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!