Halloween TV Party: Halloween episodes of Hey Arnold!, Rocko’s Modern Life, and more

Once again, a collection of some more Halloween TV specials I watched but don’t have a whole lot to talk about (comparatively speaking). Let’s get started!

I’ve already spoken elsewhere about Hey Arnold!‘s distinct lack of reluctance when it comes to covering very serious, real-life issues within the confines of their usually silly cartoon environment. It’s also true, though, that the show doesn’t shy away from occasional references to more “adult” media, sometimes even using the basic premise of said media (usually a movie) as the general layout for the corresponding episode. The most blatant example of this is the episode “False Alarm”, which is essentially a school-set version of 12 Angry Men, but there’s also “Arnold’s Halloween” (02×40), wherein the entire plot is based around Orson Welles’s infamous 1939 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. The stakes are cranked up a bit higher here, though, since Halloween night and an alien conspiracy TV show already have the city folk on high tensions. So when Arnold and Gerald’s prank of fake alien invasion broadcast unfortunately coincide with the rest of the kids’ plan to go trick or treating dressed as aliens, things turn ugly.

Stylistically, this episode is pretty much just like every other Hey Arnold! episode, with its simple animation and heightened emphasis on characters and plot over eye-catching sequences. In terms of dramatic structure, though, I think this sits comfortably within the rest of the top-tier episodes of the show (of which there are many). Watching these familiar, beloved adult characters suddenly turn on the children all over a ridiculous sense of paranoia and dissociation from reality is… honestly quite sad. Even more heartbreaking is the switch made by Mr. Pataki (Helga’s father) from a plainly ignorant father to full-on militancy, to the point where he very near caused very real physical harm to his own daughter! I know this show is just a cartoon, but it’s also a testament to its ability to connect itself to real-life situations very effectively. Hey Arnold! can be fun when it needs to be, but in equal measures it can also just be dark as hell – which makes it perfect Halloween viewing, of course.

And now for yet another cartoon which made my Christmas TV specials list… although I’ll be talking about its Halloween episode, of course. Although “A Pinky and the Brain Halloween” (03×17) is one of those specials that’s really only a Halloween episode in spirit – aside from an introductory sequence where Brain infiltrates jack o’ lanterns to control children’s minds (only to be thwarted by Pinky, of course), the Halloween themes are minimal. Instead, we’re treated to a plot where a man known as Mr. Itch – Satan, metaphorically – offers Brain the chance to become ruler of the world, in exchange for his soul. When he refuses, Itch then convinces Pinky to sacrifice his own soul to help out his friend! So, we finally get a glimpse of Brain’s life as king of the world and… it’s about as dull as you could imagine. Eventually Brain comes to miss Pinky’s company, so he finds his way to Hades (hilariously located below a DMV) to try to win him back.

The rest of the episode revolves around the fruitless efforts of Brain competing against Mr. Itch in order to bring his friend back from the underworld. The stakes are certainly high here, but typical of Pinky and the Brain‘s style, the writing is heavy on the gags, jokes, and wisecracks. The fact that Brain chooses to engage in a rhythmic gymnastics competition with Itch is pretty absurd on its own, but the bizarre running joke involving Itch’s lawyers is something else entirely. What kid is going to understand those jokes?? Anyway, like “A Pinky and the Brain Christmas”, the climax of this episode lands on a rather emotional edge over the prospect of the duo splitting up for good. That doesn’t happen, of course. Anyway, while this is a pretty decent episode in its own right, it’s hardly very Halloweenish save for its references to Hades and all that. Let’s move on.

Sigh… so, I’ve always had a certain worn-in appreciation for The Ren & Stimpy Show as a work of art, but after the allegations against John K. over sexual abuse of underage girls has become public knowledge, it’s getting harder and harder to respect the product. I used to find the erratic content of the show very commendable for its subversive, groundbreaking nature; to an extent, I still do and I probably always will. But knowing what I know now about its creator only muddies the content in that it’s hard not to sense that its bizarre, visceral style of surrealist animation could have only come from an individual who possesses little respect for others’ boundaries. Nonetheless, I don’t want to make this entire blurb about John K., so I’ll move on to talking about the actual segment.

