Imaginary friends are often some of the first friends that we make as a child and they are important in developing a child’s imagination and they are perfectly normal to have. This is seen in a report from 2019.
Imaginary friends are a common—and normal—manifestation for many kids across many stages of development. In fact, by age 7, 65 percent of children will have had an imaginary friend, according to a 2004 study. Stephanie Carlson, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development and one of the study’s co-authors, says that the prime time for having imaginary friends is from the ages of 3 to 11.
Film and television as visual mediums can bring these imaginary friends to life and give them a physical presence. Think of something such as Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.
However, this film takes it one step further and mixes the imaginary friend a being that brings children joy with one of the first things children learn to fear, the boogeyman
The most common thread between all the different interpretations is that it was mostly created to scare and discipline children. Creating compliance in children is something parents long for, but it is sometimes difficult to do with compliments and candy
These ideas are present throughout the film and the boogeyman is a creature that can have any shape or design, which allows creators to go wild. This can allow for some terrifying looks and takes, look no further than The Real Ghostbusters.
I may have gotten older but jeez, that design is still creepy. This movie, therefore, is a battle of the thing that brings children joy versus the thing that scares them.
This movie beyond these elements also has an interesting history as it used to air all the time around the Halloween season but Disney Channel received many complaints about this film from parents for it being too scary and pulled it from its Halloween rotation and was hard to come by until it was included on Disney+ at its launch last year.
I find that a bit crazy as it’s a children’s horror movie and Disney is no stranger to scary moments. With that outta the way, let’s dive into this film.
The introduction for this review sets up the idea of something that brings joy versus something that is meant to scare them. The best way to describe this movie and understand what it is going for is to say that it’s tense. We follow the main character of Frances, who is going through quite an ordeal as her younger brother just went through treatment for leukemia Someone is pulling constant pranks throughout the city and all signs seem to point to Frances as the culprit.
Even though she is not the one doing it and no one believes her when she says that she keeps seeing a boy named Larry Houdini as no one else can see him as he was sent to help her. As he is the imaginary friend of her younger brother but Frances told her brother that he has to grow up and stop believing in things such as imaginary friends as that is the best way to face your fears and take on the real world.
There’s a song in Bedknobs and Broomsticks titled The Age of Not Beliving and in many ways, this movie hits on that way with the character of Frances. Take a look at these lyrics.
You’re at the age of not believing And worst of all, you doubt yourself You’re a castaway where no one hears you
Frances’ arc deals with the idea of not growing up too fast and how having childlike wonder is a good thing and can protect you at least in the idea of a security blanket. What of the Boogeyman, you may be asking? Creepy…
The design of the Boogeyman in this movie can still cause me to tense up all these years later. Something about elongated fingernails, yeesh.
While that look is terrifying, I believe it also helps set up one of the most important points of the movie. In the film’s climax after realizing that the Boogeyman had been pulling all the pranks and blaming Frances, he (they if we want to be technical considering the twist) kidnaps Frances’ younger brother and takes him to the Boogey world, which is a creepy location located under the bed.
Honestly, the Boogey world looks like something from a twisted nightmare version of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Larry and Frances have built a device that could kill the Boogeyman, which does seem to work as it causes the Boogeyman to rapidly age into an old woman but that is not how they defeat the Boogeyman. Frances embraces her past and tells the Boogeyman to stop as it is revealed that the Boogeyman is her old imaginary friend, Zoey.
Recall the idea of the boogeyman is something that is used to scare children as a form punishment this is seen in a way as Zoe through no will of her own is punishing Frances for discarding her. And that caused Zoe to turn into the Boogeyman or Boogey Person as she prefers. If children discard the memories of their imaginary friends within the world of this movie, they will slowly turn into a boogeyman and we see this with Larry as he is slowly going through this process because he is being forgotten.
This speaks to the importance of remembering your childhood as Larry puts it before he and Zoe leave to tackle another Boogey problem.
Fran, just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you have to get old.
This line sums up what the movie is trying to say, grow up but don’t forget your childhood.
Of interest to note is that before Larry and Zoe head off, Larry and Frances share a kiss and this was almost cut.
Disney was concerned about having a black boy kiss a white girl.
Ugh. Thankfully, it was fought for and got to stay in the movie. This movie is great and one I cannot suggest enough. Let’s move onto characters.
While there are many characters in this movie, Frances and Larry are the most important ones. Therefore, they are the only main characters that I’ll be discussing.
Frances played by Erin Chambers
The journey that Frances takes is important as it speaks to the idea of growing up too fast, which is important to understand. However, the other idea that is more important is that it’s okay to be scared and Frances hides her fear behind a wall of logic. That doesn’t always work and this is seen in the end when she breaks down and confronts Zoe. This speaks to something that the director brought up.
The hero cannot be using something outside of herself. The heroism has got to come from within.” And that’s why Frances ultimately defeats the Boogeyman by admitting she’s not scared anymore.
Frances had been hiding her fear and by confronting Zoe, she was allowed to let go of that fear.
Larry Houdini played by Ty Hodges
On the surface, Larry is a comic relief character but there are small moments of anger from him towards Frances when he learns the truth. I’ve read arguments of how Larry is only there as a Black character to guide a White girl on her journey. This is understandable but I believe that it misunderstands the agency of Larry as he is fighting becoming a boogeyman because he was forgotten much too soon. This is an inner conflict that he has to battle. And it is handled in a way that truly makes the audience care about him.
The Boogeyman played by Steve Valentine, Ruth Hale, & Rachel Kimsey
The Boogeyman is one of the scariest things from a Disney Channel production. It’s completely understandable how this creature could scare children. Though I do not agree with this movie being pulled because of that. Because much like Frances in this movie, children need to be able to confront their fears. And the Boogeyman in many ways represents a physical embodiment of those fears.
My Final Thoughts
This movie is great and still holds up nearly two decades later. The message is important while being able to deliver genuine fears. Which this film shows that it’s okay to be frightened and we all have different ways of working through those fears but we shouldn’t hide them. Join me next time as we look at…