Sir Simon's (Stephen Fry) ghost fails to scare an American family from his English estate, but gains an invaluable friend (Virginia Otis).

Oscar Wilde's classic short story gets a banner animated adaptation with an all-star voice cast of venerated British actors. The Canterville Ghost will have children and adults delighted from the first frame. I was literally laughing out loud within minutes. A few tweaks to the story adds depth, heart, and a thrilling climax that resonates. The film wows the eyes with beautiful backgrounds and settings. There are also a sprinkle of slightly scary moments to give the youngest tykes a welcome fright. The tale of a 300-year-old apparition comically failing to scare an American family out of his treasured home has never been better.

The Otis family arrives from Boston to a late 1880s English countryside estate with vastly different expectations. Hiram (David Harewood) and his wife, Lucretia (Meera Syal), are ecstatic to have gotten such a deal on the elegant property. They couldn't have cared less about rumors of a ghost or the fact that previous owners had been driven mad. The upstart Yankees plan to show the stuffy Brits the marvels of modern technology. Their hellion twin sons, Louis (Jakey Schiff) and Kent (Bennett Miller), can't wait to start trouble. But teenage daughter Virginia (Emily Carey) still stews from the move. What's she going to do in the middle of nowhere?

Sir Simon de Canterville (Stephen Fry) lurks behind the walls ready to terrify. He was cursed to roam Canterville Chase for eternity and made quick work of those who dared to enter his abode. Sir Simon's trademark wails, screams, and near translucent appearance doesn't get the expected response to say the least. He flees nearly traumatized from his first taste of Louis and Kent's antics. Sir Simon's efforts with their parents are equally frustrating. He's scolded and admonished before being shooed away with medicinal tonics.

Virginia is the only Otis genuinely intrigued by Sir Simon. She finds a book about the history of Canterville Chase and the tragic circumstances that doomed him. He's also fascinated by the upstart girl who wears "pantaloons," can expertly fence, and rides horses like a cavalry soldier. They become unlikely friends until a hated neighbor enters the equation.

Virginia heroically saves the Duke of Cheshire (Freddie Highmore) from plunging off a cliff. The shy and sweet nobleman becomes enamored with the young American beauty. This thrills Virginia's parents who crave to be a part of snobby British society. But the nascent romance infuriates Sir Simon who hates the Cheshire family for what they did to him. He redoubles his efforts to evict the interlopers.

he Canterville Ghost accentuates an already clever narrative with smart additions. Virginia's demeanor, dialogue, and actions show her refusal for complacency. She craves a world of excitement and adventure, not debutante balls. But every tough nut cracks sooner or later under the right circumstances. The Duke of Cheshire isn't just a handsome face with a title. He proves to be kind and courageous, and embraces Virginia's rebellious streak. Their romance becomes integral in a tense third act.

New story elements also include a hilarious riff on Ghostbusters. The Reverend Chasuble (Toby Jones) has a specter-chasing wife (Miranda Hart) obsessed with capturing Sir Simon. She straps on a proton pack wannabe that would give Egon Spengler (RIP Harold Ramis) a raised eyebrow. Her gadgets are just a tip of the iceberg. Hiram fancies himself an inventor with plans to electrify Canterville Chase. The theme of modern life overtaking dated customs and thinking is present throughout.

Stephen Fry reunites with his sketch show partner Hugh Laurie as the most formidable of adversaries. He portrays Death as a gardener who clips our stems when the mortal coil ceases. Virginia's investigation of a mysterious proverb to free Sir Simon brings our gallant heroine to Death's doorstep. Let's just say those fencing lessons were worth every penny. There's surprising angst to an ending that's easily the darkest part of the film. The Canterville Ghost isn't all giggles when lives and destiny are at stake.

Directors Kim Burton (Fireman Sam) and Robert Chandler (The Amazing Maurice, The Deep) pay incredible attention to small details. The film's backgrounds are amazing. Everything from the rural landscape to the Canterville Chase interiors are noticeably distinct. They also change animation styles when giving important background information to frame Sir Simon's dilemma. His exposition is told in brilliant 2D cut-outs like a puppet show. This varies how you see the film, so the following scenes seem even bolder. The Canterville Ghost gives behemoth competitors like Pixar a run for the creative money. It's visually breathtaking. It's obvious that significant artistry was involved in the production.

The Canterville Ghost is a production of Align, Melmoth Films, Space Age Films, and Sprout Pictures. It will be released theatrically on October 20th from Blue Fox Entertainment and Shout! Studios.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5 (Very Good)

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