NOW IN THEATERS! In 1887, Oscar Wilde penned a humorous short story concerning a cowardly ghost facing any Brits’ worst nightmare: a family of American industrialists. Thus do, we have Shout! Factory’s animated production of The Canterville Ghost, written by Giles New and Keiron Self and directed by Kim Burdon and Robert Chandler.
For 300 years, Sir Simon de Canterville (Stephen Fry at his bombastic best) has kept people from residing in his beloved Canterville Chaise. But along comes Hiram (David Harewood) and Lucretia (Meera Syal) and their children Virginia (Emily Carey) and twin boys Kent (Bennett Miller) and Louis (Jakey Schiff). Whereas in the past, Sir Simon was more than up to the task of scaring any would-be resident of his estate, these Americans prove intractable and immovable. In point of fact, Kent and Louis spend a fair amount of time pranking both Sir Simon and their parents’ guests. This leads to the ghost feeling very down, though he does befriend Virginia. She is a modern woman of 1900 — very forthright and determined.
Virginia initially arranges with Sir Simon to terrorize her family to convince them to return to America. When that plan fails, Virginia comes to learn that Sir Simon has been stuck there as a ghost because he was a coward in life. To achieve his eternity, he must deal with Death directly. At the same time, Virginia meets Henry, the current Duke of Cheshire (Freddie Highmore). There exists great animosity between the House of Cheshire and Sir Simon. What that exactly is and how to redeem Sir Simon from his personal purgatory are mysteries I shall permit the film to reveal to you.
“Virginia initially arranges with Sir Simon to terrorize her family to convince them to return to America.”
The Canterville Ghost has had many cinematic and television adaptations across the decades. It has even been prepared as puppet shows and stage plays. Rarely has a wry short story so thoroughly captured the imagination of humanity as this has. I tell you now, this iteration is a hoot fit for the entire family to watch together. It has been imbued with the perfect balance of gentle humor and rousing action. There is a fencing duel in the third act that is simply marvelous. Special mention must be made of Miranda Hart’s positively dotty Ghost Catcher. Here, we have a genteel Victorian version of a rookie ghost hunter. I found her scenes vivacious and batty, very fun stuff.
But what of the ghost, I hear you ask? Well, every production of this tale rises and falls on the energy and pizzazz (dare I say razzle-dazzle?) of the actor tasked with portraying the haunting and cowardly Sir Simon de Canterville. I’m here to tell you Fry is positively wonderful. The whole flick greatly benefits from the energy of his presence, and truly, Fry’s scene-chewing is epic in scale.
Burdon, Chandler, New, Self, and animation teams all deserve to give themselves a pat on the back. They were instrumental in crafting this utterly warm and endearing family entertainment. The 3D animation possesses a likeness of claymation, only smoother and better rendered. I cannot wait to watch it again. There are so precious few great family enjoyments these days you can feel comfortable taking all your children too. Parents and children of all ages seek out The Canterville Ghost. You’ll be very glad you did. That’s a Professor Franz guarantee.
"…Fry's scene-chewing is epic in scale."