Oscar Wilde’s legendary short story The Canterville Ghost becomes an animated feature, with a couple of surprises up its sleeves. It opens in theaters this Friday October 20th. Co-Director Robert Chandler joins me for this spooky good Animation Scoop Q&A. (This interview was edited for length and clarity.)

Jackson Murphy: Oscar Wilde is an icon. What do you love about his writing — and incorporating that into this movie?

Robert Chandler: Oscar Wilde is a favorite writer, I have to say. There’s so much warmth and wit. He understands people. He mocks people without ever being truly cruel about it. When you read him, you can tell he loves his characters. In “The Canterville Ghost”, he puts an American family into this big, old English house at the turn of the century, in 1900. It would be quite easy for an English person, or an Irish person, to mock the Americans in quite a hard way. But he doesn’t. He loves the Americans. And similarly with the aristocracy, he understood fundamentally the desires and the heartbreaks of being an aristocrat. He was able to put these two cultures and values together. The American family representing modernity and the English aristocratic people and the house representing the values of old. And he made them collide… in a ghost story for children. How cool is that?

Robert Chandler: And at the center you have this ghost who’s been dead for 300 years, cursed, meeting a teenage girl from Boston. Our film really tells the story of that friendship. Initially they’re at odds with each other but they form a friendship. It’s what drew me to this story and all of [Wilde’s] writing — his characters and his warmth, and the fact that he has something to say.

JM: Virginia is not scared by Sir Simon, which is sort of a twist on many interpretations of a ghost story that we’ve seen on screen over the years. She’s a strong lead character, and you’re right: the dynamic between the two of them is very interesting as the movie goes on.

RC: It is. Sometimes you do a test between your two leads in a romantic comedy and make sure there’s a sizzle there — a chemistry test. In ours, we had it three ways. We had Virginia and Henry, with whom she falls in love with and he falls in love with her (smitten quite quickly). And Virginia and Sir Simon, who loathes Henry because of what he represents. So we had to make that triangle work. That was really about casting. Emily Carey gives a brilliant performance as Virginia. She gets her vulnerability, as well as her steeliness. And you’re right: she’s completely unimpressed. Sir Simon is so used to scaring people and them running away that when this family simply refuses to be impressed by him, it actually forces him to undergo a crisis of identity, and thus the story starts.

If they had run away, he would’ve just carried on as normal and wouldn’t have solved his essential problem, which is, “How does he get back to his wife, who he hasn’t seen in 300 years?” And then we [put] Henry into that. It’s not a love triangle. It’s a triangle of friendships. Virginia and Henry eventually do see how different they are, and in a way, that’s a perfect recipe for love. Yes, it’s a haunted house story. But essentially it’s a love story.


Check out the full interview here