A group of young Jeebie Scouts is spending the night at Camp Heebie Jeebie. Like many campers before them, the group of little girls sits in the darkness telling each other scary stories as part of their effort to earn a “Ghost Stories” badge.
But as the night progresses, their tall tales begin to become all too real, and when they venture outside the cabin, all their worst nightmares come to life.
Though there are PG-friendly chills and thrills, this animated short — created, animated, written and directed by Dylan Chase, alongside co-producer Dave Jacobsen — possesses plenty of adorable charm, leavening horror movie visual theatrics with super-cute imaginative flourishes and friendly, whimsical character and world design.
The visuals favor a shrouded sense of color and shadow that suits the nocturnal, secluded time and setting of the narrative, and there’s a dynamism and propulsion to the pacing, editing and shot progressions that would not be out of place in a traditional horror film. Its execution is resolutely focused on fun and the story percolates along with a confident rhythm, but that effervescence rests on a foundation of thoughtful direction and excellent writing.
Despite the horror stylings of the visuals, the whimsical touches in the storytelling — there’s a cupcake monster, after all — and the squat, rounded shapes of the characters and objects are notably cute and friendly in feel, with their big eyes and softly pill-shaped bodies. And while the narrative proceedings get more intense as the pace picks up, they never get too scary, making this short particularly family-friendly.
What also works is the voice acting of the children, which sounds like real kids in tenor, personality and emotion. As they tell stories, they try on the guises of more difficult emotions like dread and terror, but their approximations of what they imagine to be scary are adorably limited. Even if their stories initially promise violence and mayhem, they reveal instead their childlike fixations on treats and TV, especially as they veer off into hilariously distracted directions. As they bicker and try to one-up each other with their “scary” stories, they discover that the outside world of their cabin is full of genuine scariness, which they overcome with a dose of cooperation — and putting their scout skills to good use.
Accomplished and polished in craft and fun-loving in spirit, “A Night In Camp Heebie Jeebie” ultimately works because it respects the world of childhood without overinflating the cuteness and underinflating the emotional experience of kids. The story builds up an often engaging, adorable portrait of sheltered, secure innocence, where the monsters are like playthings in their fantastical stories and fear is like a costume to try on for Halloween.
But innocence is always punctured by real-world scares both big and small, and part of the work of childhood is finding the inner resources and resilience to confront them. The Jeebie Scouts work together and leverage their existing skills and friendship to take on the night — and even get in touch with their own inner monsters to vanquish their fears, and earn their badge in bravery and courage.