Halloween gives kids a thrilling opportunity to act out their dreams and pretend to be characters with great power. But it can also be scary and even overwhelming for the littlest trick-or-treaters. An introduction to the holiday with videos from trusted friends can help make them feel comfortable and excited about even the spookier aspects of the holiday.
Kids ages 3-5 will enjoy Barney’s Halloween Party, with a visit to the pumpkin farm, some ideas for Halloween party games and for making Halloween decorations at home, and some safety tips for trick-or-treating at night. They will also get a kick out of Richard Scarry’s The First Halloween Ever, which is Scarry, but not at all scary! Witches in Stitches, is about witches who find it very funny when they turn their sister into a jack o’lantern. And speaking of jack o’lanterns, Spookley the Square Pumpkin is sort of the Rudolph of pumpkins. The round pumpkins make fun of him for being different until a big storm comes and his unusual shape turns out to have some benefits.
Kids from 7-11 will enjoy the classic It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and the silly fun of What’s New Scooby-Doo, Vol. 3 – Halloween Boos and Clues. Try The Worst Witch and its sequel, about a young witch in training who keeps getting everything wrong. Kids will also enjoy Halloween Tree, an animated version of a story by science fiction author Ray Bradbury about four kids who are trying to save the life of their friend. Leonard Nimoy (Dr. Spock on the original “Star Trek”) provides the voice of the mysterious resident of a haunted house, who explains the origins of Halloween and challenges them to think about how they can help their sick friend. The loyalty and courage of the kids is very touching.
Older children will appreciate The Witches, based on the popular book by Roald Dahl and Hocus Pocus, with children battling three witches played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. And of course there is the deliciously ghoulish double feature The Addams Family and Addams Family Values based on the cartoons by Charles Addams.
The Nightmare Before Christmas has gorgeous music from Danny Elfman and stunningly imaginative visuals from Tim Burton in a story about a Halloween character who wonders what it would be like to be part of a happy holiday like Christmas. And don’t forget some old classics like “The Cat and the Canary” (a classic of horror/comedy) and the omnibus ghost story films “Dead of Night” (recommended by the New York Times’ A.O. Scott), and “The House that Dripped Blood.”
This third in the Ice Age series is a bit sweeter and gentler than the first two, perhaps less ambitious in scope than the first but much more engaging than the second. The 3D animation is beautifully immersive and the story is exciting but so low-key that everyone, even the scary dinosaurs with the big teeth, ends up happy.
Again this is the story of woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), sloth Sid (John Leguizamo), and saber tooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary), now joined by Manny’s mate Ellie (Queen Latifah), who is about to have a baby. Everything seems settled and happy, but of course we would not have a story unless everything got unsettled pretty quickly. Diego is feeling left out and worried about getting older and less powerful, so he decides to leave the makeshift “tribe” they all think of as family. Sid finds three huge eggs and immediately adopts them, his nesting instinct so over the top that he insists he is their mother. The eggs hatch, and at first the little dino babies happily follow Sid around like ducklings, though they are not entirely on board with the idea of vegetarianism. But then their mommy dinosaur comes to get them, grabbing Sid along with her chicks, and pending childbirth or not, Sid, Manny, Ellie, and Diego go off to rescue him.
They end up in an underground portal to a place where the weather is temperate and the dinosaurs still rule. “I thought those guys were extinct,” one of our heroes comments. (Note that in real life the last Ice Age was about 20 thousand years ago and the last dinosaurs were about 65 million years ago, but what the heck, animals do not talk or build playgrounds, either.) There they meet up with an off-beat piratical weasel named Buck (Simon Pegg), who teaches them some survival skills and leads them to Sid. Along the way, they have a number of adventures, and yes, that baby decides to arrive at just the wrong place and time, but despite some chases, several falls, and one near-ingestion by a hungry plant, everyone ends up happy and healthy.
Children and their parents will enjoy the portrayals of family life. “You’re trying to childproof nature,” Ellie chides Manny as his approaching fatherhood brings literally home to him the dangers of the world. And they will enjoy Buck’s rakish antics and the traditional subplot about the prehistoric squirrel Scrat and his perpetual quest for the elusive acorn. This time, his biggest impediment is a long-lashed female, who outsmarts him at every turn.
