Kooky and Spooky Tales for Autumn

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Gather around the campfire or dinner tale and swap some “ripping yarns” this fall. Photo by Rick Tate.

My father always knew how to spin a crafty tale.

He would share these stories around the dinner table when he returned from work, on the porch on summer evenings, in the car on long family trips. These stories were sometimes a little spooky, oftentimes hilarious, but always told with a twinkle in his eye. He continues to share them enthusiastically with his grandchildren when he visits.

The best part was that these stories didn’t come from beautifully illustrated picture books, nor were they professionally produced one-man dramatizations. However, to my brother and I, our cousins, and our friends, they were the greatest.

With the weather cooling off and the haunting season upon us, now is a good time to rediscover the simple art of telling a story. No technology or visual aids are needed, just imagination, enthusiasm, and healthy sense of humor.

For those who still don’t know where to start, I’ve includes three “skeletons” of stories I’ve gathered from family gatherings, late night radio theater, and college road trips.

I call these “skeletons,” because they are just the bare bones of the story. It’s up each storyteller to make them as still, imaginative, spooky, or detailed. I’ll start with one of my father’s favorites I remember him telling me on rainy afternoons, after finishing all the Uncle Scrooge comics to read for the day.

The Mad Scientist and the Bloop Machine

There once was a city high in the hills. The leader, an egotistical man, wanted something no other leader in the country had. Inventor after inventor came to the leader’s desk with new ideas, but no one had anything original enough to please him. One day, a crazy-haired, wild-eyed mad scientist came to his desk and said, “I will make you a Bloop Machine. You will be the only one in the world to have one.”

“What is a Bloop Machine?” leader asked.

“You have to let me make one to find out,” the mad scientist said.

The leader was so curious, he agreed, and gave the mad scientist the job. Unfortunately, they saw no progress one month later, so he summoned the scientist for an update.

“I still need three helicopters,” he answered.

The leader reluctantly granted him the helicopters, but three months later, there was still no progress. He summoned the scientist once more.

“I need three long cables to finish,” the scientist demanded.

The leader once again gave the scientist what he wanted, because he had to see what type of machine needed cables and helicopters. Six months later, there was still no progress, so the leader, now very angry, demanded the scientist finish the machine.

“I can only finish if you find me a large lake,” he answered.

The leader, against his better judgment, found a large lake, surrounded by trees and hills, and one month later, the scientist called and told the leader to gather everyone in the city at the lake to see his wonderful Bloop Machine. The leader declared the day a national holiday, and everyone turned out to the lake to see this one-of-a-kind-machine. Everyone waited and waited to see what would happen and finally, late in the afternoon, they heard the sounds of three helicopters. They looked up in the sky and saw the helicopters carrying a large, elaborate machine, suspended on the end of three cables. It was covered with blinking lights and gadgets of all kind, and everyone, especially the leader, couldn’t wait to see what it did.

The helicopters centered the machine high over the middle of the lake and released the cables. The machine fell down, down, down, and when it finally hit the water, it made a loud “BLOOP!”

My dad always referred to stories like these as “shaggy dog” tales; a type of story that seems to go on and on to a rather pointless ending. He excelled in this genre, and all we kids loved it. Oh, the blank stares and awkward laughs that met the end of that story were priceless, but the more we would think about it in the future, the more it made us laugh.

Both my girls have taken to the storytelling tradition, and they love to tell stories. My daughter’s favorite is one we heard over a late-night radio show of Halloween music and stories. She has retold this one in her own way several times.

The Ceremony

"Grandpa," sharing one his many stories with the grandkids.

“Grandpa,” sharing one his many stories with the grandkids.

One fall afternoon, a family had just sat down to the dinner table, when their daughter returned home from school later than usual. She hugged all her family, pet her dog and cat, and apologized for her tardiness. All through dinner, she sat quietly with a concerned and confused look on her face. After dinner, when everyone was relaxing in the sitting room, the mother asked the girl why she was late and why she had such a strange look on her face. The girl stopped from playing with the dog and sat down in a big chair. The cat jumped up on her lap.

“I was bored with my usual path home, so I took a side trip through the woods. It was there I saw the strangest thing,” she said. “There was a large hollow tree off in the distance, and it appeared to have a glowing light coming from it.”

