A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Beetlejuice is a 1988 fantasy that is darker than you may remember. There are some serious themes in this outrageous film: a young married couple comes to grips with the fact that they're dead, and a teenager contemplates suicide. Some of the imagery is pretty creepy, and there's some strong language (both "s--t" and "f--k" are used). There's smoking, drinking, and a reference to Valium. A miniature Beetlejuice finds a whorehouse in a model-sized city; some women invite him inside. Some sexual references and gestures. Beetlejuice kisses Barbara without consent and lifts her skirt to take a peek underneath. An afterlife waiting room abounds with people in various states of deadness, including some gory-looking ones that imply very violent deaths. Main characters are chased by giant striped worms in a desert. A character shrivels up like a mummy in a matter of seconds.
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What's the story?
Swerving to miss a dog in the road, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) drive off a bridge into a river. Arriving back home, they realize that not only are they dead, they're trapped in a sort of limbo in their own house. The cryptic "Handbook for the Recently Deceased" they've been left with offers little guidance. When a new family moves in and assertive Delia Deitz (Catherine O'Hara) starts remodeling, the ghosts decide they want them out. Their attempts to scare off the new inhabitants fail miserably, though. The only one who can see them is terminally morose Lydia (Winona Ryder), the Deitz's teen daughter. Sympathizing with the Maitlands' predicament, she summons Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), "the afterlife's leading bio-exorcist," to their aid. It doesn't take her long to regret the decision.
Is it any good?
This is a wild burlesque of a movie. Tim Burton has an abnormal talent for capturing morbid, cartoonish imagery onscreen. There were glimpses of that sensibility in his grandly peculiar first feature, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, but that was only a teaser. In his follow-up feature, BEETLEJUICE, Burton lets all of his snakes out of the bag, and the wriggliest of those snakes is Beetlejuice himself. Played by Michael Keaton, he's a scum-covered, bug-eating ghoul dressed in something akin to a soiled umpire's uniform. Kids and adults alike will find it hard to resist him. Keaton gives such pungent life to the title character, and to the movie as a whole, that it's no wonder Burton defied Hollywood logic and cast him as the unlikely star of his next film, Batman, and the grittier Batman Returns.
A few other things you'll see in this movie that you won't see anywhere else include a room where the recently deceased mingle while waiting to see their afterlife case workers, and Dick Cavett and company dancing as puppets of the supernatural to Harry Belafonte's "Day-O."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Lydia was so sad. How did she deal with it, and was her way of coping effective? How do you deal with sadness?
What do you think of this bizarre take on the afterlife? What other movie depictions can you think of? Which is the most outlandish?
This movie is from 1988. Has it aged well? Why or why not?
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