Upon compiling the list of Halloween specials I would potentially watch and review this season, one fact soon became abundantly clear: the late 70s loved Halloween. Sure, Halloween specials and themed episodes of TV shows have been around since the rise of TV itself – the earliest example of such I could find was a 1952 episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. But it seems that the holiday took a pronounced upsurge in popularity around the late 70s, where it rode steadily through the 80s and 90s. Nowadays, while Halloween episodes definitely still exist, there isn’t much incentive for them to be coming from all directions as they had in the past. In any case, 1979 seems to be the year where this specific trend seemed to take on an uptick – so I’ll cover one of these specials from this particular year!
This one is called Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy in The Pumpkin Who Couldn’t Smile… although the shorter title of The Pumpkin Who Couldn’t Smile is also acceptable. This is the first time I’ve seen anything from the catalog of popular animated specials featuring the titular duo (although A Musical Adventure has been on my radar for quite some time). The program opens up with what could only be described as a jack o’ lantern going through an existential crisis. It’s Halloween night and the pumpkin literally cries tears of pumpkin seeds as he sings the opening number about his feelings of depression and loneliness as the one who never got picked. Elsewhere, though, Raggedy Ann and Andy are lamenting about how their neighbor Ralph is disallowed from trick or treating by his stubborn Aunt Agatha – she literally tells him that they’ll go to a museum tomorrow to “look at the rocks”, as some attempt at compromise!
Eventually, though, Ann and Andy (along with their equally Raggedy dog Arthur) head off to find a pumpkin to cheer Ralph up. For the most part, a lot of this special is told through very traditional style of hand-drawn animation that is surprisingly lovely in its 70s simplicity. Every frame seems to be bathed in this orange glow that fits remarkably with its fall time theme. Although some of the narrative elements aren’t exactly to my liking (such as the overemphasis on Arthur the skateboarding dog), I can appreciate how kids of its era would find enjoyment in them. There are more nuanced elements to its tale that are well worth its time, though. Eventually, the trio find their way to the pumpkin, but the pumpkin rejects their compliments and affection, presumably out of denial that he is worth anything at all, a familiar feeling for anyone with depression. But after realizing that he finally has a purpose this season, in a truly heartwarming moment his face lights up with optimism and bittersweet happiness.
The remainder of this middle third basically consists of a mad dash back home by way of Arthur’s skateboard. There’s a funny scene involving a confused policeman, but it’s clear that much of the animation here is just filler. But then we reach probably my favorite scene of the entire special, that wherein Ralph and his pumpkin finally meet. It’s incredibly heartwarming to see two forlorn characters finally find happiness in one another, especially with Ralph’s immediate love for the pumpkin, who now cries pumpkin seeds of joy. But it doesn’t stop there – now Ann and Andy take it upon themselves to remind Aunt Agatha how much she loved Halloween as a little girl. This plan works and the special ends with the three of them – Aunt Agatha, Ralph, and the pumpkin – all going trick or treating together. Although the portrayal of the aunt as mean and haggard is a tired and trying trope, I do appreciate that the resolution to this conflict isn’t quite as mean-spirited as these things tend to head.
In general, this is a pretty sweet and wholesome little Halloween adventure, perfect for kids of all ages. I should note also that this was directed by legendary animator Chuck Jones, who at this point had already built up a sizable filmography of works both humorous and touching. Although it’s clear that the funny stuff is watered down here, this is more than made up for the charming animation and many of the more tender, heartwarming moments. Additionally, legendary voice actor June Foray plays two roles in this special – the mean Aunt Agatha and Raggedy Ann herself – though for some reason she is credited as “Mrs. Hobart Donavan” for the former. Raggedy Andy is voiced by Hanna-Barbera voice actor Daws Butler (think Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, etc.), and while this isn’t quite in the higher rungs of what I’m used to from him, his comedic timing at points is quite impeccable. There’s a lot to love here, even if its leisurely pace from its opening minutes might suggest otherwise – give it a shot!