In retrospect, though, there may not be very much to say about it. In “Haunted House” (02×04), Ren and Stimpy stumble upon an abandoned mansion one night and decide to explore it. Meanwhile, a depressed, unenthusiastic, gray-colored ghost senses their arrival and opts to scare them out. Most of the rest of this ten-minute segment involves this ghost’s efforts being unintentionally thwarted by the duo’s sheer air-headedness. There’s a very Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner dynamic to the formula of these failed plans, though all executed in typical zany Ren & Stimpy fashion, such as a reference to the shower scene in Psycho devolving into Stimpy using the ghost as a towel. The funniest of these attempts is probably when the ghost straight-up shows up with a mask and chainsaw, only for the two to mistake him for a trick or treater and throw candy at him. I won’t give away the ending to this one, only cause uh… you probably wouldn’t believe me if I just typed it out. Basically, it has everything you would expect from a Ren & Stimpy cartoon, but not much more. If you’ve never seen the show, this wouldn’t be a bad start (it is only ten minutes long, after all). If you have, though, you aren’t missing much with this one – honestly, just skip it.

Yeah, it seems that with the exception of Pinky and the Brain, the theme for this post is “Nickelodeon cartoons from the 90s”! I briefly mentioned in the intro of my Rugrats post that Nickelodeon is what I tended to veer toward when I was a kid, and I’m finding that more and more with each of these Halloween specials I watched. While the Cartoon Network shows of this era were arguably “better”, I always go back to the Nickelodeon classics when taking a look at 90s animation as a whole. And few shows better define that for me than Rocko’s Modern Life, which has only aged better and better with each revisit! “Sugar-Frosted Frights” (03×29), in particular, is an excellent example of how gracefully and vividly the show balances its precise wit with a unique artistic edge. In this episode, Rocko and Heffer are preparing for Halloween, but when they enter Filburt’s house to invite him along, Filburt confesses that he’s never had a piece of candy due to an inexplicable fear of it instilled in him by his aunt. Still, they go along with their trick or treating as planned.

The fun really begins, though, when Filburt finally eats his first piece of candy – and gets an instant sugar rush. There’s a really cool psychedelic sequence that represents his intense sugar high that alone makes this episode well worth a watch. From then on, it follows a similar trajectory to “Bungholio: Lord of the Harvest”, in that he goes practically, uncontrollably mad from the need to consume as much sugar as possible. While Rocko and Heffer try to chase him down, the three of them eventually end up in the deep, dark woods, where they are then chased out by a ghostly figure known as the Hoppin’ Hessian. It really is as ridiculous as it sounds – but pretty hilarious, of course! Honestly, one of my favorite jokes in this whole episode involves Rocko (dressed as Really Really Big Man) being refused a piece of candy from someone who claims that he had already visited – and a few seconds later, we are treated to Really Really Big Man dressed up as Rocko, walking down the sidewalk as he whistles the show’s theme. This episode also had a second segment, “Ed is Dead!”, but I think there’s enough Halloween goodness packed in this singular episode to be satisfying enough (plus, I don’t really care for the episodes involving the Bigheads). This is a fun one for sure!

And now for the final special of this post (I promise my next post won’t be Nickelodeon-oriented at all!). “Doug’s Halloween Adventure” (04×04) is one of three Halloween specials put out by the series during its run. While the other two episodes – put out after the show was acquired by Disney – are fine and dandy, the first one will always be the best for me. The episode begins with Skeeter telling Doug a scary story about a cursed mansion – only to also mention that a new ride has been built from said mansion and the grand opening is Halloween night! After hearing urban legends about people supposedly disappearing inside the ride , Doug is reluctant to go out of nervousness… that is, until Patti compliments his costume (Race Canyon, an alternate branding of Indiana Jones), boosting his confidence to try it out.

Doug, Skeeter, and Roger (who ends up tagging along) end up having to sneak into the ride alone, just before the park’s closing. Most of the remainder of the episode involves navigating through the various rooms and segments of the ride, which has a layout much like the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland. Through a variety of twists and turns along the way, Doug manages to conquer his fear of the ride by recognizing the artificiality of it all, which allows him to actually have fun. Of course, the tensions are still sky-high through the episode’s rising action, as it soon becomes clear that an actual mysterious hooded man (similar to one mentioned in Skeeter’s story at the beginning) is present in the ride’s structure and may have some of his own tricks up his sleeve. As Doug episodes go, though, it all turns out okay in the end. I’ve gotta admit, I’ve never been the biggest fan of Doug, as it always seemed too plain of a show for me to really be totally compelled by. Nonetheless, the higher stakes of this particular episode, as well as the generally spookier atmosphere granted by the Halloween season, may have injected some much-needed life into this show. In any case, I’m gonna have to revisit this one in later years!

