When it comes to Halloween movies, it's easy enough to look at the horror genre, or, obviously, movies that are actually about Halloween in some way. However, there are a few genuinely creepy family features that fit just as well, not the least of which is 'Coraline', here. It's the first official film from Laika Studios, based on the Niel Gaiman book of the same name, and directed by Henry Selick of 'Nightmare Before Christmas' fame.
Our basic plot involves an 11-year-old girl named Coraline (Dakota Fanning) who moves into a new home with her all-too-average parents. I many ways, she's bored and frustrated. She misses her friends, her parents are too busy for her, and she certainly doesn't relish in the chore or unpacking.
She finds herself wandering the property, running into a fairly annoying boy named Wybie (Robert Bailey Jr.) who gives her a mysterious doll that looks just like her. The doll sort of guides her to this mysterious crawl space door within the house, where Coraline discovers a strange but amazing new world. It's much like home, but with awesome, fun parents, who make sure there's never a dull moment for her. It's like the world was built special, just for her. However, this new, wonderful place, might just be a little more sinister than she imagines it to be.
Along the way, there are interesting comparisons between the real world and this mystery world. It often profiles a few other characters who, although very strange in the real world, become what Coraline might expect/want them to be in the other. Various additions to the voice cast include the likes of Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman, Keith David, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, and Ian McShane, all of whom do a great job with their voice acting. However, I remain thoroughly impressed with Fanning on this one, as she very much comes across as that little girl who's a bit bratty, but sees the world through awed eyes.
The whole gist of the movie is a cautionary tale on being careful what one wishes for - the perfect life one dreams of isn't all it's cracked up to be, and may have creepy consequences and catches. For those who have seen this movie, you'll all know the role that button eyes play here, and that alone is eerie enough for this one to qualify for an annual Halloween watch. "ParaNorman' is way more up my alley that this, but 'Coraline' could be held accountable for breathing new life into the stop motion art of animation.
The film is considered by many to be a sort of instant classic, and it manages to reach the tip-top of a lot of peoples lists when it comes to top stop-motion animated films. Not that there's a whole whack to choose from, but it seems to have that sort of nostalgic power, in a sense. For myself, watching it reminds me very much of just being a kid with a crazy imagination, often being bored of the real world and wanting to escape some place fun. However, it does manage to hit home with a certain range of homesickness she gets, realizing that home isn't such a bad place, being so safe and comfortable.
For my money, this really is a great flick for the whole family. It's a nice little intro to scary stuff for the kids, and maintains its creepiness factor for us adults all the same. Even though it's not officially any sort of Halloween movie, it still carries that Halloween magic along with it, and again, could become a non-typical annual watch for many. It seems to have gone that route anyway.
Let me first be honest in fully admitting that yes, I actually did enjoy the first 'Goosebumps' film. It was a neat nostalgic trip for me, as I was a fan of some of the books, and even watched a bit of the show when I was younger. 'Goosebumps' is pretty much in the same realm as 'Are You Afraid of the Dark' for me in that it kinda represents my first little tiptoes into the horror genre. It's family friendly fun, but still kinda genuinely creepy in its own right.
The first film had kids find some of RL Stine's original Goosebumps manuscripts, opening them up, and unleashing a horrible magic on the town, having the books come to life and terrorize everything in sight, lead by none other than Slappy of, perhaps Stine's most famous 'Goosebumps' title, 'Night of the Living Dummy'. It was just a lot of fun for any inner child fanboy of Stine's. However here, we have the sequel, which is quite literally more of the same and, in fact, much weaker than the original.
This time around we have a couple of "loser" kids who have their own junk collecting company (equivalent to something like a lawn mowing business or a snow shoveling business, getting a bit of cash along the way). On one of their jobs, they find a book with scripture that one of the kids reads, and brings Slappy back to life. This time around, Slappy DOES end up being a bit more of the dummy from the books, however, in that at first, he's a little more tame. He's just looking at these guys, Sonny and Sam (Jeremy Ray Taylor and Caleel Harris, respectively) as potential brothers, and wants to be part of a family. Ultimately, it's mentioned that all he wants is a mother, but we sadly never really find out why at all he wants this. It's just kind of an excuse of a plot device that doesn't really go anywhere.
