Five Movies to Watch With the Kids You Love This Halloween.

“If you are protected from dark things, then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up.” — Neil Gaiman

Just like Christmas, Halloween seems like it was designed in a think tank made up entirely of children. I mean, c’mon, it culminates in a glorious day when kids are encouraged to dress up as whatever they want, and adults are required to give them free candy.

Yet, as great as that part is, there’s more to find if you look beneath the surface.

Christmas gets all the credit for being a season of imagination and wonder, full of the metaphors of hope, belief, generosity, community, and reconciliation. But Halloween has an enchantment of its own. It, too, is full of imagination and wonder, it’s just that the metaphors are often darker, with stories of ghosts and monsters exploring themes like fear, grief, and death.

They’re themes parents often, understandably, shield kids from. Yet, fear, grief, death, and the like, are part of life. Stories, including film, can be a way for kids to get a safe exposure to those darker parts of life. Fiction does an endless number of things, one being that it allows us to experience difficult things in small doses, which can help us face them when we experience them in potentially lethal doses later on. You know, like slowly developing an immunity to iocane powder.

I don’t have kids, so I can’t vouch for this as a parent, but I can do so as a former child, and as someone who thinks about story way too much.

Anyway, here are five movies to watch this Halloween with some kids you love — or on your own. And fear not, they don’t all explore darker themes, and they don’t all have a macabre imagination. One explores courage in the face of fear; one explores grief, loss, family, and acceptance; one is about disillusionment and identity; one is about finding a home where we least expect it; and another is just silly fun. I’ll let you figure out which is which.

credit: Pixar Animation Studios; Walt Disney Productions

Coco

My five-year-old nephew associates me with two things: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Coco. Needless to say, I love this movie. It’s a wonderful story, beautifully told, and I can’t get enough. I’ve seen it more times than I should probably admit, and I cry every. time.

Seeing as how the plot hinges entirely on Dia de Muertos, it’s the perfect movie to watch on Halloween night.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit has everything: cheese, amazingly bad puns, Gromit, the cutest bunnies in cinema history, vegetable-based sexual innuendo [that stays vague enough that you won’t feel bad watching it with little kids], and the smarts to poke fun at the tropes of the werewolf sub-genre.

I give it four out of five wheels of Wensleydale.

Coraline

Coraline is officially the first film featured on two Halloween Movie Fest lists this year. First, because it’s a great horror fairytale, and now, because it’s another perfect movie to watch with the kids you love this Halloween. Or, you know, by yourself as an adult. No shame, baby. No shame.

As I wrote before, this stop-motion fairytale about a girl who must singlehandedly take down an ancient monster, learning just how strong and brave and clever she is, is exactly the sort of story we all need right now.

If I had kids, I’d be so excited for when it was finally time to share this movie with them.

credit: Walt Disney Productions

Bedknobs and Broomsticks

If we’re being completely honest, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a shameless attempt to capitalize on the success of Mary Poppins, albeit seven years later. But ripoff or no, oh my god did I love this movie as a kid. If I could have, I’d’ve taken the film’s climax — you know, when armor comes to life and fights Nazis — and mainlined it right into my veins.

What’s not to love? It’s got international treasure, Angela Lansbury. It’s got David Tomlinson playing the polar opposite of his character as the dad in Mary Poppins. It’s got people turned into rabbits. It’s got some decent songs (“Portobello Road” gets stuck in my head on a quasi-regular basis). It’s got a bed that can take characters anywhere in the world, as long as you know how to handle the bedknob. It’s got a soccer game between humans and cartoon animals.

And did I mention armor comes to life and fights Nazis?! Because it does. Angela Lansbury sing-casts a spell for ‘substitutiary locomotion’ and an entire army of old armor comes to life and fights off an incursion of the Third Reich. Where and why was there an entire army’s worth of armor laying around in a tiny English village? Who knows! But there was, and it came to life and fought Nazis, and it was amazing.

As family-friendly Halloween-ish movies go, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a solid choice.

Oh, and the spell for substitutiary locomotion is “Treguna, Mekoides, Trecorum, Satis Dee.” It might come in handy, what with Nazis making a comeback over the last few years #themoreyouknow

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas somehow seamlessly combines Halloween and Christmas into a single glorious whole. This is a great service to humanity, seeing as how science has objectively proven that those are the two best holidays of the year. #thanksgivingsucks.

Henry Selick’s stop motion musical masterpiece is darkly enchanting and genuinely creepy, leaning all the way into those Halloween punches, while also telling an earnestly hopeful story that fits right in with the Christmas ethos.

It’s a moving story of identity, disillusionment, curiosity, and discovery, that has made Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, into one of the all-time great characters of both Halloween and Christmas.

Bonus options: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; ParaNorman; Corpse Bride; Monster Squad; Labyrinth; Monsters, Inc.; The Boxtrolls; and Frankenweenie.

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