The Halloween season is upon us, and it is time to look at the ‘best of the best’ when it comes to Halloween-themed cartoons and television specials.
Some of these animated works are often overlooked, ignored, or forgotten by adults because you’re all grown-up and have RESPONSIBILITIES. Since you’re visiting Monkeys Fighting Robots, your inner child is still intact, and many of you may have seen these or maybe you’re the one who forgot. In any event, read on. Stir up a memory of simpler times…
When McDonald’s sold those McPunkin Happy Meal pails.
What is your favorite Halloween-themed cartoon?
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949)
“When the spooks have a midnight jamboree
They break it up with fiendish glee
Most are bad, but the one that’s cursed is
The Headless Horseman, he’s the worst.”
– Bing Crosby
A great way to begin a night of Halloween cartoons. Originally released as a double feature as The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, it was later often marketed as its own individual short film. I saw it that way. On VHS.
The entire cartoon is an artistic masterpiece. Some of Walt Disney Studios’ best work. Unlike other Disney films, there are no talking animals. Or people.
Legendary crooner Bing Crosby narrates the story and sings the mood-inspiring songs. And there’s no one better to do it. His voice is upbeat one moment; then the next his baritone drops eight octaves to punctuate the dread conjured on your screen. Almost makes you want to stay in on Halloween night.
Fun fact: Tim Burton samples the cartoon’s frog croaks of “Ichabod!” in a scene in his movie Sleepy Hollow. Listen for it when Johnny Depp crosses a covered bridge somewhere near the beginning of the second act.
Garfield’s Halloween Adventure
“Gimme.” – Garfield
CBS pretty much had a monopoly on cartoon specials for the entirety of the twentieth century. This one originally aired on October 30, 1985.
In it, Garfield learns that Halloween is a night to go out and snare candy, so he and Odie dress up as pirates and do just that. Eventually, they make their way to an island and an old house where the most grizzled, grotesque character outside of Dick Tracy lives. The Old Man tells Garfield and Odie that the ghosts of pirates will return to his house that very night to reclaim their buried treasure. And they do. But fear not, Garfield and Odie make it back home before dawn.
The special begins as a comedy and becomes a horror story in the third act. Unheard of for a cartoon. It’s one of the best Garfield specials ever made. Plus it has songs performed by Lou Rawls. And if you don’t like that, then go watch a My Little Pony cartoon, because Garfield doesn’t want your attention.
What’s that? Do you want to buy it? To coin a phrase by the great Stephen King: tough titty said the kitty. Unless you have a VHS copy or taped it from TV, you’re out of luck. It rarely, if ever, airs on TV now. Walmart sold it exclusively a few years ago, but who knows if they still do. If you can find a copy, cling to it like Chris Christie would cling to the last Twinkie after the Apocalypse. It’s worth it.
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror I”
“Ohhhhhhh! I hate Halloween!” – Homer Simpson
Choosing the best of these yearly Halloween episodes is like choosing which Bond is the best: Sean Connery or Daniel Craig; it ain’t so easy. Especially because the show’s in its one millionth season. But limit the parameters to the first four “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, and you’re in business.
The first one originally aired on October 25, 1990. Despite each subsequent episode sharing the same title, this one is the only one to actually take place in a treehouse.
Two of its three segments are pretty damn scary. Especially the first one, “Bad Dream House.” In it, the Simpsons move into a possessed house where the walls bleed, and a disembodied voice urges them to slaughter each other.
Second is “Hungry are the Damned” and features the first appearance of world-domination-thirsty aliens, Kang and Kodos.
Third is an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, where a Bart-esque Raven torments Homer.
There was a DVD that collected a bunch of these episodes, and it may still be available. Otherwise, you’ll have to fork over close to forty bucks for the entire season on DVD in which this episode appears. Still, it’d be worth it; the writers were really on their game during this season.
Tiny Toon Adventures – “Night Ghoulery”
“Behold, a jury made from the most vile scum to ever walk the colonies: pirates, thieves, traitors, network executives!” – Mr. Scratch
“I still say The Chevy Chase Show could work.” – Ghost Executive
“You have entered the Acme Acre Zone.” – Babs Bunny
A springtime Halloween special. It originally aired in primetime on May 28, 1995. This special is loaded with allusions. References of Hold That Ghost to a lampoon of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” remind you just how genius cartoons were in the early-to-mid-’90s.
While researching, I discovered that there was a Nightmare Before Christmas parody cold-open that apparently only aired in certain markets. Western Pennsylvania wasn’t one of those markets. Just… repugnant.
And there was a new version of the theme song?! Maybe my VCR just really hated me.
But I digress.
The special is set up like an episode of the classic TV show Night Gallery, hosted by Rod Sterling. Here, the comedic whirlwind of Babs Bunny portrays Sterling. And Roger Moore. And many other people the kids won’t recognize. But the parents certainly will. Just want to say, Tress MacNeille (the voice of Babs) is the female Robin Williams.
The ’90s was the second golden age of television cartoons. By the time this special aired, the age was almost over. There are still decent cartoons on TV, but none of them can hold a dripping, lit candle to Tiny Toons and other shows produced by the legendary Tom Ruegger.
“The Tell-Tale Vacuum”
– brilliant, hilarious lampoon of the classic Poe story, starring a Plucky Duck and Hamton J. Pig
“Sneezer the Sneezy Ghost”
– parody of Casper with Li’l Sneezer and Furrball. The best visual gag is Furball suiting up as a Ghostbuster.
