As of my typing this, September will very soon be coming to a close. I cannot believe that Halloween month will already by underway very soon and I’m very proud of the work I have done on this project this season! Even though I’ve already written about quite a lot of Halloween specials, I still have a ton more sitting on the backburner, believe it or not. In an attempt to power through some of the lower priority stuff, I’ve decided to collect a handful of them in one post, saving longer reviews for
First up, Davey and Goliath. Yeah, yeah, I know – Halloween isn’t exactly the first thing to pop into mind when thinking about this innocuous 60s/70s stop-motion animated series funded by the Lutheran Church in America. Nonetheless, they did air one such special in 1967 titled “Halloween Who-Dun-It” – and to be honest, the show always sort of fascinated me! I was raised in a very Catholic environment, so religious-themed media (especially children’s media) is a source of fascination for me, to varying degrees. Davey and Goliath, in particular, has me conflicted between its beautiful sets and figures and the sterile, hokey life lessons embedded in its small-town premise.
Anyway, the bulk of the action in “Halloween Who-Dun-It” takes place on what the town of the show calls “Mischief Night”. After an innocent enough Halloween party, featuring an array of creative public domain costumes (including, unfortunately, a culturally appropriative Indian chief), Davey, his trusty dog Goliath, and their friend Sally embark on some mischief of their own. It’s all good-natured fun and games, until they fall under the delusion that they have become who their costumes represent (a man from Mars, a witch, and a tiger), thus removing any accountability for their actions. Their mischief soon dwells into full-on vandalism, destruction of property, and soon the dissolution of their friendship.
As these things tend to go, the problems get all nice and patched up in the final third, with a little help from their adult friends, specifically beekeeper Mr. Green. I’m actually pretty disturbed by the close relationship that these grown men have with these children, inviting them to hang out alone and presumably unsupervised by parents… but that’s neither here nor there here. The moral of this episode is that God always knows who you are, whether you wear a mask or not, so it’s important to strive to be the best person you could be at all times. All things considered, this isn’t the worst thing in the world to preach to young children (obviously the part with the higher deity can go) and with everything else kept in mind, this is a pretty successful Halloween episode. Still, I’ll undoubtedly save my lingering criticisms of Davey and Goliath for some other time.
Only running for one season back in 2004, I find Disney Channel’s Dave the Barbarian to be a totally underrated show and one that was never appreciated during its time. Sure, the animation wasn’t always the sharpest and the storylines always run on the formulaic, but the comedic writing was usually on point from episode to episode. A pretty good example of such is the show’s duet of Halloween episodes, “That Darn Ghost!” and “The Cow Says Moon” (01×16). The former plays around with the concept of a Medieval landscape wherein having a ghost in one’s abode is the “cool” thing in town. This is of interest to Dave’s sister Candy (whom I always get confused with Candace from Phineas and Ferb), and once the family nabs a ghost, their popularity inevitably arises. Unfortunately, this ghost is kind of a jerk, which causes complications. Eventually this culminates into a “really bad chase sequence”, doubling as a Scooby-Doo parody (with corny 70s style music and all!). The finale involves a really absurd gag involving the naming of this October 31st holiday. Despite this episode’s ten-minute runtime, there is enough space for the story to breathe and the jokes are pretty clever and topical. Also there’s a silly ghost party, which as we’ve seen from the post covering The Amazing World of Gumball, is always a plus!
“The Cow Says Moon” is very clearly the weaker one of the two, but it’s still pretty solid. With this one, Dave’s ex-girlfriend Princess Irmaplotz seeks revenge on Dave by summoning a cursed cow to bite him, causing him to transforming into a were-cow with the following full moon. This causes him to terrorize citizens in his town in several really ridiculous moments that consist of little more than Dave loudly yelling, “Moo!” at people. As a cure is attempted to be found for him, he transforms into various other silly creatures (as these things go), including a hamster, an eggbeater, and a gym teacher. Of course, eventually he goes back to normal and things just sort of tie up from there. The spooky angle of this episode is definitely played down, so I wouldn’t go racing recommend this for Halloweentime. Actually, the first one isn’t all that Halloweenish either, save for the ghosts and Scooby-Doo reference. In any case, this show should totally be watched nonetheless.
Next up is Even Stevens. Despite this now being the fourth Disney Channel property I’ve reviewed on this project, I actually never much cared for programs on the channel when I was growing up. I tended to find these shows a bit too vanilla for my liking and mostly stuck to Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Nonetheless, I had younger relatives who enjoyed Even Stevens a lot, and upon watching this particular Halloween episode (“A Very Scary Story” (02×13)), I was actually pleasantly surprised with how self-aware and smart the writing on the show it. While many kids’ shows often rely on the cheap joke to appeal to children, this particular show tends to stick to its guns and avoids watering down its sharp writing, opting instead for genuinely good storytelling.
