The Canterville Ghost review – spooky Halloween animation reunites Fry and Laurie

Here is a sprightly and good-natured pre-Halloween animation, based on the 1887 short story by Oscar Wilde; in vocal terms it reunites Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, though not for a double-act exactly – and it should be said right away that Laurie really isn’t in it much. (I’d have liked to hear him as the gormlessly romantic Duke of Cheshire, although Freddie Highmore does a perfectly good job in that role.)

At the end of the 19th century, wealthy American Hiram Otis (David Harewood) and his family take possession of an English stately home: Canterville Chase, hoping to install a new-fangled thing called “electricity”. They’ve got it for a bargain price, because all the other owners have been scared away by the resident ghost, Sir Simon Canterville, played with genial aplomb by Fry. He now turns the frighteners on these wretched colonials, only to find that their eldest daughter Virginia (Emily Carey) is entirely unafraid of him – and the same goes for her cheeky kid brothers who startle him with their pranks and greet his alarm with the disrespectful question: “What kind of ghost is afraid of ghosts?”

A kind of meet-cute odd-couple friendship develops between the ghost and Virginia – an ectoplasmance? – while Virginia also finds herself falling for next door’s dishy, if clueless duke (Highmore), with whose family Sir Simon has a centuries-old beef. Sir Simon is wrongly supposed to have murdered his wife but he can only be free from his endless purgatory on Earth with a disproof of this calumny and a gesture of love, the location for which is here a very Wildean walled garden. The visuals are not exactly cutting edge but the storytelling has bounce and there’s gusto in the vocal talents.

• The Canterville Ghost is released in UK cinemas on 22 September.