Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Canterville Ghost, with the Voice of Stephen Fry

Not all ghosts are scary. Some are rather sad, because they mark the passage of time. Sir Simon de Canterville is definitely like that, but he also shares a kinship with Captain Gregg, Mrs. Muir’s ghost. He was once a holy terror, but he meets his match in a thoroughly modern American family in Kim Burdon’s animated adaptation of The Canterville Ghost, co-directed by Robert Chandler, which opens Friday in theaters.

For three hundred years, Sir Simon scared the willies out of everyone who tried to inhabit Canterville Chase. Unfortunately, Yanks like the Otis family are far too materialistic for ghosts. Virginia’s father Hiram considers himself a man of science, whose electric lights frazzle the ghost’s nerves. Her bratty twin brother torment poor Sir Simon with practical jokes. Of course, she is not scared of him either, but as the late 19
th Century equivalent of a moody goth teen, she is drawn to Sir Simon’s tragic romanticism.

Alas, the ghost would much prefer to be dead, so he can finally be reunited with his beloved wife. Death played a mean trick on him, which made him onery. Otis would like to break his curse, but that will be a complicated and dangerous proposition.

Screenwriters Cory Edwards, Giles New, and Keiron Self collectively did a nice job adapting Oscar Wilde’s novella, retaining his major themes, while punching up some of the dark and stormy bits, for Halloween. Wilde scholars might take issue with Hugh Laurie’s Angel of Death character, but he helps stir the pot and raise the stakes. There is plenty of animated mayhem, but deep down, this film is sadder and wiser than
Casper or Topper.

Canterville is indeed a tragic figure, given Shakespearean dimensions (and references) by Stephen Fry’s hammy voice. Emily Carey makes Virginia Otis appealingly smart and sensitive, despite her teen angst. Freddie Highmore sounds appropriately young and befuddled as the Duke of Cheshire, but his voice works surprisingly well in conversation with Carey’s.

Burdon (who was an animator on Roger Mainwood’s
Ethel & Ernest) paces the film well, while keeping it rooted in Wilde’s source material. The animation is maybe a half-step below the level of The Amazing Maurice (which Chandler co-produced), but it lively and the spooky-looking Canterville Chase is considerably more accomplished than the art and design work seen in an average Scooby-Do VOD release.

For cautious parents, Burdon’s
Canterville Ghost is a good option for Halloween viewing, because it certainly has ghosts, but it never gets too scary. The famous voice cast also mines the humor effectively, including a very brief but amusing post-credits stinger. Recommended for family viewing, The Canterville Ghost opens Friday (10/20) in LA at the Laemmle Newhall.