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Halloween TV (Movie) Party: Halloweentown (1998)

As a kid, there were a few things that were synonymous with Halloween for me. Of course there’s the usual candy, costumes, scary music, haunted houses, and, of course, trick or treating. Yet my personal favorite time of night always came around the end, when I’d hoard my giant bag of treats into my room and arrange them by size, type, and color while I watch whatever family-friendly Halloween specials are airing on our family TV. Along the way, there would generally be time for me to play a Halloween-type program of my choosing and nine times out of ten, I would pick… The Nightmare Before Christmas, of course.

Yeah, it was mostly my younger cousins who got into the whole Halloweentown craze, while I avoided it along with anything else that aired on the Disney Channel at that time. I really had a strange bias against Disney Channel’s strain of entertainment – many of its live-action shows felt stiff and mechanical in their writing, while their animated shows had these qualities along with usually unappealing art styles. A few years ago when I embarked on a marathon of Disney-related films, I intended to watch at least a handful of DCOMs (a.k.a. Disney Channel Original Movies) of which there are about 105. As it ended up, I only ended up actually watching and writing about Under Wraps, the first of these films. Four years later and for some reason What I’m getting at is that it’s taken me way too long to get around to Halloweentown, especially since it definitely fits under the Halloween TV special criteria and is one of the most beloved of relatively recent years.

It would probably come as no surprise to most that know me that I ended up adoring this one in the end. Honestly, I was surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it, given my rocky history with Disney Channel-related media in general. While the story isn’t terribly unique at its core, I think the elements of the story unique to this particular world are what help to make it shine. Youngster Marnie is celebrating her 13th Halloween with her younger brother and sister – it’s too bad, though, that their mother Gwen has forbid the three of them to go out on Halloween and has for their entire lives. This is especially maddening for Marnie, since she has a particular fondness for weird things, like witches, goblins, dybbuks… all that fun stuff. The children’s one respite from the monotony comes in the form of their Grandma Aggie (played by the always wonderful Debbie Reynolds), who is just as fixated on such strange and mysterious subjects. She is also extremely fond of Halloween, much to the chagrin of her daughter trying to keep her kids away from all that nonsense.

By natural occurrence of events, eventually the three youngsters are whisked away into a magical, unusual world in which their grandmother resides – the titular Halloweentown! This basically confirms that (1) their grandmother is a witch; (2) their mother is also a witch, though is explicitly repressing this side of herself; and (3) Marnie is next in this familial lineage, hence her fascination for the macabre. These realizations couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time – Halloweentown is currently in peril as numerous citizens are suddenly and mysteriously disappearing, one by one. After Aggie sees a creepy hooded figure in a vision, Marnie believes that her witch blood could help rid the town of this villain – but since she hasn’t received any training yet, is it too late? Eventually Gwen makes her way to Halloweentown to bring her kids back, but after seeing what her life could be, Marnie is adamant at living her new life as a witch. Also there’s a strange side-story where Gwen and the town’s Mayor Kalabar used to have romantic ties… and Marnie’s little sister Sophie also has magic powers… and a goblin-turned-handsome-boy named Luke enters the picture too…

Yeah, there’s a whole lot going on here – and I didn’t even name off all of it, to avoid spoilers! Sure this means that much of these threads remain untied by the resolution, but it’s in a way where the producers were fully aware that there would be at least one sequel to the series (in total, there are three). To be fair, though, this is a world I wouldn’t mind revisiting. While the spooky appeal of Halloweentown mildly suffers by having most of the action take place during the day, it’s mostly concerned with being a straight comedy peppered with Halloween-related jokes and imagery. Along with the eerie monster and jack o’ lantern heads possessed by many of the town’s citizens, we are also introduced to a vast array of minor characters who are just as peculiar and actually very impressive in their creativity. These include (but are certainly not limited to) a comedic skeleton cabbie, a zombie salesman in the midst of a bad Elvis impression, a bickering two-headed ticket seller, and (my favorite) a woman dressed as a giant pincushion who can’t seem to go a single moment without a pin-related pun.

