“I love The Nightmare Before Christmas!” “I love Hocus Pocus!” Shut up. There is one Halloween children’s movie that reigns supreme, and that is Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktacular. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s spooktacular, and don’t you forget it.
Based on a series of graphic novels by Jill Thompson, Scary Godmother aired on Cartoon Network in 2003 and has been shown several times a week every October since. The film follows an adorable little girl named Hannah Marie who is terribly afraid of monsters. On Halloween night, Hannah’s older cousin Jimmy, tired of babysitting her, locks Hannah in the neighborhood’s premiere haunted house. Thankfully, Hannah’s Scary Godmother—a frizzy-haired magical wine aunt—arrives and proceeds to take Hannah on a fun-filled adventure to the Fright Side, where there’s lots of candy and plenty of friendly monsters.
Little Maude Lechner eagerly awaited the spookiest month of the year, ready to TiVo Scary Godmother and watch it every night after school. It is a film best consumed alongside candy by the handful.
The characters are more appealing than anything Disney or Tim Burton could dream up. There’s Mr. Scully Pettibone, a queer-coded character who quite literally spends much of the Halloween special bursting out of closets. There’s Harry, an extremely lazy werewolf with a fondness for food and the theater. Other characters include Bug-a-Boo, the monster under the bed; Jimmy’s teenage friends, who are growing increasingly dissatisfied with his behavior; and Orson, a blue-haired punk vampire, and my childhood crush.
Beyond its unique characters and storyline, Scary Godmother has a magic power: it teaches children how to get over their fears. Some Halloween movies exist simply to scare children, while others attempt to get a few cheap laughs out of Halloween. But Scary Godmother is a movie that acknowledges the frightening side of Halloween before gently illuminating the shadowy corners.
Much of what makes up the Halloween children’s movie landscape falls under the genre of “children’s horror,” Coraline and Monster House being two excellent examples (in fact, Laika, the production company that made Coraline, has turned children’s horror into a cottage industry). And though I love Coraline, frankly, I find children’s horror somewhat problematic. Some children, little Maude included, want to enjoy a Halloween movie with some hand-holding instead of, say, screaming bloody murder at a jumpscare in a packed theater before having nightmares for consecutive years afterward.
This is where Scary Godmother excels and what makes it the best Halloween children’s film of all time. It has its share of frightening moments, but Scary Godmother is there to give Hannah—and, vicariously, the audience—a behind-the-scenes tour of what goes into those scares. When Hannah meets the enormous, many-eyed Bug-a-Boo, Scary Godmother encourages the two to find something in common (spoiler alert: it’s pizza). And the comfortable setting of Scary Godmother’s house gives viewers a solid nostalgic location for the mind to return to again and again when Halloween gets to be a little too spooky.
When I dream of my childhood Halloween, many things float to the surface: Chasing Fireflies catalogs, dollar-store candy, and Elvira’s Halloween Hits playing on the radio. But nothing brings me back more than Scary Godmother. The animation has not aged well (in fact, it’s aged rather like milk), but then, what 2003 animated film has? Regardless, the film remains accessible to new viewers and reigns supreme as the quirkiest, most lovable Halloween children’s film of all time.