If, like me, you grew up in the '80s and '90s, you no doubt recall the myriad of Halloween TV specials that aired the week of the holiday every year. Since you could only see them once a year, they held a special significance to kids and sounded out like celebratory bells ringing in an exciting time of year. And there were certainly no shortage of them. Every year, it seemed as though every animation company would release another, taking one more shot at creating the next It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, a perennial classic that would become a part of the popular culture and rake in the big advertising money each and every year.
This, of course, resulted in all manner of Halloween specials, ranging from the memorable to the bizarre. Do you remember when Garfield was terrorized by pirate ghosts, when Raggedy Ann and Andy found a home for The Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile, or when a pig and snail tried to find Dr. Frankenswine's monster in the Claymation Comedy of Horrors?
Nowadays, thanks to the proliferation of DVDs, these companies are finally getting around to releasing some of these seldom-aired specials for purchase. Warner Archive has just released one I don't remember ever seeing on TV, The Halloween Tree. Based on a novel by Ray Bradbury (who also narrates the special), it originally aired in 1993, and, unlike many of the other Halloween animated specials of the time, really seems to capture the spirit of the holiday in an almost magical way.
Four friends go out on Halloween night in search of their friend Pip, hailed as "the greatest boy who ever lived," and find themselves at a run-down mansion where they meet the Grim Reaper-like Moundshroud, voiced by Leonard Nimoy. (Star Trek fans will get a kick out the fact that Moundshroud repeatedly refers to "The Undiscovered Country.") Moundshroud, angry that the chlidren do not know why they are dressed up as a mummy, witch, monster, and skeleton for the holiday, takes them on a journey through time and space to discover the origins of Halloween, all the while pursuing the spirit of their friend Pip who appears to have died that night from an appendicitis. They travel "from Egyptian crypts to English broomfields to French quarryworks to Mexican boneyards," all the while their friend Ralph delivers his timeless catch-phrase ad nasusem: "oh my gosh!" In the end, the kids all learn about a variety of Halloween customs and perform a selfless act to save their friend.
The animation is pretty much what you'd expect from Hanna-Barbera at the time, perhaps even a bit better. The painted backgrounds are quite beautiful at times, but most memorable is the fantastic and haunting score by John Debney (which sounds as though it could have inspired John Williams' score for the Harry Potter films).
If you're expecting any extras on this DVD presentation, you're out of luck. The movie itself is the only feature on the disc. It's highly evident this was a quick "catalog dump," evidenced by the fact that even the back of the DVD case mistakenly refers to "Pip" as "Kip." This thing was put out quickly and without much effort, but that doesn't mean it's not worth checking out.
If you grew up with The Halloween Tree as part of your childhood Halloween traditions, then picking this up is a no-brainer. If, however, like me, you don't have any fond nostalgic memories of this special, it's definitely worth a look for some spirited Halloween entertainment.