This is the time of year when ghosts, goblins, and witches fill TV screens. Some of these movies are too intense for children, and even for many of us adults! And others have questionable occult content. But, there is still family-friendly fun to be had during the Halloween season.
Here are some suggestions for some not-so-spooky Halloween treats.
The Canterville Ghost (2023 animated version, rated PG for thematic elements, peril, and some violence)
There have been several movies focusing on Irish writer Oscar Wilde's original 1887 story. This new film is an amusing, animated version of the classic tale, hitting theaters on Oct. 20.
After 300 years of haunting his mansion, Canterville Chase, Sir Simon de Canterville (voiced by Stephen Fry) encounters the American Otis family, which is not deterred by his presence.
The story involved some fun antics by two energetic little sons and teenage Virginia, who catches the eye of the young Duke of Cheshire.
With the help of Virginia, Sir Simon finally learns how to love again, and once again is united with his long-departed wife for whom he has pined for the past 300 years.
And if the story looks like it's pandering to the current trend of turning female characters into action heroes, here's Wilde's description of Virginia:
Miss Virginia E. Otis was a little girl of fifteen, lithe and lovely as a fawn, and with a fine freedom in her large blue eyes. She was a wonderful Amazon, and had once raced old Lord Bilton on her pony twice round the park, winning by a length and a half, just in front of the Achilles statue, to the huge delight of the young Duke of Cheshire, who proposed for her on the spot, and was sent back to Eton that very night by his guardians, in floods of tears.
This is a fun, family animated tale brings out the American/British cultural differences from the original story, not the least of which is the very progressive Hiram Otis’ new addition to this old mansion -- electricity. But is the village ready for such a new invention? After all, it is the beginning of the 20th century.
And if you've never read the absolutely delightful original, here it is, at Project Gutenberg.
Also, our own Kate O’Hare has the scoop on a previous live-action version of The Canterville Ghost, produced by BBC Studios and BYUtv. Click here to read.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Rated TV-G)
The Peanuts gang never fails to entertain and delight viewers of all ages. As Charlie Brown prepares for his first Halloween party, Linus decides to skip the party and trick-or-treating in lieu of waiting for The Great Pumpkin.
This little fellow thinks that The Great Pumpkin rises out of a pumpkin patch and delivers presents to children around the world, a la Santa. Linus is adamant that this will happen.
While the gang is out having fun gathering candy, or in Charlie Brown’s case rocks (poor little guy), Linus waits patiently in the pumpkin patch for The Great Pumpkin. Torn between having fun with her brother and friends, Sally decides to spend the night with her “sweet Baboo” and keep him company.
Will his expectations come to fruition, or will he --and Sally -- be disappointed?
The whole Peanuts gang has been endearing themselves to fans for generations with their cute insights as well as adorable antics. Their holiday shows are traditions in homes around the country.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a purely delightful show for the entire family. Since 1966 families have gathered together in front of their TVs for this traditional holiday viewing event.
As AppleTV+ now streams the Peanuts specials, does that mean you can't watch if you're not a subscriber? Nope. From Parade.com:
You can stream It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on Apple TV+ anytime with a subscription. Apple TV+ will also provide a special free window for nonsubscribers to stream It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown from Saturday, Oct. 21 through Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.
Coco (Rated PG for thematic elements)
When the 2017 animated movie Coco was released, it was an instant hit. At the core of the story is family, and young Miguel is now a beloved Disney character.
This little boy has music running through his veins, but due to a long-ago misunderstanding, his family has forbidden music of any kind in their home. Miguel is enchanted by the famous departed singer Ernesto de la Cruz, and hides his love of music and the singer from his family.
Through a strange incident, Miguel is transported to the Land of the Dead, a colorful place where the departed live, however, no living human is allowed. Miguel has to disguise himself as a skeleton to get through the land and find his hero Ernesto.
He thinks this man is his grandfather. But in the end, he discovers the man he held in high esteem is at his core a ruthless, evil person. When his true grandfather is revealed, Miguel has another mission, which is to restore his grandfather’s memory and good character back to his family in the land of the living.
What is interesting about this film is the fact that it revolves around the Day of the Dead, a Mexican tradition when departed members of families are reunited with their living relatives. This is a comforting aspect of the story.
