1988: The Canterville Ghost (animated)

Very little information exists about this 1988 half hour special, which was aired Sept 26, 1988, apparently (based on the data in the circulating video file) on the USA network. It does look like something they would have shown on USA back then. Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson) provides one of the voices. Some remember it playing on USA in the 1990s in a double feature, perhaps with Double Double Toil and Trouble (an Olson Twins affair) and Trick or Treason, an Alvin and the Chipmunks flop from 1994 that was nowhere near as good as their Wolf Man movie.

With stylized animation that makes it look like a 16 bit version of the style of Witch's Night Out, or perhaps WNO cross-bred with one of those picture books they'd animate a little on Reading Rainbow, this is probably fairly gorgeous in good quality (though the circulating video, which was made available by halloweenshows dot net , is a bit rough).

About as rare as these specials get, this edition of The Canterville Ghost actually seems to generate more interest (certainly more emails from fans) than the 1986 live action movie that featured Alyssa Milano, with many people in particular remembering the sequence in which Sir Simon talks about the death of his wife.

 Plenty of people have made movie and cartoon versions of Oscar Wilde's short story, and it seems to be made for the format: the story of a ghost having trouble scaring the people who move into his house is an easy generator for Home Alone-style pranks and laughs - and this version plays up the humor much more effectively than most of them do, as poor Sir Simon is tormented by the young twins and offered some lubricant for his chains by the father.  However, it's only like this for the first two thirds. After that, it abruptly turns into a much sadder story, as Sir Simon tells Virginia how he let his wife go riding one day, and the carraige went off a bridge. They found her drowned body the next day, and he himself wound up buried in an unmarked grave, unmourned. You don't see a lot of cartoons talking about unmarked graves. Virginia has to mourn over Simon's grave, then help him learn to forgive himself so he can go from haunting the attic to the "beautiful garden" in the next world. It's a night and day switch from the tone of the first two-thirds.

It's this portion that keeps the story from simply being a Looney Tunes romp, but it's tends to make for an uneven story that turns too quickly from pure comedy to pure tragedy (with a lot of Victorian-style sentiment in most cases).

In this version, though, it seems to be the dark sequence towards the end that lives in peoples' memories. The scene (illustrated with a few non-moving painted backgrounds) in which Sir Simon's wife rides off, and the scene of the edge of the carraige poking from the water, are said to have inspired a few nightmares.

 But the whole piece is really as good an adaptation of the story as I've seen, and the animation is really quite unique, like a really cool picture book come to life.


JR said...

This is no longer available for download. Any idea how to get a copy? I've been looking for this for years. I know it aired in syndication because we had it taped off a local channel. At that time, I think it was paired with Scooby Doo and the Ghoul School.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to know the same.

Anonymous said...

I've been searching for this on the internet for years! I remember having to go to a relatives' house, I think for Halloween, so I set the VCR to record this on the USA Network. I think they showed it two years in a row, as part of a Halloween night cartoon block. Over the years, having found no evidence of it, I thought I was just wrong about it ever happening. If you could provide any video or more information, I would appreciate it so much. This has been bothering me for 20 years!

Anonymous said...

I found it on youtube.


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