too weird” led Burton to venture into live-action storytelling instead. Ironically enough, Burton’s live-action Beetlejuice and Batman convinced Disney that his style could work but might need a translator.
There’s such a fun and incredible energy held in Nightmare, with its mysterious forest of holiday doorways implanted into trees and Zero, the ghost dog, floating around like a Christmas spectre. Halloweentown and Christmas Town are worlds you want to dive into, exploring every nook and cranny to see what delights you might find waiting behind a door. At the same time, its stop-motion animation ensures a timeless appeal. Its multi-seasonal songs have become iconic, from ‘What’s This?’ to ‘This is Halloween’ and ‘Oogie Boogie’s Song.’ The Nightmare Before Christmas defies time and place, and without it, we wouldn’t have had James and the Giant Peach or Paranorman some years later –Nightmare was indeed the blueprint.
To this day, Henry Sellick and Tim Burton are the only creatives ever to encourage Disney to work with stop-motion – it’s a strong legacy that solidifies their place as the kooky creatives that got Disney to experiment, if only briefly.
Is there something strange in your neighbourhood? Is it something weird, and it don’t look good? Who you gonna call? The fact that these opening two sentences have people shouting Ghostbusters! is a testament to the cultural impact and legacy of Ivan Reitman’s 1984 comedy. Few comedies have earned the cult status of Reitman’s film or given birth to a whole host of spin-offs, from toys to cartoons and sequels. Much of this was due to a sharp screenplay full of gags and a cast who owned the silver screen. In Ghostbusters, a group of eccentric parapsychologists in New York, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), and later Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), would establish the “Ghostbusters,” a supernatural extermination service. Their new business was like Rentokil on speed as Proton Packs and Neutrona Wands sucked each spectre into a locked and sealed phantom zone. But nothing can prepare the boys for the arrival of Zuul and a gigantic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
Ghostbusters success lies in two areas. First is its ability to blend comedy, science fiction, and supernatural scares into an exciting, engaging comic book-like world. Here, the film would give us a unique spin on the paranormal investigation, ditching the clairvoyants and the priests for Uni lecturers and scientists, combining classic supernatural horror with a far more scientific vibe. Second, Ghostbusters would allow its cast the opportunity to steer the comedy, further enhancing the witty comedy at its core. This ensured the banter felt real, the friendships genuine, and the comedic interactions unscripted.
The result is a genuinely timeless supernatural comedy that has never been equalled. With its memorable characters, quotable lines, and seamless integration of genres, Ghostbusters has left an enduring mark on popular culture that continues to develop and grow.