Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
A Sequel That Does the Original Justice
Sequels and follow-ups to Halloween or horror classics are very common in the entertainment industry. True, there have been different adaptations and interpretations of iconic monster characters, like Dracula or the Frankenstein monster. Yet most sequels commonly try to capitalize on nostalgia and/or trending popularity without thought or care put into it. Every now and then, we do get sequels and follow-ups that give the property justice by either retconning events or understanding the source material with fresh takes. On the spectrum of this subject matter, we have Scary Godmother as an example.
Based on the children's illustration books by Jill Thompson, it was adapted into a direct-to-video film in 2003 and gradually became a new Halloween family classic for its generation. While the animation was dated and maybe too simple for general audiences, its innovative art direction, memorable characters and innocent nature helped captured the spirit of the books. Thanks to its annual reruns on Cartoon Network, a sequel based on one of Thompson's books was announced and premiered on the aforementioned channel in 2005. For those who are familiar with the book or series, it is assuring that the sequel gives exactly what it promised.
When Jimmy (voiced by Alexander Ludwig) plots to cancel Halloween, Hannah (voiced by Britt McKillip) must save Scary Godmother (voiced by Tabitha St. Germain) and the Fright Side from fading out of existence.
Immediately as the movie starts, we get a short opening credit sequence starring the characters and Harry the Werewolf getting top billing for some reason. All of a sudden, we cut a video monitor room full of various clips from the previous film with Harry in control, directly introducing an intrusive Scary Godmother to the audience and telling her that he is telling a scary story. This first scene alone establishes and sets up a meta and self-aware nature that the movie knows it’s a cartoon and wants its audience to have a fun time. The monitor room scene appropriately serves as the bookends for the movie...no pun intended.
Once we get to the actual story, the concept would sound formulaic and repetitive at first.
It goes like this: Jimmy messes something up, Jimmy’s friends get worried, the Fright Side starts falling apart, Hannah thinks up an idea, Halloween gets back on track. Lather, rinse and repeat.
Hearing that formula would make audiences feel bored with no logic required like reporting Jimmy's alleged crimes to the police or something. However, in terms of execution, it surprisingly fits into the fairy tale aspect of the story. The key factors are definitely the imagination and childlike wonder with creative questions and possibilities. Questions like: What will happen if there‘s no Halloween this year? What happens to the Fright Side and its inhabitants? How can we substitute costumes and candy? The movie visually answers those questions in a clever, humorous and suspenseful manner along with a message for children to stay positive and think outside of the box when the situation gets dire. The world-building is still present, such as vampires wearing aristocratic costumes for tradition or baking leaves just right for autumn, but maintains its simplicity.
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Speaking of the humor, the jokes have also improved along with your typical one-liners, puns and cartoony slapstick. The comedy also provides some pop culture references which thankfully aren’t as out of place or supplemental as mainstream kids flicks nowadays.
Mainframe Entertainment is back producing the animation for the sequel and right off the bat, the quality looks much better. Both human and monster characters retain their designs from the source material. True, sometimes it goes back to the uncanny valley when Jimmy and his friends would continue to have over-the-top reactions. But, thanks to the technology advancement and rendering, the character animations are more smooth and energetic than before. The background animation continues its innovative art direction where the characters would pop out against the 2D backgrounds with some 3D buildings or objects in the foreground. While we get little new locations on the human side, like Jimmy's house or the supermarket, there isn't much to say about the Fright Side with Scary Godmother's manor being present. The only brief new location we see is the vampire family's house, but that's about it. The effects animation is also still a delight whenever Scary casts her magic. Remember when the movie visually shows us what's happened to the Fright Side and its residents? The animators thought really deeply and gave us a level of true fright to see our favorite characters in peril. Moments include pumpkins disappearing, the manor collapsing, the characters changing either in size or appearance. My personal favorite is Harry the Werewolf being "naked" where his shirt disappeared and his entire upper body is blurrily censored. Again, it's the imagination that helps make it effective.
