There’s no bravado here. I was the kind of kid who was scared of Courage the Cowardly Dog. Nervously looking over my shoulders as Courage tried to face his fears each episode, I would give up and switch to NickToons, completely missing the moral of the story. I’m also not afraid to admit I’m still this kind of adult. I’d rather read the entire Wikipedia page, multiple Vulture.com interviews, and a critical dissection of the ending than press play on an A24 horror film. For Halloween last year, I challenged myself to watch a single scary movie in its entirety, and while every hot girl I know is correct — Jennifer’s Body rules — this year, I’m going back to my own personal Halloween comfort movie, 2003’s Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktakular.
Based on a 1997 children’s book by Jill Thompson, the Canadian animated film, directed by Zeke Norton, was syndicated on Cartoon Network during the spooky season. Unlike the Halloween Disney Channel, which marathoned DCOMs like Halloweentown, Twitches, and classics like Phantom of the Megaplex, Scary Godmother stood out for its almost trippy take on Halloween, full of groovy visuals and music. Just 45 minutes long, the TV movie felt like an epic for kid-size me as I watched a little girl named Hannah Marie visit “the Fright Side” one Halloween (more on that later). Her journey is animated (or reanimated, in the case of the undead) with a combination of 3-D figures and 2-D backgrounds, taking after the book’s original illustrations by Thompson. Today, Scary Godmother is available almost exclusively on YouTube. A DVD-quality version has over 3 million views and almost 10,000 comments lamenting the fact that Cartoon Network stopped airing it. YouTube video wizards even remastered it into 4K HDR in May 2020. Although the 4K quality makes it possible to spot funny early computer-animation mistakes, like shoes clipping into the ground, for me, it’s too shiny. Somehow, from the moment it opens on the mystical graveyard, it’s missing that nostalgic watercolor texture. (The DVD is sold out on Amazon and the Walmart website, and it costs as much as $160 on eBay. Your next best bet for a legitimate copy of Scary Godmother is a 2014 Halloween DVD Fun Pack, which is still on sale through Target. But, hey, that includes Wubbzy Goes Boo! and Eloise’s Rawther Unusual Halloween, too.)
So what happens in Scary Godmother? Well: The magic starts when Hannah’s bully of a cousin, Jimmy, locks her in the cemetery’s “spook house” instead of taking her trick-or-treating with his friends. You can tell he’s evil by his literal devil costume or, of course, those Will Poulter eyebrows every 2000s animated villain has for some reason. Hannah’s cries for help are answered by her Scary Godmother, a witchy Ms. Frizzle type who could easily be played by Sarah Jessica Parker or Tracee Ellis Ross in a live-action reboot. She magically whisks Hannah to the Fright Side, a Halloweentown-esque alternate realm where the Scary Godmother is throwing her annual Halloween party. It’s a literal graveyard smash attended by some of the scariest beings on either side of the universe, and they’re prepared to help Hannah face her greatest fear: monsters. “Boy oh boy, are you in luck,” Scary Godmother tells Hannah. “Some of my best friends are monsters!” First, Hannah meets a flamboyant skeleton in the closet, Skully Pettibone, and his non-canon boyfriend, an opera-loving werewolf called Harry. Then, her roommate Bug-A-Boo (an off-duty monster-under-the-bed) shows up alongside a royal family of vampires, including a count with social anxiety. Each guest teaches Hannah something about coping with fears. She finds common interests with Orson, a vampire prince, even though he goes to night school, flies, and sleeps in a coffin. She even manages to see eye-to-eye with Bug-A-Boo based on a mutual love for pizza with olives.
All throughout, Scary Godmother proves weirdos throw the best parties. Do any other Gen Z cuspers remember being wildly impressed by the fourth-wall-breaking interlude in which Scary Godmother shares a recipe for sticky saltine sandwiches with peanut butter and jelly? Perfect for occupying a “chattering werewolf”? Weird food segments remain the best. (It’s why Food Wars is so popular and why Andrew Rea of Binging With Babish has a three-story house in Brooklyn. Andrew, do we have a video idea for you …) The movie also makes time for a dance breakdown, with moves that rival A Charlie Brown Christmas. I could regale you with my theories about Scary Godmother, Bug-A-Boo, Harry, and Skully being gay besties, but the movie does a pretty good job on its own. Again, who throws the best parties?
Back earthside, Jimmy and his friends — a black cat, a piece of candy, and a baseball player driving his SUV — all miss out on Halloween while waiting for Hannah to run out crying. They spend the night pretending to be brave and picking on a little kid, and ultimately, they forget what’s important to them: candy.
All right, so what if the stakes are low? Scary Godmother cleverly conjures big-idea concepts about acceptance, overcoming fears, and believing in yourself in a way kids can understand. If she can meet vampires, nothing can stop Hannah Marie from becoming a “movie star/princess/veterinarian/astronaut/ballerina with a pony.” For years, Scary Godmother has been a fall staple film for a generation. It’s inspired fan art, memes, and the last party I threw, back during Halloween 2019. Treat yourself and your kids, furry or otherwise, to Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktakular and its sequel, Revenge of Jimmy, this year. Maybe, just maybe, we can enchant a streaming service into rebooting it.