“The Devil Dog on the Moors”
– Babs and a tavern full of townsfolk recount the story of the Devil Dog. Contains the best rendition of “The Shingles Song” you’ll ever hear. Watch it here.
– parody of the Steven Spielberg classic Duel, starring Calamity Coyote and Li’l Beeper.
“The Devil and Daniel Webfoot”
– Plucky goes up against Mr. Scratch for possession of Montana Max’s soul.
“Hold That Duck”
– parody of the Abbott and Costello movie Hold That Ghost with Buster Bunny and Plucky.
“Night of the Living Dull”
– Gogo Dodo and the other Wackyland residents are besieged by persistent advertisers.
“Frankenmyra and Dizzygor”
– Elmyra (Cree Summer) at her finest.
“A Gremlin on the Wing”
– parody of the classic Twilight Zone episode, in which Plucky is once again the star.
The Real Ghostbusters – “When Halloween Was Forever”
“I don’t think those are lights.” – Dr. Peter Venkman
This season one episode originally aired on November 1, 1986. It is the first appearance of fan-favorite ghost Samhain, the jack-o’-lantern-headed, purple cloak-wearing Lord of Halloween. His mission is to make Halloween eternal, but all he really did was cause an entire generation of kids to forever mispronounce “Samhain.” Which sounds a lot better than “Sah-wen,” its actual pronunciation.
The Real Ghostbusters– “Halloween II 1/2”
“Then you are fools! And fools deserve a swift demise! Tonight, I shall make Halloween… Eternal!” – Samhain
This one actually aired on Halloween in 1987. The same mischievous goblins who brought forth Samhain the first time, sneak into the Ghostbusters firehouse during a Halloween party and open the Containment Unit. Pumpkinhead isn’t thrilled with being held captive for a year. He transforms the firehouse into a demonic structure, a refuge for spirits. The Ghostbusters end Samhain’s reign by rescuing Slimer and the Junior Ghostbusters, then knocking out the Keystone.
The Real Ghostbusters – “The Halloween Door”
“Magic, mystery, myth – they’re important.” – Dr. Egon Spengler
No Samhain in this one. The Ghostbusters made their primetime debut here on October 29, 1989. Probably made possible by that Summer’s release of Ghostbusters II.
A large-foreheaded scientist named Crowley (Chairman of Citizens United Against Halloween) tries to convince the Ghostbusters to help him do away with Halloween. Before he and his assistant are chased out of the firehouse by Slimer, they steal a PKE Meter which they use to calibrate their Anti-Halloween Machine. Once activated, it summons the giant wraith Boogaloo. If the Ghostbusters don’t stop him by midnight, Halloween will revert back to the ghosts.
Fun fact: Boogaloo is voiced by a member of The Bus Boys, a rockabilly band who sang “Cleanin’ Up The Town” in the first Ghostbusters movie.
“I ain’t scared-a no ghosts.” – Goofy
A theatrical short that premiered on December 24, 1937. I first saw this on TV then again on Halloween Haunts, a collection of Disney cartoons on VHS.
In it, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy are ghost exterminators hired to clear out a haunted house. What Mickey, Donald, and Goofy don’t know is that the ghosts hired them in order to have a few laughs at their expense.
You can watch it if you download the Mickey Video app from the Apple Store, you can watch it.
Trick or Treat
“So, when ghosts and goblins by the store
Ring the bell on your front door
You’d better not be stingy or
Your nightmares will come true.”
– “Trick or Treat” song
This theatrical short debuted on October 10, 1952. It’s part of the Halloween Haunts Disney VHS.
Huey, Dewey, and Louie trick or treat at their uncle Donald’s house where they suffer one of the speech-impaired duck’s tricks and end up leaving candy-less. Witch Hazel isn’t having that. She brews a potion that brings inanimate objects to life and puts them under her control. By the end, Donald gives up his candy, but not before having a few tricks played on him.
A true Halloween classic. Watch it and try not to sing the “Trick or Treat” song. You won’t be able to do it.
Goof Troop – “Hallo-weenies”
“Like, stay up all night in a cemetery! Or see a ghost! Or, or… something!” – Max
nother fine cartoon from the second golden age of television animation. This season one episode originally aired in September 1992.
Max and PJ want to have a killer Halloween, so when they hear that the bed & breakfast PJ’s father Pete plans to open is haunted, their night is set. It turns out the ghosts aren’t mean or evil – they’re the trapped spirits of a ragtime band who died before they could play their gig at the Spoonerville Mansion. In true Disney fashion, Max, PJ, and Goofy help the band complete their unfinished business, which allows them to move on to the afterlife.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
“There are three things I’ve learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” – Linus Van Pelt
Of course, this is on the list. How could it not? Especially since this year marks its fiftieth anniversary. This, the second Peanuts animated special, premiered on CBS on October 27, 1966, and has aired every year since.
We know the story. It’s ingrained in our collective unconscious. Yet we watch it year after year. Why? Because it’s not Halloween without Charlie Brown getting a bag full of rocks, or Snoopy playing the World War I Flying Ace, or Linus Van Pelt in his pumpkin patch.
This special is the very essence of Halloween. A celebration of what makes it so great. Dig that Vince Guaraldi jazz score, “The Great Pumpkin Waltz.” It’s Halloween musicalized. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.
There you go, several cartoons to watch for Halloween and none that will give you nightmares.