Everyone listened politely. The cat even perked up his ears, but the dog just sighed. The girl continued her story.

“I carefully looked down in it, and saw I was peering down into a great, vast ballroom,” she said. “There looked to be a huge ceremony, with rows and rows of soldiers and spectators standing on either side of room. Somber, beautiful music was playing and I saw a group of six soldiers carrying the body of what appeared to be royalty on a large flat platform. He was dressed in purple, with a silver crown and holding a sword. It was then I realized, I was witnessing a funeral for a fallen monarch.”

By now, she had everyone’s full attention. The cat had even lifted up his head and looked directly into the girls eyes. She hesitated slightly, before finishing her story.

“Here’s the strangest part. Everyone appeared to be,” she paused slightly as if unable to believe her next words. “Well, they appeared to be….cats!”

“At last,” said the cat as it jumped off her lap. “Old George is finally dead. I am king of the cats, now!”

At that, the cat ran from the room and out of the house. The dog just sighed.

This final tale is one I learned in college and is just as fun for a group of adults at a fancy dinner party, as it is for kids. The only rule is that it has to be told in the first-person.

The Escaped Madman

I was driving down a creepy side road one night when I came across a sign that said, “White County Asylum For the Criminally Insane.” About a mile down the road, it was beginning to rain and I saw a hitchhiker, soaking wet on the roadside. He was carrying a large black bag. If felt bad for him and pulled over to offer him a ride. When he got in the car, he had a desperate, slightly deranged look on his face, and I remembered the asylum nearby. I glanced nervously at the black bag and asked him nicely what he was carrying in it.

“That’s none of your stinkin’ business,” he growled.

I was slightly worried, but didn’t want to press the issue. A few miles down the road, the man, who had been staring straight ahead, suddenly reached for his bag and peeked in it. He quickly closed it up, and tossed it in the back seat.

“Are you sure you won’t tell me what’s in that bag?” I asked.

“That’s none of your stinkin’ business,” he snapped.

I was getting more and more nervous, and was soon pretty scared. Was this man a doctor? Maybe he was law enforcement. Perhaps even, an escaped madman. I realized I couldn’t go on anymore, so I pulled the car over.

“You need to tell me what is in that bag, or I am not taking you any further,” I demanded.

He looked at me pointedly.

“That’s none of your stinkin’ business.”

That was when my anger and bravery kicked in. Madman or no madman, I leaned across him, pushed open the door, and kicked him out of the car. I drove off and could see him in my review mirror standing by the road, shocked.

When I reached home I looked in the backseat and realized, I still had the bag. Finally, I could get to the bottom of things!

Remember, it is in the personal details, the right setting, and most appropriate timing that is the essence of storytelling. Make some stories seem like a real event or make sure everyone is occupied with a fresh batch of cookies or s’mores before sitting down to tell the tale. Swap genders around (it doesn’t matter in any of these three stories if the people are male or female) or set it on another planet. Give them names, maybe a little back-story if you have to fill time.

Even if the story itself produces a few rolled eyes and groans, the experience itself will be what is remembered and cherished.

As for what was in that black bag left behind by the escaped madman, when you are inevitably asked that question, you look the person right in the eye with a smile and say:

“That is none of your stinkin’ business.”

Five Crafty Uses for Old Keys

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keymainphotoTarnished, old junk drawer keys.

Nobody can remember where half of them came from, much less what they actually unlocked in the first place. Yet, no one wants to be the one to get rid of them.

Some keys are relics from past homes, vehicles, or school lockers, while others are attractive-but-unnecessary family heirlooms tucked away in shoeboxes or desk drawers.

These crafty uses for keys of all shapes and sizes, from easiest to more advanced, will give these keys a chance to be useful again—by opening the doors to imagination.

Emergency TARDIS Key. Most of The Doctor’s keys (barring a few elaborate incarnations) have been almost comically

nondescript. Adding a plain silver Yale lock-style key to a necklace chain creates an instant Doctor Who prop replica. Display it in a shadow box or inexpensive box frame, with the following printed or handwritten instructions:

“Break box in case of emergency
in Time and Space.”

