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Grandma and Her Ghosts

Voices: Wen Ying, Zhuang Bo-Wen, Zhuang Jain-Yu, Jian Da-Zhi, Jeffrey Xu, Wen Li-Chuan, Luo Bei-An, Lee Xiao-Ping, Lin Wen-Ting, Zhang Long, Michael Huang, Chen Yu-Hsun, Wang Ming-Tai.

Voices: Wen Ying, Zhuang Bo-Wen, Zhuang Jain-Yu, Jian Da-Zhi, Jeffrey Xu, Wen Li-Chuan, Luo Bei-An, Lee Xiao-Ping, Lin Wen-Ting, Zhang Long, Michael Huang, Chen Yu-Hsun, Wang Ming-Tai.

(Mandarin dialogue)

Nifty animated feature goes where most toons fear to tread: into the land of death and dying. By making title character a cranky shaman whose specialty is shepherding unruly spirits into the next world, pic makes ancient rituals and beliefs palatable to a young audience. It’s got a fair number of laughs, too, and, given careful dubbing and distribution, could find a following outside Asia.

Story follows little Dou-Dou when he’s sent from the big city to a tiny town on a far shore. While modern Mom is off tending to Pop, who’s had an accident abroad, the boy is left with Grandma — a frightful apparition with ferocious eyes and crinkly skin the color of dried-up tangerines.

Truth to tell, she’s not much happier to see him, but with some help from her galumphing dog, Shilo, they find an uneasy rapprochement.

Unfortunately, her black cat, Kulo, can’t keep his claws off those weird urns in the back pantry; when kitty opens the wrong lid, he’s possessed by the devil. Soon, Kulo (who’ll have to get a name change for Spanish-speaking countries) is going around swallowing ghosts, getting bigger every day, and almost convincing Dou-Dou that he should sell Grandma to the scrapman.

Of course, the boy has other things going on. He makes friends with a bald-headed lad who’s always chatting with his best friend, an invisible Orca whale, and a shy young girl who has died but missed the July 15 deadline for ghosts to pass through the spirit gate. (Her brassy ragdoll does all the talking.) Charmingly, Dou-Dou is able to grasp all this because he caught some of Grandma’s tears in a bottle, and rubbed them in his eyes.

Despite its spectral fixation, pic is scary only when the old shaman — now in the form of her dog — has to face down a gargantuan feline Satan. The fur flies.

Mostly, it’s a lively romp, and is certainly an unusual change of pace for Taiwanese femme helmer Wang Shaudi, fresh from live-action successes “Accidental Legend” and “Yours and Mine.”

The animation itself, which runs from the imaginatively grotesque to the acceptably cutesy-poo, was done in Korea. Synth-driven musical cues often sound like TV jingles, but this doesn’t disturb the spiritual fun.

Grandma and Her Ghosts

(ANIMATED FAMILY ADVENTURE -- TAIWANESE-SOUTH KOREAN)

Production: A Rice Films Intl./Plus One Animation production. (International sales: Rice Films, Seoul.) Produced by Huang Liming. Executive producers, Huang Liming. Directed by Wang Shaudi. Animation director, Park Jun-Nam. Screenplay, Huang Liming.

Crew: Camera (color), Cho Bock-Dong; editors, Lei Cheng-Ching, Chei Eui-Hyun; music, Shih Jei-Yong; head animators, Mai Jan-Chieh, Henry Lee, An Kyae-Jung. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival, Oct. 10, 1998. Running time: 80 MIN.

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