Anyway, sure enough, when Slappy starts going a bit overboard with his obsessions and gets denied, he heads to a Halloween store to bring a bunch of Halloween merch to life and terrorize a town again. So like I say, it's generally the same movie as before.
Jack Black does make his return as the fame author, however this time he's far less a part of things. He's kind of just a crowbarred in cameo here, and at the end of the day, there's no real other purpose for him being there. The film is basically an excuse to grab a few extra dollars, and didn't have the same feel as the original. From my perspective, the first was more something made for nostalgic fans to enjoy, whereas this was more something that had no excuse NOT to go straight to video. It actually has that "straight-to-video" feel to it.
With that last part said, I'll have to conclude that this might still be fun to bring the kids to. However, watching it as a nostalgic fan, it's not entirely worth the cheap Tuesday matinee price of the big screen experience, let alone a full price experience. I'd recommend just waiting for it to be released where you can check it out for free. It's a bit of fun, but it's just not that great altogether.
An interesting title that really needs no introduction due to its overall popularity, here's one I consider to be one of a few different titles you can enjoy for both Halloween and Christmas, although personally, I consider it more of a Halloween-focused movie, so here we are.
For the approximate two or three people out there who haven't seen this one, 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' is a lovely, dark family musical from the early 90s. The film gives us an interesting concept of the world's holidays by showing us that somewhere out there, there's a forest with a series of doors that led to specialized towns for each holiday. However, we start in Halloween Town, where we're introduced to the King of Halloween, Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon/Danny Elfman). Day in, day out, it's the same old routine for Jack, and things are getting kinda stale.
While Jack wonders off, lamenting about the dark and dull holiday, wishing for something more, he stumbles on the forest where he finds the doors leading to different holiday towns. The one he follows in particular is the one to Christmas Town, where he discovers the bizarre but very different traditions of Christmas, and decides it'd be a cool idea to kidnap Santa and take things over. In his mind, he's kinda just giving Santa a break, however there's more than meets the eye when it comes to trying to take over something he doesn't quite fully understand.
This movie is just a full fledged classic by today's standards, which is interesting, 'cause not a lot of people had much to say about it upon its initial release. However, since then, it has been re-released and re-released again with several different versions to chose from on DVD and Blu-ray, and it even gets a lot of theatrical play around this time of year if you know where to look. And don't even get me started on the merchandise that, at one time, was probably seen as clothing store Hot Topic's main fuel source. But why so popular?
I tend to see it as something as simple as just the dark look of everything coming along just a few years before the whole Goth trend took off, and it's a sort of easy go to as a "first goth thing". I personally see the trend landing somewhere between 'The Craft' and Marilyn Manson, but this predating both makes things much more debatable. And then there's just the whole underlying concept.
My personal takeaway from this is actually something that I don't think we see done a whole hell of a lot in film nowadays, although I'm sure I can be quickly corrected on it. The simplicity is that Jack tries to do something that he doesn't fully understand, and not much more than disaster comes from any of it. Basically, the underlying moral is just don't try to tackle something you don't know. I, myself, have found myself in this boat with a few of my reviews; it's a good thing to try to understand and support, but to put it in my own words, there's always that remote chance I could land myself in trouble with people claiming "he just doesn't get it". That's kinda what's going on here with Jack. I'd consider it a cautionary tale of sorts.
However, at the end of the day, one might just wanna take this as a family friendly musical, good for anywhere between October and December. The film has a lovely soundtrack, likable characters (good and bad), interesting concepts, cool animation, and a beautifully dark sense of humour. There's nothing quite like the scene where a kid pulls a shrunken head from his Christmas gift, freaking his parents out. So take from it what you will, but either way, it's a must-watch for this time of year. And hey, if you miss it at Halloween, you've still got Christmas to look forward to.