With all that said, the sequel still has that direct-to-video quality from before. Yes, the rendering has improved but it's not as cinematic as it is later on. Plus, sometimes the uncanny valley would enter into nightmare fuel territory when Jimmy gradually looks more terrifying and disturbing throughout the course of the movie. Jimmy has a frozen smile, smeared marker on his mouth, sharp teeth, pointy ears and spikier hair, all while wearing his devil costume. In other words, Jimmy looks more like a monster than the actual monsters.
All the characters from the first film are back and the sequel accomplished one component about them: development. The most prominent characters are the humans. Staring with our protagonist, Hannah Marie. She is no longer the scared little girl she initially was. Thanks to her new friendship with the monsters, she is more optimistic, brave and a quick-thinker for better and positive solutions whenever the situation is dire. The same goes for Jimmy's friends: the naïve Daryl, reasonable Katie and imaginative Bert. They have matured and moved on from their childish pranks and became more acquainted with Hannah. Not to mention that they represent the straight people against Jimmy's exaggerated plan, despite their friendship.
The monsters from the Fright Side are little to no different from before and have their charm. Scary Godmother is the hyperactive yet loving mother figure to Hannah. Her ghost cat Boozle has a seemingly more active role as the deliverer and an alarm whenever something serious occurs. Mr. Skully Pettibone is the cheerful "skeleton in the closet" and the scary-looking Bug-a-Boo is the friendly monster with a job scaring kids from under their beds. There is sort of a side plot with the vintage vampire Count Max and his loving wife Ruby trying to let their reluctant son Orson follow their family tradition of wearing royal-like costumes. It may contribute to the world-building, but not much to the actual story.
Once again, we have our comic relief Harry the Werewolf. He still has a never-ending hunger along with a love of comic books. To give credit where credit's due, he has learned from his misdeeds from the previous film and spent the majority of the story working under Scary's wing to pay off his debts. Granted, there was one scene where he gets "too" happy over a dramatic scene, but that scene alone was both a fake-out and an obvious reference to The Wizard of Oz. With that said, he is as funny as before. As mentioned before, he's also the narrator of the bookends and even offers the audience to "donate" spare candy to him at the end of the movie. Even Scary Godmother and Skully's faces in the ending sum up how ridiculous it is.
Last but not least, let's talk about our titular antagonist, Jimmy. He is Hannah's older and bullying cousin who was secretly traumatized after being scared last Halloween (particularly with Bug-a-Boo). In order to prevent his forthcoming fate, Jimmy desperately tries to cancel Halloween by smashing pumpkins, labelling "poison" and "flammable" on store candy and costumes, and T.P.-ing the old spook house. The more action he caused, the worse he became, especially with his gradual "transformation" into a "monster," against his friends and off-screen parents' warnings. His attempts are also a cruel and suspenseful threat to the Fright Side and almost wipe out Halloween from existence. Eventually, Jimmy does redeem himself in the end after "scaring" Bug-a-Boo in the end.
While there's nothing much to say about the voice acting, since the actors once again did a solid job, there is ONE actor's performance that may be considered distracting yet confusing at the same time: Alexander Ludwig as Jimmy. ...Am I the only one noticing that Jimmy sounds different and younger than previously? It's also obvious that the same actor who played Bert has reprised and he sounds older than before. A few could make the argument that Jimmy pretended to sound older and scary when he dressed as the Devil. But, there are clearly some scenes where Jimmy sounds legitimately older. In the sequel, he got scared so much that he somehow went through puberty backwards. Even when he does an evil or maniacal laugh, it doesn't sound as threatening as it is intended. Criticisms aside, Alexander Ludwig himself is NOT to blame. He did the best he could do and he gradually got better over time in his career.
A Worthy Continuation
Overall, Scary Godmother: The Revenge of Jimmy is a worthy continuation that earns the phrase "Spooktacular." At first, some may get turned off by the formulaic plot and questionable casting of Alexander Ludwig. However, with evolved animation, imaginative possibilities about Halloween, mature characters and a fairy-tale-like charm, this is a Scary Godmother story worth checking out for kids, families and those who enjoy the book series. As of 2020, it is sad to see any follow-ups since Mainframe Entertainment has changed and the actors moved on to more successful projects. Yet, Jill Thompsons' books still hold that creativity and joy that children will fondly remember.
To quote Hannah and Scary Godmother themselves: "Happy Halloween to all..." "And to all a Good Fright!"