“A Very Scary Story” is a good example of this smart storytelling. In this, our protagonist Louis Stevens (played by a young Shia LaBeouf) plans with his friends a schoolwide prank to be pulled off on Halloween. Coincidentally, this is also the day of the school’s annual eye exams, only every kid that exits the nurse’s office and receives their complimentary carton of milk seems to be acting… strange. As Louis tries to figure out what’s going on, things only get weirder and weirder – I won’t say too much else, because it’s honestly one of those episode you’ve just got to witness unfolding. It plays around with the popular horror trope of an increase in paranoia as friends start to act more and more like literal zombies… but in a kid-friendly way! It’s just as funny as it is genuinely tension-driven and has an ending that, while not completely satisfying, is probably the only logical way that something this bonkers could tie itself off. If Even Stevens as a whole is at all like this episode, I probably should be going back and watching some more of it!
Out of the Mike Judge vehicles, I definitely tend to lean toward King of the Hill over anything else. But anyway, we’ll talk about the King of the Hill Halloween special some other day. For now, let’s discuss the other animated show that has evolved into cult classicdom in recent years – Beavis and Butt-Head. Okay, this show’s sense of humor is famously juvenile, dated, and admittedly kind of unfunny – but at least you know what you’re getting into with each and every episode. This is totally true with the show’s Halloween episode, classily titled “Bungholio: Lord of the Harvest” (06×02) – or “Butt-O-Ween”, depending on who you ask – wherein the titular duo go on a trick or treating journey to disastrous results. After being turned down by numerous households, the boys conclude that they need a costume to ask for candy. So Beavis pulls his underwear over his head, calling himself a “‘nad”, while Butt-Head dumps gooey hot cheese all over himself, stating that he is dressed as nachos. Good ol’ classic MTV humor!
So immediately things take a turn for the insane. Beavis gets his hands on way too much candy, causing his personality to become immensely rabid and erratic (which reminds me a lot of the “Sugar Frosted Frights” episode of Rocko’s Modern Life). He transforms into his alter ego Cornholio and terrorizes the kids in the neighborhood for their candy. This particular schtick, already kind of grating, goes on for way too long and really weighs the whole episode down. Fortunately, interspersed into the action are familiar segments where the two poke fun at music videos by Alice Cooper, Paul Broucek, and King Diamond. I’ve always had a soft spot for these particular segments, as the humor tends to be relatively grounded and even sort of relatable (to an extent). Anyway, from this point forward the story tends to just derail itself; I don’t even think there’s very much of an ending, or at least not a satisfying one. Beavis and Butt-Head are an interesting little relic of the 90s, but one that I could only tolerate in small doses. For the most part, though, this episode just reminded me of a handful of other, better Halloween specials… so, probably just watch those instead.
I might as well end this post with yet another animated show from my childhood – specifically, one that I don’t look back on particularly fondly. I mean, there had to have been a reason why Cow & Chicken nabbed a spot amongst the prestigious Cartoon Network lineup known as Cartoon Cartoons, running for four whole seasons. Still, anyone I ask who even remembers this show only ever recalls it being the weirdest fucking show. And with its surreal narratives and wacky, jilted animation that rivals that of Ren and Stimpy, I don’t blame them.
Anyway, their sole Halloween episode, “Halloween With Dead Ghost, Coast to Coast” (02×02), has the titular brother-sister team going on a trick or treating adventure (a pretty common narrative for many of these specials, I’m finding out!). As implied by the title, there is a parody of Space Ghost Coast to Coast thrown in, with the frequent secondary character Red Guy donning the role of a TV host named Dead Ghost. He recommends to Cow and Chicken, via phone call, that they should dress up as humans this Halloween. Sadly, doing so brings them no candy as many folks in households confuse them for actual adults (yeah, yeah, I know… that’s just the logic this show runs with). Eventually they run into Dead Ghost, who kidnaps Chicken for some reason, after which Cow dresses up as the Spanish-speaking Supercow to get him back… for some reason.
Yeah, this show tends to run on this level on incomprehensibility for the most part. Even worse is that there are little to no aspects of the animation that make this worthwhile. The hand-drawn style, while admirable, still looks rather cheap and ugly, which only enhances the messiness of the plot as a whole. And even when setting aside complaints about the show itself, this doesn’t even work as a Halloween episode – I don’t get any sense of love for the holiday at all and it only uses the convenience of Halloween as window dressing. Anyway, I thought that maybe revisiting Cow & Chicken would enlighten me to something – anything – worthwhile about the show that may have slipped past me as a youngster. As I could see now, it has aged very poorly and probably wasn’t any good to begin with.