There are a surprising number of family movies that center on the spookiest of holidays, Halloween. Perhaps that is because the season of witches and ghouls is a good time to get a bit darker with a story; a way of showing the little ones that it is possible to be scared and survive, thus making them braver, more confident individuals. Independent animation filmmaker Sean Patrick O’Reilly brings his skills to the popular subgenre with The Legend Of Hallowaiian (it’s Halloween on Hawaii; no, I don’t think the name works either).
Kai (Noah Schnapp), Leilani (Teilor Grubbs), and Eddie (Kiefer O’Reilly) are surfing when a big wave carries them into a hidden cave. There, the best friends stumble onto a small, old chest with ancient runes carved in it. They pry it open and uncover a small statue of Pineapple Head. This mythical creature is a harbinger of destruction, and unbeknownst to the trio, by opening the box, they just unleashed its evil spirit, which plans to wreak havoc across the Big Island.
While trick or treating, they notice strange occurrences and discover that Pineapple Head is all too real. Now, to save their town, the trio must research all the Hawaiian legends they can to understand how Pineapple Head was initially captured. All the while, Kai must learn to embrace his heritage and learn what his ancestors truly stood for, in order to face the vicious monster he let loose.
“…by opening the box, they just unleashed its evil spirit, which plans to wreak havoc across the Big Island.”
The Legend Of Hallowaiian is O’Reilly’s second film of the year as director; the first title being the rather fun Steam Engines Of Oz. Both have similar styles, and that includes the rather sparse detailing in the worlds of each story. In the former, this lack of texture and bare bones population does hurt the movie, but it did not detract from the world building. In the merry, old land of Oz, just design the trees like a lightning bolt, then make all the houses shaped like crescent moons and the fantasy is sold.
With this movie, it is not that simple, though. The Legend Of Hallowaiian ostensibly takes place in our world, on Halloween night. The lack of decorations on the houses and the very few people in costumes roaming about don’t build ambiance or sell the seasonal setting whatsoever. It keeps the movie from reaching the same creepy mixed with adventurous fun heights as those found in Monster House or The Halloween Tree.
Beyond that, the animation is decent. The character designs are solid and move with ease. Pineapple Head, with his jack o’lantern-esque face on a pineapple and twisted root body, is especially intriguing to look at and makes for an eerie villain. A sequence atop a volcano with the kids asking the fire goddess for help is particularly striking, as the glow from the magma and the spells being cast add an ambiance that the rest of the movie never quite achieves.
The script by Scott Owen, David Swift, and Stephen Meier efficiently sets up the characters and allows the audience to believe in the friendship of the main three. The Legend Of Hallowaiian opens with the three surfing, and they set up a race to the waves. The back and forth amongst them sounds the way kids do talk, and the viewer buys that these people hangout even after the credits roll. Even the side characters get a moment or two to shine, especially Kai’s loving grandpa Pono (Mark Dacascos). Pono is well versed in the ancient lore of Hawaii, and he explains many plot elements to the children, but it never comes across as exposition.
“…cute and offers younger viewers a fun and important message. “
A considerable part of that is Dacascos’s voice acting. He strikes the right balance of enthusiastic storytelling and genuine concern for Kai and his friends. Schnapp as the moody Kai is only okay. His line readings are usually decent, but when faced with remarkable moments such as meeting the fire goddess (Vanessa Williams) or the ghosts of his ancestors, he fails to deliver shock and wonder in his voice.
Teilor Grubbs is fun as Leilani, bringing a lot of energy and pep to the role. Rounding out the core group of friends is Eddie, voiced by Kiefer O’Reilly. He is the best of the young thespians and sells the comedy and adventure equally well. Vanessa Williams has a small role and gives it her all.
The best part of the movie is its heart. Kai’s grandparents, whom he lives with after the death of his parents, impresses on him the importance of the legends they tell. These legends, fantastical though they are, highlight what family means and how knowing our ancestry can solidify how we are inside. I don’t know if the movie gets Hawaiian culture, or folklore, accurate but as presented in this movie, it works. It’s a sweet message for kids, told in a fun, easy to digest way.
The Legend Of Hallowaiian is cute and offers younger viewers a fun and important message. However, the lack of detail in the backgrounds hurt the atmosphere the screenplay attempts to create. The voice acting helps a lot though, and Pineapple Head is a memorable villain.
The Legend Of Hallowaiian (2018) Directed by Sean Patrick O’Reilly. Written by David Swift, Scott Owen, Stephen Meier. Starring Vanessa Williams, Mark Hamill, Tia Carrere, Mark Dacascos, Noah Schnapp, Teilor Grubbs, Kiefer O’Reilly.
6 Gummi Bears (out of 10)