These are great additions to a Doctor Who-themed room or can be an easy gift for a favorite Whovian.

keymonsters-190x300Alien and Monster Charms. Using glossy craft paint, spray paint, or novelty nail polish, paint some plain keys bright colors. Then, paint “Roswell” Alien eyes or monster eyes and teeth.  They look cute on their own, but they can also wear a  little “cloak,” using a square of felt or craft foam. Use these little guys for necklaces, earrings, or bracelet charms.

These also work with plastic baby’s teething ring keys for “Baby’s First Christmas” tree trimmers, mobiles, or gift wrap accessories.

Hogwarts’s Flying Keys. You can make the flying keys that guard one of the entrances to hpkey-346x300the Sorcerer’s Stone hiding place in the first book of the Harry Potter series. Just take various shapes and sizes of skeleton-style keys and add “wings.” Fold a piece of vellum paper in half and cut into wing-shaped pieces. Then, glue them onto keys to make simple wings.

These can also be made into a mobile, by hanging them from plain wooden dowels or chopsticks. However, a single key hanging near a door or window or placed on a shelf can be a nice subtle touch to a library.

Screen-Shot-2014-09-25-at-3.31.20-AM-378x300Steampunk Snowflakes. Arrange six to eight decorative skeleton keys in a circle. Using a glue gun, add steampunk embellishments in the center, such as nuts, clock faces, or gears (make sure to glue one on both sides).

Although these make great ornaments during the holiday season, they make cute wall or window art year-round.

Locke & Key “Known Keys” Replicas. One of the unique things in Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Eisner-winning dark horror fantasy graphic novels is the “Known Keys,” which can open portals to various dimensions. Since it was recently announced at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, there may finally be a motion picture trilogy based on this comic. In other words, these weird little keys could get pretty popular soon.

Creating replicas of some of these keys’ simpler designs is a fun use of over-sized craft keys that have been haunting the dollar bins in craft stores lately. This is the most difficult of the crafts, because it does include a little imagination and lockekeyreps-400x297sculpting.

Use bakeable polymer clay to enhance skeleton-style keys with designs and symbols resembling some of the more popular keys (Echo Key, Shadow Key, Omega Key, etc.). If the designs are built over the keys, no glue or adhesive is needed.

Once the clay is hardened in the oven (the keys can be baked with the clay), use paint or felt-tip markers to add additional designs.

There are several illustrated lists of these keys online, as well as a one-shot Guide to Known Keys by Hill and Rodriguez, but it isn’t necessary to replicate the designs perfectly. This last craft is a chance to get creative and come up with original designs.

Display them in shadow boxes or on bookshelves for conversations, or with eerie Halloween displays.

Vegas Weddings: The Weird, the Wild and The Geeky

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Think Elvis is as weird as you can get in a Vegas wedding chapel? Think again.

Think Elvis is as weird as you can get in a Vegas wedding chapel? Think again.

This past summer, my husband and I celebrated 20 years together, by allowing “The King” himself to renew our vows.

When we first came up with this idea, we weren’t sure if there were even really Elvis chapels around anymore. After finding out there were, in fact, several, we settled on the “Hound Dog” package at the top-rated A Elvis Chapel.

We could have chosen from several other options including an Elvis wedding under the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, a later days older Elvis, and a Blue Hawaii style. We could have even rented costumes, were we so inclined.

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Elvis officiates our 20-year renewal ceremony. Photo courtesy of A Elvis Chapel.

We weren’t disappointed with our choices, as everything from the limo ride to the intimate off-the-beaten-path chapel, and our “Elvis” (whom our attentive photographer told us was their “primary Elvis”), was exactly the Vegas-style experience we were seeking.

Elvis escorted me down the aisle, improvising personalized lyrics to “Love Me Tender” in spot-on Elvis Presley mannerisms, with our kids and my brother’s family in attendance.  Other family and friends from across the country were able to tune-in to the festivities on a live web cam. We couldn’t have recommended the experience enough when we got home.

As it turns out, we discovered having a gold-jacketed Elvis tribute artist deliver a ceremony while asking your husband if he will continue to be your “hunka hunka burnin’ love” isn’t even in the ballpark of the geekiest, most oddball weddings ceremonies offered in Las Vegas.