There’s really a lot more than meets the eye, especially since so much about this TV movie’s writing follows so much of the cheesy conventions that turned me off Disney Channel fare in the first place. Where Marnie sure has quite a dynamic personality (much of it thanks to Kimberly J. Brown’s consistent enthusiasm throughout) and the sparks of potential character development in Sophie overshadow her limited role, brother Dylan seems to serve no purpose except to throw in a snarky comment here and there. I’ve already mentioned the effortless charm of Debbie Reynolds as Aggie, but I was even more impressed with the role of Judith Hoag as the stubborn mother whose primary concern is the safety of her children. While she plays a very clean-cut mother role for most of the feature, it’s in the moments where she must step it up to protect her kids that had me scrambling for the rewind button to watch again and again.

I was also pretty impressed with the lengths the movie took to build up the universe contained within this relatively innocuous little feature. As the story goes, Halloweentown was created in an effort to quell the animosity that had built up between the mortal world and the monster world, as the former had essentially gone and appropriated many of the customs the latter had invented for their own Halloween. I find it hilarious that there is absolutely no mention of the Celtic and pagan roots of the holiday in this description – sounds like Disney! But anyway, all of this world-building is essentially what comprises the first two-thirds of the film, as no sense of real, genuine conflict ever pops in until around the final half-hour or so. And yeah, if you’re paying attention at all it’s pretty damn obvious who the villain of the tale actually is… though the reasonings behind the conflict in the first place are pretty half-baked and lazy. No spoilers, once again, but just trust me.

But this all leads us to probably my single favorite aspect of Halloweentown as a whole: the role of women! While it’s clear that younger kids watching this are meant to follow Marnie’s journey – and a great journey for girls it is! – I found myself really confiding with Gwen. I really loved how all we know about the children’s father is that he was human, making the three of them half-human – nonetheless, we never really know why he is no longer in their lives. Divorce, death, departure? It’s never clarified, which is such a breath of fresh air from girls’ and women’s stories needing to be shaped by tragedy or loss. They’re a family mainly driven by powerful, ambitious female characters and it is by coming together at the end that they are able to drive away the evil that pervades in Halloweentown. I really wasn’t expecting this from a product of late-90s Disney Channel of all things, but now I’m sure to make up for my previous biases with many more viewings of this movie (and maybe its sequels…?) in Halloweens to come.

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Halloween TV Party: The Last Halloween (1991)

From one Hanna-Barbera short feature to another! It’s mind-blowing to me that Casper’s Halloween Special and this program are only a little over a decade apart, as they seem to be separated by eras of difference. If you’ve seen both, then surely you know exactly what I’m talking about. I first watched The Last Halloween last year and was just so perplexed by how weird it was, I really didn’t know what to immediately make of it. After rewatching… yeah, it’s pretty bad. But at least the ways in which it’s bad are pretty compelling in their own right.

As the special begins, we are told by a friendly narrator (played by William Hanna himself!) that a group of Martians have taken a trip to the planet Earth which is detected to contain high amounts of “coobi”, a necessary element that had been completely drained from Mars. It is after this point where we come back onto Earth itself, in a small American town in the midst of Halloween evening. I always remark on how much I love playful, autumnal Halloween imagery in these specials, and this is certainly the case here. Pumpkins are ever-present in the background of the action, and the backgrounds themselves are pretty neat themselves. Anyway, we meet a boy and his younger sister, both of whom seem to still be mourning over the death of their mother – the girl is wearing a princess costume her mother made for her before she died, while the boy continues to hang onto small memories of her, such as how they used to skip rocks and make wishes together.

The main conflict of the special is then brought in: these two siblings’ father is in danger of losing his candy-making factory, since too much money has been wasted trying to figure out why its surrounding lake, which generates its power (“Crystal Lake”, I shit you not), has dried up. Because of this, the father declares that this may, in fact, be the town’s very last Halloween – what’s a Halloween without candy?? Of course, this problem makes little sense when, later on in the special, we learn that the factory supplies most of the jobs in the city. Even if this preposterous detail were actually true, it wouldn’t exactly be the most economically viable decision for the county to just completely shut down the factory, if few other non-candy-making jobs exist in the town.

