The Little Ghost takes place in the German town of Eulenberg. At midnight in the town castle, the titular little ghost carrying keys emerges from a chest inside the clock tower. The ghost dreams of being out in the sunlight, but unfortunately, he can't help but fall asleep again after an hour. It turns out that the ghost's waking hour is tied to the clock, and an adjustment causes him to wake at noon instead. But the sun inexplicably turns the ghost black when it touches him, and unaccustomed to the waking world, the little ghost becomes a terror in the town. Carl (Jonas Holdenreider), a young boy who believes in the ghost, tries to get the bottom of things to help the ghost return to his proper state.
It is a little tough to discern what it is that the movie wants to teach children. Early on, the little ghost is warned that he might not actually like being out in the daylight. And this is exactly what plays out. Sunlight turns him black, and he starts yearning to be in the shadows again. This is pretty weird. It is a strange thing to have a story where the main character is basically told not to reach for his dreams. And we’re not even getting into the weird, uncomfortable implications of the ghost wanting to be white again.
One must admit that this all likely just reading too much into the film. It’s all probably meant to be completely harmless, as most children’s entertainment is. But still, it’s hard to completely dismiss some of the wonkier aspects of the story. But even if all that weirdness is just ignored, the viewer is still left with a narrative that just isn’t very interesting. It doesn’t go very deep into the details of how things work in the film’s world. It is mentioned, for example, that ghosts are tied to clocks, but it is never really explained why or how that happens.
Instead, there’s just a whole middle section where the little ghost is being a nuisance to people around town. And there isn’t much explanation about this either. He just turns black, and he’s suddenly become a troublemaker. Again, this touches on the weird territory in which the film operates, which it actually acknowledges in a terrible throwaway joke that involves an actual person of color. But putting that aside, it’s hard to care about anything that happens because there’s no real logic holding it all together. The ghost turns black in the sunlight. Later, it seems that his personality hasn’t really changed, even though he just spent the last few sequences being terrible to innocent people.
And we haven’t even really gotten to the story of Carl. In theory, he is the standard children’s movie protagonist: the curious, sensitive boy who gets into adventures. But he doesn’t actually get to do a whole lot for majority of the picture. His plot involves him being wrongfully accused of stealing a valuable timepiece, and getting in trouble when he tries to explain that it was a ghost that did it. The film spends too much time with him looking glum about no one believing him. A better movie would have this kid quickly trying to find a real remedy to his situation.
Usually when it comes to children’s films, even when a movie isn’t good, one can kind of forgive it for being largely inoffensive. But it’s unclear if one can really say that about The Little Ghost. Putting aside the weird possible subtext to some of the film’s content, this is a story that preaches staying in your own place. It punishes curiosity and makes a return to status quo its ultimate reward. There are better lessons out there, and much better movies that try harder to give children entertainment worth considering.
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