Scrat’s romantic confusion is a lot of fun, but there is a sense that the folks behind this movie are not evolved enough to think of the female characters as anything other than wise and nurturing — and a little bossy. Ellie’s job in the movie is to be the grown-up; apparently even in pre-historic times the females were more, uh, evolved. Not as funny, however.
But the sweet nature of this film is engaging and the adorable characters designed by illustrator Peter de Seve make this movie both satisfying and fun. The squirrels’ tar pit dip, romantic tango, and post-romantic home-decorating session, Sid’s efforts to mother the adorable dinosaur babies, and a nimble balance of action and humor make this one of the best family films of the year.
One of my all-time favorite movie pals is WGN’s Nick Digilio. I love to talk to him when we agree and I love it even more when we don’t! Here’s yesterday’s broadcast.
Continuing this week’s celebration of all things Tinker Bell, I spoke to Ellen Jin Over, Art Director for the new DVD, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure. I was really lucky that Tinker Bell historian Mindy Johnson was there, too. Don’t forget to enter my contest for the new Tinker Bell DVD and wings!
NM: Tell me what it is like to dress a fairy!
EJO: Dressing Tinker Bell is real exciting because that’s one of the major Disney characters, and to dress her in something else than what she was wearing is very exciting. They are fairies and their dwelling is Pixie Hollow, made of all natural stuff, so we begin with found objects made from nature, influenced by Victorian styles. She wears a green leaf dress. We wanted to continue that color scheme and nature, be inspired by nature, bring different texture of the leafs, different color variations, made out of flowers, leaf, and feather. Of course she is wearing leggings because it is fall, a shawl, boots with pom poms made of cotton ball.
NM: How do you suggest not just her environment but her personality?
EJO: Different fairies have a different personality. Silvermist is a really feminine personality and a water fairy; Irdidessa is really organized and she is also a light fairy, so depending on what their talents are, we give them some costumes that match. Silvermist will always have a long dress. And Tinker Bell, she’s really active, she’s really curious, very adventurous. Because in this movie she travels far out of Pixie Hollow into some other unknown land, we wanted to give her a really active, kind of sportly look. So she has a visor, a shawl for the cold weather, a pair of boots so she can run around and jump and hop and protect her little delicate feet. In this outfit she can do whatever she wants, climb up.
NM: It’s been about a hundred years since Tinker Bell first appeared — and she was just a little spot of light on stage in productions of “Peter Pan.” And then Disney was the first to personify her in the animated version of the story (which was also the first to have the title character played by a boy instead of a woman). How has Tink changed over the years?
Mindy Johnson (author of a forthcoming book about Tinker Bell): She did begin as a flash of light with James M. Barrie. He explored many different avenues on how to portray this character and she took the imagination of many including a very young Walt Disney as a boy, having seen the play as a child. She was always in the back of his mind as he built the animation studios and he had his version in development for 16 years, beginning before WWII, in the late 1930’s. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that it came back into development. The character was designed by a Disney artist named Mark Davis, a legendary animator, something of a ladies man — he worked on Cinderella, Snow White, and Princess Aurora. It was a challenge to portray a realistic, humanistic, character, especially because she was largely portrayed via pantomime. There were quite extensive explorations of her as redhead, brunette, a little powder puff, a whole variety of things which is the crux of this book I am working on about her history. But all of that is part of what left her so implanted in everyone’s mind as the embodiment of magic, and wonderment and fantasy and fun and a little mischief. There have been a number of things since the 1952 debut in the film. She was brought into the early television show to open each program. And now she has her own stories.
NM: How do you introduce her new evolved persona to the audience?
EJO: By giving her an adventure of her own. It was really the director’s choice to send her to a place where she was going to have a really great experience exploring this fantasy world. She was really given a great task, to make a fall scepter. It was such a great task that she wanted to be really good about it. But she made a mistake, the moonstone broke. She got the idea from the story-telling fairy that there is a far away place where you can find the moonstone so she decided to go on a trip. We see that she is not afraid to explore new territory to complete her responsibility. And boys like her, too, because she is not your typical princess, she is a tomboy and not afraid to do things, more of a character that could appeal to both audiences.