Anyway, eventually the kids come across a spaceship and soon after we finally get a glimpse of the visiting Martians and… yikes. Just yikes. Okay, I’m being a bit too harsh right off the bat – this is 1991, after all, and computer-generated animation wasn’t exactly at its most sophisticated. I’m sure that back in the day it was mind-blowing to watch these colorful, wacky creatures interaction with real-life human beings. As a matter of fact, it won a Primetime Emmy award specifically for these visual effects – so I’m sure it was good at the time! Sadly, though, as early CG animation goes, these are a huge cut below the potential of the medium as a whole. The characters are relatively tepid in personality, with jilted movements that remind one more of action figures than full-fledged beings. I’m sure there were more graceful ways to meld the two mediums but… this ain’t it. I never get a sense that these characters actually belong in this short; rather, they somehow snuck into this kids horror program through the back door of an entirely different animated sci-fi show. It also doesn’t help that the character known as Bing constantly hops around, making this grating, repetitive “bing bing bing” noise as he does. Thanks Frank Welker!

So from here, a little more of our questions are answered. Namely, we learn that the Martian word “coobi” is what English-speakers know as “candy”. And since they’re looking for candy, they couldn’t have come at a better time of the year! So they start grazing the neighborhood for candy for a while… until Bing stumbles across an indiscriminate spooky-looking castle up on a hill. This belongs to a character whom I forgot to mention earlier – Mad Scientist Lady Mrs. Gizborne, played by the wonderful Rhea Perlman! She was honestly the most fun character to watch in all of this, with her ridiculous costume, hair, and makeup only matched by her trademark over-the-top personality. I’m assuming since the kids already knew her name they (and presumably the rest of the town) were already aware of the eerie science stuff she performs… right?

Anyway, it soon becomes clear that she is the one behind Crystal Lake’s drought. It was all part of her evil plan to perform experiments on insects in order to find the secret to eternal youth and beauty (because what else would a mad scientist woman care about??) and that somehow drained the lake. Of course, she confuses the Martians for some exceptionally healthy bugs and chases and shenanigans occur. As these things tend to pan out, our protagonists run free, tell the nearest adult about the schemes, and Mrs. Gizborne is locked away. The Martians have what they need, so they say their tearful goodbyes and fly away. But wait – the lake still hasn’t been fixed! Not to worry, because the Martians have given the boy a special skipping stone. He throws it in the lake, magic happens, water appears, and all is 100% fixed.

So yeah, this is basically as ridiculous as it sounds. The narrative is certainly half-baked and you can tell that the only used the story as an excuse to showcase its CG creations and not the other way around. This might have been a better short if only human characters were a bit more fleshed out, but besides the dead mom backstory (a tired trope as it is) we don’t have anything for us to grab onto. As for the Martian dudes… well, at least Bing was, uh, bingy. I could see the designs for these characters having some real potential, but it just feels all wasted here. This potentially could be due to this special running only slightly over twenty minutes, barely giving us much time to delve into many character traits, but better writing and pacing could have made it at least slightly more tolerable. Overall, it’s not hard to see why this was Hanna-Barbera’s only trek into computer-animated territory – it just doesn’t work nearly as well as their hand-drawn stuff.

And by the way, those screencaps up above are literally the best quality shots I could find from the special! As lukewarm as I was on it in general, I still think it should be more effectively preserved if only for its place in the realm of obscure Halloween specials. Clean this up!

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Halloween TV Party: Casper’s Halloween Special (1979)

We meet again, 1979! I already talked about in my preface for The Pumpkin Who Couldn’t Smile that 1979 seems to be the sweet spot for Halloween-themed TV specials for some strange reason. My theory seems to lie primarily on the fact that the film Halloween was released in the previous year, eventually became the tenth highest-grossing film of the year, and ignited a nationwide desire for the spooky, the eerie, and the grotesque – but family-friendly, of course!

