The Dark Side of Animation: Scary Kids’ Movies Coming This Fall
Between August 17 and October 5, movie audiences will be treated to a trio of animated spectacles aimed for kids but containing more than a tinge of supernatural movie magic to draw in adults audiences. Each is steeped in movie monsters from ghosts and zombies to Frankenstein to Dracula’s hotel full of cinematic beasties. Decades ago, young audiences were introduced to the world of monsters and horror through magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland and, later, Fangoria. On TV, shows throughout the 60′s and 70′s would provide Dark Shadows, Adams Family and The Munsters. Cartoons would bring Scooby Doo, Groovy Ghoulies, animated versions of King Kong and Godzilla and more. Even the Universal Monsters from the 30′s and 40′s were targeted to kids. There’s something mysterious and sad about monsters that kids seem to identify with almost instinctively. Today, most kids know who Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman are before even seeing the first of their films. So, it may be no surprise that this year, three high profile, and very promising animated films staring or prominently featuring movie monsters are coming to the big screen. And with the classics Universal Monster films coming to Blu-ray this fall, they couldn’t come at a better time.
First up is the stop-motion adventure, Paranorman, from the makers of Coraline (2009), Laika. The film features a young boy, Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from Blithe Hollow, who has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. This makes Norman a bit of a loner; an outcast. When Norman learns of a curse placed on the town years ago by a crazed witch from the ghostly Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), he must gather who ever will believe him to face the supernatural threat. Together, Norman, his close friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), his older sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick), the school jock Mitch (Casey Affleck), and Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), the school bully, must save the town of Blithe Hollow from a horde of undead zombies. “It’s all fun and games until someone raises the dead” declares the tag line. Paranorman looks promising with great characters, plenty of paranormal hi-jinks, fascinating stop-motion action, a beautiful and spooky color palette and lively, good-natured fun, all in glorious 3D. This should be a surprise hit providing high entertainment for kids and adults alike. (http://paranorman.com/)
Second up is Sony Pictures Animation 3D feature, Hotel Transylvania starring the vocal talents of Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg, teaming up once again. They were last seen together in That’s My Boy. Here, Sandler stars as Dracula, the vampire owner of a five-star hotel reserved for monsters. His guests include Frankenstein (Kevin James), the Bride of Frankenstein (Fran Drescher), Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz), the Mummy (Cee Lo Green), a werewolf (Steve Buscemi) and the Invisible Man (David Spade). Dracula begins preparing for his daughter’s (Mavis, Selena Gomez) 118th birthday, but all his well orchestrated plans are in jeopardy when an unexpected visitor arrives the day of the party – Jonathan (Samberg), a very ordinary teen boy. Dracula must prevent his daughter from falling in love with the human guest at all costs. Hilarity ensues. Hotel Transylvania has a large cast of comedic vocal talent and a collection of instantly recognizable monsters. Hotel Transylvania should do well with the young crowd but may not have enough draw for the parents, except for those who either adore the old Universal Monsters or are huge fans of Sandler and Samberg – which very well may be a surprisingly high number. (http://www.welcometohotelt.com/)
The third in the trio of animated monster-fests has Tim Burton returning to stop motion animation (in 3D) updating his celebrated 1984 short film, Frankenweenie. Drawing inspiration from the Mary Shelley classic, Frankenstein, and the Universal Films that followed, Burton brings a kid friendly version of the gothic tale to the big screen using stop-motion animation. The film has a young, pre-adolenscent Frankenstein bringing his cherished, and recently perished, pooch Sparky back to life in familiar fashion. The movie, like the films that inspired the original short and the short itself, remains in black and white. Charlie Tahan (young Ethan from I Am Legend) is Victor Frankenstein and Catherine O’Hara is his mother, Susan Frankenstein, with Martin Short playing his father. Familiar Burton cast member Winona Ryder voices Elsa van Helsing. Burton brings along many of the production crew from Corpse Bride and Burton regular Danny Elfman provides the music. This is Tim Burton in classic form, this is him returning to his roots, the concept that introduced him to cinema audiences in 1984. Burton has had great success heading stop-motion fare (producing mostly) with The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and Corpse Bride (where he directed alongside Mike Johnson). Tim Burton fans are sure to be in for an extraordinary film, an event; those unfamiliar with his work (but who isn’t these days), may not be prepared for a black and white, stop-motion, animated kid’s film based on the classic Mary Shelley novel. This should become a classic but may not perform that well in its initial theatrical run. (http://disney.com/Frankenweenie)
If October’s gorier, more adult-friendly, horror films (Paranormal Activity 4, Silent Hill and Sinister) are not your speed, but you enjoy ghoulish, spirited Halloween fun, then this trio of animated films should satisfy that desire marvelously. Each film promised its own blend of monsters and child-hood fantasy entertainment. Hotel Transylvania provides the most traditional film of the bunch with monsters and ghouls galore. The Adam Sandler film should do extraordinarily well with the younger crowd. Frankenweenie brings back nostalgic cinematic excellence with Tim Burton painting pure magic on the big screen. Paranorman looks to be a brilliant blend of kids’ film with an adult friendly story. It’s combination of stop-motion, 3D and story-driven paranormal predicaments should have families flocking the theater, perhaps multiple times, to see Paranorman. Which film will you see?