October has to be my favorite month of the year. It starts with the changing leaves of Autumn, my birthday falls right in the middle of it, and it’s cap-stoned by Halloween – my absolute favorite holiday of all time.
Sadly, most so-called ‘Halloween movies’ are just standard horror films which leave me cold. I want to watch a Halloween movie ABOUT Halloween (no, the movie Halloween doesn’t count).
Thankfully, I found a small list of films that I feel capture the true spirit of the day (or night as you see fit) with out the need for overused horror tropes. And by odd coincidence, they all happen to be animated features.
The Halloween Tree
This was the Halloween movie I grew up with – not The Nightmare Before Christmas, Not It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; THIS.
The plot involves a quartet of kids getting ready for trick or treating with their mutual pal Pip when they see him getting rushed to the hospital for acute appendicitis. Upon finding what appears to be Pip’s Ghost (suggesting he died before he could receive his appendectomy) they follow him to the estate of Mr. Moundshroud (played wonderfully by Leonard Nimoy) which starts a chase for Pip to save his life.
This plot serves only as a driving force. The real point of the movie is to have the kids, and the audience by extension, learn the cultural significance of Halloween as well as the symbolic meanings behind their choice of costumes.
This movie serves as a nice history lesson on All Hallows Eve as well as a touching story about self-discovery and confronting the fear of death.
Witch’s Night Out
This would be the ‘odd duck’ choice on this list.
The story focuses primarily on an aging witch (again played wonderfully, this time by Gilda Radner) upset that so few people cherish Halloween. This is further illustrated by how the adults of the nearby town scoff at modern Halloween traditions in favor of a more “meaningful” Halloween. Our witch finds a few children who still have the spirit of the night in them however and, with their help, teaches the true purpose of Halloween.
According to this movie, and my own personal beliefs, Halloween is the one night that we can allow ourselves to become the things that we won’t allow ourselves to be the rest of the year. That’s why we dress up as all manner of monsters and fictional characters. It’s a night of grand fantasy and high adventure and we should all embrace it.
Sure the animation is rough and the voice acting is a bit hit or miss, but this movie and it’s Christmas themed predecessor, The Gift of Winter, are heart-warming tales worth watching.
Halloween Is Grinch Night
Dr. Seuss was great at weaving subtle messages and life lessons into his work. For example, Green Eggs and Ham is about trying new things, while The Butter Battle Book serves as a cautionary tale of the nuclear arms race.
In this film however, we see the return of The Grinch played by Hans Conried (who you may know better as either Snideley Whiplash from The Bullwinkle Show or Captain Hook from Disney’s Peter Pan) who serves as the embodiment of fear. The story’s main focus is on a small Who named Euchariah who confronts The Grinch and all of the various fears he has to offer to stop him from reaching the other Whos.
The theme of confronting fear lends itself well to a Halloween story. The one moment that illustrates this best is the infamous ‘Paraphernalia Wagon’ scene. Look carefully and you’ll see allusions to several common childhood fears and general phobias that assault Euchariah without any signs of slowing.
By recognizing fear, you recognize potential danger. By facing it knowing the danger it may carry in the name of the greater good, you demonstrate courage. This is a lesson that could only be appreciated the way Dr. Seuss delivers it here.