Casper the Friendly Ghost is one of those filmic characters that older family members are sure to recognize. Coming into creation through children’s books in 1939, then further established later in the 1945 animated TV cartoon, Casper the notoriously “Friendly Ghost” is perhaps the oldest child-friendly horror figure to make this list. In the 1995 reincarnation of this old-time ghost, however, Halloween night poses a pivotal challenge.
Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman play daughter and father in this Universal Pictures adventure, but their connection to Casper comes more so through comedic/evil duo Cathy Moriarty and Eric Idle. Moriarty inherits an estate in New England that’s infamously haunted (by Casper and his three warped ghost-uncles), but she can’t get the riches hidden in the house without the help of a seasoned ghost hunter. That’s where Ricci and Pullman come in.
Pullman plays a ghost psychologist who Casper hand-picks for the job because of his beautiful daughter (Ricci). Eventually, the film comes to a climax point at a haunted Halloween party, but the “friendliness” of the ghost in question reigns – Casper kicks out the bullies and then gets the girl (even though he’s a ghost!).
Older viewers will likely feel comforted by this ghostly figure from their pasts while younger audiences will love the treasure hunt, the incredible house, and the naïve yet romantic love story. Even if this “Casper” film isn’t the right one for you from the franchise, the film series is long, reaching over ten years through at least five films. Don’t forget to include at least this one from 1995 at your family Halloween gathering for all future years.
4. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
Uniquely among all the films on this list, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” is probably the film that your elders will enjoy more than anyone else, for it is the oldest and purest Halloween family film that this author could imagine for this list.
This innocent story from 1966 was originally a made-for-TV special for the fall and Halloween seasons. Charlie Brown is a character from the Peanuts comic strip invented and penned by Charles M. Schultz, so the whole film is based on that same style of animation, those same characters, and that same artist’s world.
Actually, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” has something important in common with another film that will appear later on this list, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Just like Burton’s ultimate animated Halloween classic, Charles M. Schultz designed his Halloween special to incorporate essential Christmas themes. Throughout the film, the character of Linus gets tricked into thinking there’s a Santa-esque figure for Halloween called the Great Pumpkin.
Even up until the last moments of the film, Linus still believes that the Great Pumpkin will return on Halloween night to his pumpkin patch and leaves goodies for all the good children of Earth. It’s definitely precious, undeniably innocent, and distinctly heartbreaking all at the same time with a spattering of neutral Halloween themes that the whole family can enjoy.
3. The Tim Burton Trio: Frankenweenie, The Corpse Bride, The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton is a self-proclaimed weird dude, but his creative mind has also given us a plethora of Halloween classics to draw from on these types of family movie nights. Family favorites such as “Frankenweenie” from 2012, “The Corpse Bride” from 2005, and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” from 1993 all feature the genius yet macabre Halloween-time pairing of Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman.
While two of these titles – “Frankenweenie” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” – were released through Disney, “The Corpse Bride” comes to us from a stop-action Claymation production company that’s already been mentioned on this list once before. Laika Entertainment – responsible for “ParaNorman,” “Coraline,” and Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride” – has a certain way of looking at the world and breaking it down through art that really lends itself to this family-style spookery.
In fact, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is done in this same general artistic method of stop-action animation, but the producers were different for that project than they were with “The Corpse Bride,” so the styles will be visibly different (albeit related) between these two films.
Overall, if you want a creepy film about animals (maybe for a younger family), go for “Frankenweenie,” but if you’re more in the mood for a great musical with a love story and a scandal at its heart, try out “The Corpse Bride.” And if you’re looking for twisted and disturbing with a musical spin (perhaps for an older age group of family), try “The Nightmare Before Christmas” instead. With any or all of these three Halloween films, however, you’re all in for a genuine treat.
2. The Addams Family
“The Addams Family” is a little more mature than some younger families may be able to handle, as the series does technically have a PG-13 rating. But if you have children around who are 13 and older, this film series is perfect to add to your Halloween celebration. The three Addams family films begin in the early 1990s, and they actually reprise a television show of the same name from the 1960s that older members of the family may recognize fondly.
Teens will be fascinated by the eeriness of this anti-social, whimsical, and shady family; young adults will relate to the terse humor and witty script; adults will like how the film series incorporates so many familiar actors in such unique roles; and the upper age group will get the nostalgia of perhaps viewing this show as a child or young adult themselves.
Fan favorites from the series are usually Lurch – the Addams’ dependable butler who simply grunts to communicate but is still incredibly perceptive – the daughter, Wednesday Addams – the dark and dismal deadpan comedian played by a young Christina Ricci (up until the third film) – or the father, Gomez Addams – who seems to be a passionate lover of his wife as well as eccentric fellow altogether. Gomez is played by Raul Julia until the third film, when his role is reprised by Tim Curry, to the pleasant surprise of hopefully all viewers. Tim Curry in any strange role is usually a good time.
1. Hocus Pocus
When it comes down to it, the single best Halloween movie for families to watch has to be Disney’s “Hocus Pocus” from 1993. Featuring the talents of Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as the evil Sanderson Sisters, “Hocus Pocus” involves stylish witches, another centuries-old witch curse, a good amount of girl power, and one saucy candle-lighting (male) virgin.
“On All Hallow’s Eve when the moon is round, a virgin will summon us from under the ground,” prophesizes Winifred Sanderson (Midler) – the oldest and most cunning of the three evil witches from pilgrim-age Salem, Massachusetts – on her presumed death-bed.
Sure enough, three hundred years later, our protagonist and his little sister get into a fight on Halloween that leads them to the Sanderson’s house, their book of spells, and their ancient black-flame candle. Before long, the witches are awakened, and “the lives of all the children in Salem” come under threat before our heroic trio (plus one talking cat!) manage to save the day.
“Hocus Pocus” is an exciting, magical, creepy, scary, fabulous, and liberating story that outreaches its aims in all its efforts toward success. Similar to “Goosebumps,” rumors abound in the world of Disney films regarding a second “Hocus Pocus” installation in the next few years.
If that’s the case, it only proves the Halloween popularity of the first film as well as the (delayed) potential the filmmakers realized existed in another piece to the story. For this Halloween, make sure “Hocus Pocus” is seen by all, and then for next Halloween, check back again, for the sequel will undoubtedly come in time.
A last-minute Honorable Mention for this list goes without question to Disney Pixar’s “Coco.” Although “Coco” has Halloween vibes, it’s based explicitly on the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos rather than the more Anglo-Saxon practices of All Hallow’s Eve.
Despite the cultural differences, “Coco” absolutely makes this list (even if only through Honorable Mention) because it incorporates questions of ghosts with free reign in reality, hauntings, ancestors, hidden origins, and unlimited ghostly potential. If Halloween isn’t in your standard set of holiday celebrations, give all these films a watch to see what the fuss is about, and then make sure not to forget about “Coco”! It’s fantastic and tangential and like all the others, it’s totally worth your time no matter what you celebrate.