And here we have yet another 1979 Halloween special in our midst. I present, Casper’s Halloween Special although I guess Casper Saves Halloween or He Ain’t Scary, He’s Our Brother would be acceptable titles as well, for some reason. I was actually pretty excited to watch this one, as Casper’s First Christmas is a childhood favorite of mine and while it didn’t end up making the final cut, it really warmed my heart to revisit it while compiling my Top 13 Animated Christmas Specials. Despite all this, I don’t think I ever gave a play to this Halloween special until this very day. If it’s anything like the Christmas special, I’m sure I’ll be delighted to some degree!

Okay, it’s really not too much like the Christmas special, save for some basic plot elements. For one thing, none of the other familiar Hanna-Barbera characters are present – only Casper, Hairy Scarey, Screech Ghost, and Winifred Witch. For some reason, I managed to stumble across a version of this special with the laugh track removed. While it does feel a tad unusual watching a 70s Hanna-Barbera cartoon without a laugh track, I’ve never been much a fan of them anyway so having that little distraction removed was warmly welcomed. So basically this special begins with Casper watching neighborhood children go trick or treating and lamenting over how he, a ghost, could enjoy the Halloween season as well. Suddenly he has a bright idea – a reverse of the ol’ costume protocol! He could dress himself up as a little boy and indulge in the masqueraded festivities like the rest of the living. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, soon enough, intolerance rears its ugly head in the shapes of Hairy, Screech, and Winifred, who basically try everything in their power to bully and terrorize Casper, seemingly just for kicks. They tie him up in order to prevent him from leaving while they go on their own excursion of malicious spooking, but soon enough he escapes. Sadly, Casper eventually finds that humans of the real world aren’t quite so accepting of a ghost being in their midst on Halloween night and children scream and run in fear whenever he approaches. This coupled with his mean-spirited ghostly peers leaves him heartbroken – that is, until he meets a group of orphans who accept him for who he is. This is partially because they both share the common experience of being turned away on Halloween for who they are. Clad in simple masks and hats (that was all that the orphanage budget could afford!), these five children have received an intense amount of prejudice from a number of rich households that night, one going so far as to closing the gate right in their faces. They share Casper’s pain!

Of course, not everything can go exactly as planned, as Hairy, Screech, and Winifred now turn their attention toward Casper and the kids. Not only is this just plain mean, but it also seriously interferes with the clan’s candy-getting abilities. It is from this point onward where the plot gets pretty predictable, especially for those who have already seen the Christmas special. Long story short, Hairy realizes the error of his ways, ditches his other two cohorts, and takes it upon himself to ensure that the children have a delightful Halloween. Overall, I definitely prefer the Christmas special over this one, but this also has its perks. There are a couple songs here (not enough to call this a musical special), but the only one that stuck with me was the trick or treating song, which was animated so colorfully and vibrantly, it really was an absolute delight. I don’t know why Casper continues to spend time with his ghost companions of ill intent, but I guess that’s all a product of his friendly nature. This special follows the basic moral lesson of tolerance and acceptance of others who are different, as well as highlighting our protagonists’ persistence over the obstacles that lie in their way. It’s an adorable little special – great for kids!

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Halloween TV Party: “A Disney Halloween” (1983)

Today’s Halloween TV special requires a little bit of historical backtracking. Since 1954, Disney has produced an anthology series primarily for ABC. This series begun as an outlet for Walt Disney to branch out from film into the then-new medium of television. The first version of the series was titled Walt Disney’s Disneyland and mainly provided teasers for the different features of the titular theme park. Later the emphasis on Disneyland was lifted and this became Walt Disney Presents in 1958, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in 1961, The Wonderful World of Disney in 1969, and so on. The common thread between all of these series is that alongside whatever material the series decided to focus on, they also included related pre-produced material from the Disney name, whether it be original documentary clips, scenes from Disney films, or even movies or TV episodes shown in their entirety.

During the Wonderful World of Disney era of the show, an episode of the show titled “Disney’s Greatest Villains” was aired. In this, the Magic Mirror from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs discusses the importance of villains in a story, demonstrated through a variety of classic bad guys and gals in Disney films. After a few more years of amendments, the series was once again renamed simply Walt Disney by 1981. One of the episodes of this version of the show was “Disney’s Halloween Treat”, which featured a variety of spooky-themed clips from Disney features and shorts, all narrated by talking jack o’ lantern voiced by Hal Douglas. Nonetheless, we’re not here to discuss either of these episodes in length – but then again, we will be talking about both, to some degree.