There are weddings for every interest, fandom, time frame, and budget found somewhere in Las Vegas, with some pre-packaged, all inclusive experiences, completely one-of-a-kind custom made ceremonies.

Themed Weddings

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It seems the only limitations to where a couple can get hitched in Las Vegas — be it the famous “Welcome” sign or a kitschy medieval castle — is their imagination. Photos by Rick Tate.

One of the chapels with the most themed options is the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel, where themed weddings include Elvis options, but also wedding packages based on Twilight, James Bond, Blues Brothers, Zombies, Gangster, Western, Pirate, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Intergalactic wedding that can be customized for either Trekkies or Fancouples, and others. Guests can even have “Tom Jones” or “Alice Cooper” officiate the ceremony. They will customize themes as well, so this might be the best option for Whovian or superhero lovebirds.

Pretty much all of the larger hotels in Vegas had a wedding chapel of some sort, ranging from elegant to kitschy. Our hotel, Excalibur, was no exception. Even though the hotel is showing signs of age, the chapel is still a beautiful destination for Renaissance and Medieval-style weddings. Their costume selection for period bride and groom outfits is pretty extensive, and the event pairs well with their theme park-style “Tournament of Kings” dinner show.

Treasure Island Hotel and Casino may have gotten rid of its family-friendly pirate battle some time ago to replace it with the standard song-and-dance show with barely-dressed eye candy, but pirate lovers can still get married on the pirate ship. The famous Treasure Island “Song Ship” in the hotel’s Sirens’ Cove can be reserved for wedding ceremonies. Pirate attire isn’t required, but is certainly not discouraged.

Gothic Weddings in Las Vegas offers ceremonies with a darker edge. Billing their ceremonies as “not for the faint of heart,” couples can be married in an eerie fog-filled environment for a classic Dracula-themed wedding, as well as Goth, Rocky Horror, Graveyard weddings, and their newest option, Elvira. They dare guests to wear white.

Offbeat Locations

While themed weddings may be what some couples look for, it’s all about the locations for others.

A Special Memory Chapel offers one of the most personal locations a couple can choose—their own vehicle—with their self-proclaimed “World Famous Drive Thru Wedding.” Couples can drive right up to the chapel’s “Wedding Window,” and exchange their vows on the go. They can also “Super Size” the experience, by having the chapel’s limo deliver them to the chapel.

This chapel also hosts other adventure weddings at nearby Red Rock, Valley of Fire, or on the floor of the Grand Canyon, where couples fly in via helicopter. They can even say “I Do” in the air during a flyover of the Las Vegas strip.

Those afraid of heights can get hitched beneath the surface with Underwater Weddings at Silverton Casino’s 117,000-gallon aquarium. Vows are taken using waterproof word signs to hold up, and fish, rays, and casino mermaids can serve as unofficial witnesses. Silverton is also known for its slightly faster, and dryer, NASCAR weddings.

Couples with a specific special site in mind, be it a park or parking lot, can call the Las Vegas Wedding Wagon to bring the wedding to them. As long as the location is 20 miles or less from the Las Vegas Strip, guests just need to go online to book a time and date. The wagon will come with an officiant, photographer, legal paperwork or certificate, and witnesses, if needed.

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Don’t forget to include friends and family for even more fun memories. Photo courtesy of A Elvis Chapel.

For the couple who is simply out of ideas, there’s always Denny’s. The one-of-a-kind Denny’s at Neonopolis mall off of Freemont Street, does offer wedding packages 24 hours a day, with a full-service bar and wedding cake made of pancakes.

As for the wedding that both tops weirdest theme and location mix: a KISS-themed rock and roll wedding at the chapel of an indoor KISS-themed Monster Mini Golf course, officiated by their “MINI-ster,” a dwarf Gene Simmons impersonator. Guests can even get wedding invitations that look like VIP KISS concert tickets. We have a winner!

One last note to couples, before rushing off to Sin City in a love-filled daze, the clichéd movie and television scenario of an “accidental” Vegas wedding is a bit over-exaggerated. A Clark County wedding license is needed for a legal wedding ceremony to be performed. These are easy to obtain, and the Clark County Regional Justice Center is open daily.

There is no waiting period after a license is obtained, plus many of the wedding venues also cater to vow renewals and commitment ceremonies, in which no license is needed.