Personally, I would love to have a day when I could reunite with my grandparents and father, even if it were for only one day a year. The Day of the Dead in the film is a time for happiness and love and for family. At the end of the film, Miguel’s family is whole once more. What a nice little story for the season.
While things in Coco (and the Day of the Dead itself) do not sync completely with Catholic views of the afterlife, the film has redeeming elements.
According to Catholic.net:
After seeing the film (which, by the way, I very much enjoyed), the comparison with the Catholic faith immediately jumped into my mind. I couldn’t help it –- it was so natural. You see, the belief in the Day of the Dead is a kind of an answer to our longing to never be permanently separated from our loved ones: a true and legitimate desire. But the Communion of Saints perfectly fulfills that desire. ...
Coco reminds us that there is a world beyond the physical, something greater, and gives hope that family love cannot be destined to end with death.
Hotel Transylvania (Rated PG for some rude humor, action and scary images)
In 2012 the animated film Hotel Transylvania entertained viewers of all ages and has inspired three additional films in the franchise. The premise is, in 1895 Dracula (voice by Adam Sandler), opened a hotel/resort in Transylvania where only monsters are allowed.
He intends on bringing up his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) here, where she can enjoy life with all the other guests and their families.
And there are plenty of strange families who visit the hotel: Frankenstein and his wife Eunice, werewolves Wayne and Wanda, mummy Murray, Bigfoot, and more.
It’s a fun place for monsters, but soon Jonathan (Andy Samberg), a human, wanders into the resort and Dracula decides to disguise him as a monster to not upset the guests. Mavis and Jonathan fall in love, but how can a human and a vampire forge a life together?
Loves wins out, and Mavis and Jonny soon wed and have an adorable little boy.
Their stories, along with those of the other monsters, continue in the next three fun films. Although the stories are about monsters, they are not scary. They are cute and all revolve around the family unit of Drac, Mavis, Jonny, and their son Dennis. This foursome of films makes a fun family viewing experience for Halloween time.
Catholic News Service said of the original film:
Yet while Peter Baynham and Robert Smigel’s screenplay has its fair share of mildly rude flatulent humor, it also contains a striking pro-family theme in Dracula’s touching relationships with his daughter, and his deceased wife over whom he is still grieving. Therefore amid the silliness come some very moving moments that will have Catholic viewers nodding in approval, as well as a conclusion that affirms the value of the family unit.
Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters Afterlife (Rated PG and PG-13, respectively, for supernatural action and some suggestive references)
When the going gets tough, who are you going to call? The Ghostbusters, of course.
The 1984 movie ignited a flurry of delight, with a slew of fun characters, as Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson join together to free New York of the evil ghosts.
There were more films in the franchise and, in 2021, Ghostbusters Afterlife supposedly completed the run. This is the story of a woman (Carrie Coon) who, along with her two kids (Finn Wolfhard, McKenna Grace), moves into a dilapidated house bequeathed to her by her father. She meets a scientist (Paul Rudd) who is checking into strange occurrences in the town.
During their work together to get to the bottom of things, viewers discover the house was that of former Ghostbuster Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), who had dedicated his life to ridding the world of ghosts. He had been estranged from his family and the other Ghostbusters.
Some of the original cast make appearances: Annie Potts, Sigourney Weaver, and yes, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd, and even, after a fashion, Ramis. Since Ramis died in 2014, it took some cinematic magic to "resurrect" him for this film.
The tiny mischievous marshmallows are adorable (viewers will remember the rampaging Stay-Puft Marshmallow man from the original film), as are other elements, like Munchy, a metal-eating ghost.
This is yet another film focusing on family.
About this latest film in the franchise, FTP pal (and Catholic comedian) Carl Kozlowski penned in The Catholic World Report:
The reason why is that the film not only provides some laughs and excitement, but also taps into something deeper than the usual comedy.
In following the exploits of the grandchildren of original Ghostbuster Egon Spengler (the most nerdy one, famously portrayed by the late, great Harold Ramis) as they take on a supernatural infestation in the heartland of rural America, it draws strongly on the desire so many of us have to connect in some way with our beloved ancestors.”
Check out Kate O’Hare’s look at the original film, which continues a surprising number of faith-related references.
Image: Shout! Studios and Blue Fox Entertainment