Eventually this anthology series went on a break between 1983 and 1986. From what I could surmise, it was during this time that it presented “A Disney Halloween” under the returning umbrella header The Wonderful World of Disney. Unlike most episodes of the anthology, which ran for thirty minutes to an hour, this particular special clocks in at ninety minutes. In order to achieve this length, it largely edits together segments from both “Disney’s Halloween Treat” and “Disney’s Greatest Villains” in order to achieve a sprawling presentation of the most morbid moments in Disney film up until that point. To be honest, though, the real reason why I am covering this longer special as opposed to the two others by themselves (other than the fact I’m essentially killing three birds with one stone) is because I couldn’t find the suitable versions of the other two versions anywhere on the internet! Further emphasizing the importance of archiving these specials for other generations to find and enjoy.

One distinct aspect of this special that does make it unique from its predecessors is its fully original introductory scene. In this, Disney CEO Michael Eisner introduces himself to home audiences, and we are delighted to see that he is joined by costumed characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Mickey tells Eisner that Goofy is on his way and has been working on his costume all month. After a knock on the door, in walks in… Michael Eisner? Only when he speaks, we hear Goofy’s voice come out instead! It’s truly a delightfully surreal start to the special and I wish there were more instances like this sprinkled in. Nonetheless, we are immediately treated to the “Disney’s Halloween Treat” intro sequence, which features clips from the Silly Symphonies classic The Skeleton Dance strangely tinted with orange and green. I’ve honestly grown to love the “Disney’s Halloween Treat” theme song for its doo-wop catchiness and childlike desire for something scary… but not too scary.

And that’s essentially where the rest of this special stands. While the special begins with the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence from Fantasia, which I do find genuinely eerie, the vast majority of the scary action are really just hijinks performed by the colorful cast of innocent Disney characters. We are treated to the Wizards’ duel scene from Sword in the Stone, which is far more delightful than spooky. Donald Duck and the Gorilla is mostly just Donald Duck and his nephews pulling pranks on each other in a gorilla suit – and when an actual angry gorilla shows up, the stakes are raised only slightly higher. The “Heffalumps and Woozles” sequence from Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day is a bit nightmarish in its psychedelic imagery… but I can only really see very young children being very creeped out by it. On the other hand, we also get the Hell-centered climax from Pluto’s Judgment Day, which is unsettling in a, “How did this make it to a children’s cartoon?” kind of way.

But really, the second half of the special – devoted to the Disney villains – is where it gets pretty interesting. The main narrator passes the torch to the Guest of Honor, the Magic Mirror (voiced by the legendary Hans Conried) who basically uses the platform to emphasize the need for bad guys like him in a story. Unexpectedly, he can actually get a tad analytical in his musings, such as when he remarked how Captain Hook was at a large physical disadvantage from Peter Pan from the start of the duel (given he’s missing an arm and a leg). While I could do without the big portion of time given to the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk or Edgar from The Aristocats, the meditative “Trust in Me” sequence by Kaa in The Jungle Book is always a warm welcome. Moreover, the Evil Queen’s transformation scene into an old hag in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs always gives me goosebumps and I love that they added it in full here. This segment sort of peters out by the end, with hardly any attention paid to Cruella de Ville or The Queen of Hearts, both of whom I feel are two of the most definitive villainesses of classic Disney animation! Not a good move, guys.

The special then transitions back to the Hal Douglas narrator who ends with two classic Disney shorts – Lonesome Ghosts and the Halloween classic Treat or Treat. Basically, this whole special is about what I would expect from an anthology episode of this type. I think it’s a great relic to show kids a great number of classic Disney scenes in a relatively short amount of time, which then might give them incentive to check out the full films themselves. Watching this in retrospect, the most glaring omissions are definitely moments from the Disney Renaissance such as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King, which would have fit right in here. Even if you want to keep it in the 80s, there are probably a number of scenes from The Black Cauldron (despite it being a flop) that would have worked in the “scary scenes” section, whereas Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective would have been a perfect inclusion in the villains section (Vincent Price!). Anyway, even though it’s pretty obviously dated, it’s a pleasant little relic for its time and I can definitely see how it had multiple reruns on ABC and the Disney Channel for many years afterwards.

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