Treat or Treat! Scary and Not-Scary Movies

We’ve covered quite a bit of ground so far in our Trick or Treat series. Continuing our quest to get in the Halloween spirit, today we’re going to talk about Halloween movies. Halloween movies are prime time for the evil, ugly witch trope. Fair Play has a couple of alternatives to that, as well as a family-favorite introductory scary movie. There are many, many children’s Halloween movies out there (ABC Family and The Disney Channel generally dedicate most October evenings to children’s Halloween movies). Let’s discuss three examples of gender-fair, family Halloween movies.

One go-to Halloween movie I’ve watched year after year (and continue to watch as an adult!) is Hocus Pocus.

This is a story of three children in Salem, MA, who bring back to life three witches and a very articulate talking cat. There is a love story between two of the teenagers, but this, thankfully, is not the focus of the film. Instead, the story is about children’s roles in family and responsibility among siblings, as well as children taking on their childhood fears. It’s true, the witches are evil and the children must defeat them, but this story deviates from the typical evil witch story for precisely that reason: the children are empowered to conquer their own fears. In fact, the parents in this story are fully oblivious to the witches’ return. Young children may need to watch this movie in someone’s company, but there is no gore or inappropriate language. Hocus Pocus is available on BlueRay and DVD via Amazon Prime two-day shipping for $14.

Our second film is not traditionally considered a Halloween film, but it’s a natural addition to this list for two reasons: a strong central female character, who is also a witch. Kiki’s Delivery Service tells the story of a young, apprentice witch on her own for the first time.

Kiki begins our story as a nervous young witch still making novice mistakes on her broomstick. We watch her blossom into a confident, self-assured young woman with responsibility, magical talent, and healthy personal relationships. This story is not action-packed like many Halloween movies but the plot is elegant in its simplicity. The animation and script are both lovely. This film appeals to children and adults, making it a fun addition to the regular family rotation. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a great foray into director Hayao Miyazaki’s work, as well as anime more generally, for children who may not have discovered it before. This film is available on DVD via Amazon Prime for $20.

Finally, I want to discuss my favorite children’s introductory scary movie, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Not to be confused with Sleepy Hollow, the much scarier grown-up film (which Fair Play has also never seen), The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is the animated version of Washington Irving’s book by the same name. Bing Crosby provides mesmerizing narration for this story set in New England during peak foliage season.

Now, let’s address some of the gender issues in this film right off the bat. The story is about Ichabod, an awkward and somewhat homely school teacher, and his love for Katrina Van Tassel, the stereotypical skinny, blonde, rich girl. Ichabod fights for her affections with Brom, an equally stereotypical burly, dim-witted, man’s man. Brom ultimately wins by running Ichabod out of town — perhaps to his firey death at the hands of the Headless Horseman, or perhaps to a much happier, less dramatic existence with an unnamed wealthy widow. In any event, nearly all of the characters in this story are tremendous caricatures. I think this story cleverly mocks the stereotypes it employs; it certainly provides a point for discussion.

However, it isn’t the gender portrayals in this movie that causes it to rank highly among my Halloween favorites. Instead it is the film’s accessibility as a first scary movie. The animation and soothing narration lend to the child-friendliness of this movie. As well, each scary incident in Ichabod’s wild ride away from the Headless Horseman has a less-scary alternative explanation. The sound of hoof beats may be the Headless Horseman himself, or alternatively, cattails on a hollow log. The uncertain ending is the child-accessible take on a hallmark of scary movies. Did the Headless Horseman get Ichabod in the end? Or, did he go on to live a happier life somewhere else? As with Hocus Pocus, this is a film young children will want to watch in some company. Perhaps it will become for your family what it has in ours: a film we watch as a family each fall to mark the changing seasons and coming holiday. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is available on DVD as a double feature with the animated Wind in the Willows for $10 via Amazon Prime.

(Originally posted October 21, 2012)

Trick or Treat is our annual Halloween series. Last year we blogged about the Fair Play strategy for costumes, and recommendations for books and movies. This year we’re re-posting those and adding some Halloween crafts and treats. Stay tuned! Have a specific request? Let us know here or on Facebook.

What do you think? Leave a comment!