Even through ceremonies can be somewhat spontaneous, it’s even more fun to plan ahead, and invite friends and family.

Seriously, an experience like a wedding with a side of pancakes is too good not to share with those you love.

Give Your Star-Lord a Peter Quill Care Package

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A care-package for defending the galaxy…or visiting Grandma!

I think many parents might agree that the unsung hero in this summer’s blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy, was Meredith Quill, the mother of Peter Quill.

Moviegoers only got to see Peter’s mom for a short time at the start of a film, but we seemed to learn quite a bit about her from her deathbed. She loved “awesome” music, and used her enthusiasm to not only grow closer to her son, but to make him happy and hopeful when life can throw some nasty curves. She raised a strong-willed and independent kid on her own, despite his dad being an incredibly long way away. Her very last notion before departing this Earth was to feel the simple touch of her son’s hand. Even more than two decades after her death, her memory and strength continued to inspire Peter in the direst of situations. What a great mom!

All parents know the importance of maintaining that connection with their son or daughter, even when they know they might not be physically able to be with them.

Take a tip from Meredith’s playbook, and create something special for your own “Star Lord” with a Peter Quill-inspired care package. This gift will help ease those nerves and fears that can come from a first day at a new school, an overnight sleepover, weekend visits to relatives, or just the rainy day blues.

Start with one plain black backpack or drawstring sackpack and fill it with the following items:

“Awesome Mix” CD
Baby Groot Craft Kit
“Orb” Snackholder and Other Treats
Science Fiction Book or Comic
Troll Doll, Trading Cards, and Stickers

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Great for a care package…or make your own for a gift.

The “Awesome Mix.” The Awesome Mix is an essential item. Anyone not living under an intergalactic rock is aware the actual “Awesome Mix, Vol. 1” is available for purchase, but I suggest giving a homemade mix. Use some favorite songs from the Guardians soundtrack, and add a few that meant something to you as a kid. My mix includes selections, “Come and Get Your Love,” “Cherry Bomb,” and “Spirit in the Sky” from the actual “Awesome Mix,” but I added bands like The Stray Cats, Johnny Cash, The Smiths, Social Distortion, and others from my own childhood. If you’re having a hard time thinking of song ideas, Entertainment Weekly put out a hypothetical “Awesome Mix, Vol. 2″ playlist, and it is actually pretty good. Really, it doesn’t matter what songs are on the disc, as long as it is personal. That’s the beauty of the mix tape.

If your child has their own digital music player, sneak a downloaded playlist onto it, and include a hand-written list for reference.

Baby Groot Craft. Simple craft kits are a good way to enjoy some down-time on trips or at recess, and this “Baby Groot” kit uses only a few materials. There are some pretty realistic-looking “Baby Groots” out there right now, but the point of this craft is for it to be easy enough for a school-aged child to put together on their own.

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Don’t forget Groot!

Place six light brown chenille craft stems (cut in half) in a zip-top bag, with a handful of dark brown pom-poms and a small paper drinking cup. Cut three small slits of black craft foam, and lightly tape them on the bottom of the cup to use for Groot’s face.

To make things simpler on the crafter, fill cut a small Styrofoam square so it fits in the bottom of Groot’s cup. This will make it easier to just stick the end of his stem in the cup. Also, Elmer’s makes school glue in travel sizes (1.25 oz) that will easily fit in the bag.

I recommend making your own Baby Groot first to see how it comes out, and take a picture of it to include with a copy of “Baby Groot Instructions.”

Book or Graphic Novel. I can never pack an overnight or weekend bag for myself without some sort of reading material. Include a copy of one your favorite science fiction novels or graphic novels. If you want to stick with the Guardians of the Galaxy theme, Dan Abnett’s prose novel, Rocket Raccoon and Groot Steal the Galaxy is a fun read for ages nine and older.

To go that extra mile, the official movie site for the Guardians of the Galaxy has a “Make Yourself a Guardian” activity where you can put yourself of your kid in the famous “line-up” image. These can be printed out on card stock and made into cool personalized bookmarks.

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The orb’s a great place to hide other surprises…just not an Infinity Stone.

Treat-filled Orb. Care packages always have to have treats. A neat way to package some loose treats or small trinkets, is by painting a clear plastic fillable ornament black, and drawing some curvy designs on it using silver 3-D paint. Once it dries, fill it with popcorn, candy-coated chocolate pieces, etc.

Include a couple of bags of healthy treats (raisins, granola, or trail mix), as well as something just for fun that meets your own child’s dietary needs. For some reason, I can see Peter (even the grown-up Peter) really getting into Pop Rocks.

Troll Doll and Trading Cards. Finish off with a few of Peter’s relics from his childhood, as seen in his ship, The Milano. Peter has a favorite orange-haired troll doll, but any discount store troll doll will work. I used a troll-like fairy toy called a Zelf in my example, since they are similar designs. Also shown in Peter’s sleeping area were several retro stickers, such as the iconic happy face and American flag stickers that adorned lockers in the 70s and 80s, and trading cards (Alf, Garbage Pail Kids). I personally can’t stand Garbage Pail Kids, but did include some retro-style Star Wars and Batman designs.

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Mix some retro with some new items to personalize your care package.

This care package doesn’t have to be limited to these listed items, or even include all of them. Whatever you put in there, remember you don’t have to be galaxies away to let your daughter or son to know they are always close to your heart.

Three Ways to Enjoy Alan Rickman in Under Ten Minutes

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Dust, a short film starring Alan Rickman, made its way though the independent and short film festival circuits with enthusiastic response. Last month, this twisted little tale was made available to watch online through sites like Vimeo and YouTube.

Created with the help of the online crowdfunding platform Sponsume, Dust is the directorial debut of lifelong friends Jake Russell and Ben Ockrent. It not only made the BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Long List for 2014, the result of Round One voting by Academy members, it was an “Official Selection” at film festivals worldwide.

Rickman plays a silent, creepy trench coat-wearing man who follows a young girl and her mother (Broadchurch‘s Jodie Whittaker) home. After lurking in the shadows until nightfall, the man sneaks into their home, where something unexpected happens.

Any more information will give things away, but the ending will not disappoint Rickman fans.

Alan Rickman: Portraits in Dramatic Time. Image courtesy of David Michalek.

Alan Rickman: Portraits in Dramatic Time. Image courtesy of David Michalek.

For those who can’t get enough of this multiple award-winning actor’s work, here are two other short doses of Rickman to enjoy

First, Alan Rickman: Portraits in Dramatic Time. This mesmerizing piece of Rickman dunking tea, then having a table-tossing fit in hyper slow-motion, was part of David Michalek’s “Portraits in Dramatic Time” project. The project features performers from all genres creating a 10- to 15-second scene in a small space. Michalek filmed the scene with ultra-high-speed cameras, fixed on one angle. The result was what Michalek called in his project description “glacially paced” dramatic narratives condensed down to an essence.

There were other wonderful performances in this series, but Rickman’s “Epic Tea Time,” as it came to be called, was the one that got the most attention with social media viewers.

Stretching this simple, burst of frustration into a 7-minute performance demonstrates how Rickman has more emotional range in a few simple gestures than some actors can achieve in a full-length film.

Screen-Shot-2014-08-29-at-10.27.18-AMSecondThe Boy In The Bubble. Rickman narrates this animated story about a classic horror-loving boy who foolishly tries to avoid dealing with a broken heart via a magic spell.

Stylistically, it will appeal to fans of Tim Burton’s macabre and heartwarming stop-motion films like Frankenweenie and Corpse Bride, although Burton isn’t involved in the project. Rickman’s smooth, dark chocolate voice is what brings this charming little tale its enchantment. Despite its monster-laden overtones, this film is also a redemptive tale of how those who endure bullying or heartbreak may be tempted to isolate themselves away from their problems.

Irish director Kealan O’Rourke has won several film festival awards for his live-action and animated films, including The Boy in the Bubble. As the first Irish-made film to use the 3D stereoscopic process, the short won two awards when it premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2011, and won the 2012 IFTA (Irish Film & Television Award) for Best Animation.

According to O’Rourke’s official site, The Boy in the Bubble is currently being developed into a feature-length film. There’s no specific talk on whether or not Rickman will still play a prominent part in the feature film, but it would be a shame if he didn’t.