In the last thirty years Halloween has become a major Holiday. Before the 70s, or so I'm told, Halloween was pretty much a one night celebration for kids. The major event consisted of kids going out trick or treating and maybe a school or some other organization would have a Halloween party or carnival. That was it. Then came along the animated Halloween special. And Halloween exploded until it gradually became the money drain and month-long obsession for overgrown kids that it is today. I jack o'latern you not. After the holiday specials became popular, advertisers started soaking the kids' parents for candy, costumes, holiday themed Happy Meals, food, juice drinks, and accessories. A related trend of the increased popularity of horror movies combined with the more kid oriented television and retail experience and combined to form the perfect storm. Today adult costumes near in retail sales to children costumes. Halloween is the 2nd largest holiday for candy and food retailers. In fact, dollar for dollar, Halloween is the biggest money maker, second only to Christmas. "How is that possible Mr. Loophole?" the kid in the back asks. Well, I'll tell you. See how that works? Ask and you will receive. Sit back my children, and you will hear the tale of the animated holiday special.
In the mid-60s, following the success of "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown"and "Rudolph", network execs wanted to capitalize on this new trend. The animated specials were a ratings boon and were starting to bring in some advertising bucks. The next kid-friendly holiday that seemed viable was Halloween. So in the grand tradition of striking while the iron is hot- the CBS network commissioned a Halloween special. Charles Schulz, Lee Mendelson, and Bill Melendez brought the hammer down with "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" in 1966. It was a hit, and the animated holiday special became a mainstay of network programming til the 90s. Others followed, and other holidays got the same treatment. If you were a kid in the 70s and 80s- ya know what I'm talking about. Every holiday, animated goodness descended from the great living room oracle that was the family television. You eagerly waited for the time when you could maybe stay up a little later to watch Rankin-Bass specials, Charlie Brown and the gang, Fat Albert and the Cosby kids, or any other of the numerous holiday jaunts that were available. And it wasn't just the heavy-hitters, everyone from Saturday morning series like the Smurfs and obscure one-shot specials were joining the prime-time party.
Unfortunately the same thing that influenced the networks into treating kids to this kool-aid of the airwaves, was the same thing that spelled their diminished presence in the 90s: capitalizing on trends. In the late 80s, Saturday morning just wasn't what it used to be. Networks noticed that revenues were down. Saturday morning was always a bit of gamble for them anyway. Something they continued to do, hoping that parents would go out and buy whatever toy,cereal, or other product their sugar-addled kid begged them for. However, the dollars weren't being heavily invested. The hot marketing trend was that teens and young adult were the next dollar demographic. Traditionally, this demographic was treated as having no disposable income. The 80s changed that. Older kids and 20-something adults had some money. I didn't. My friends didn't. But the marketing gurus smelled it somewhere. Today, that mind set still affects television and advertising. Hence, the saturated presence of Taco Bell commercials, The O.C., extreme sports, and the WB prime time lineup.
This new "trend" caused the networks to scale back Saturday morning and introduce "teen" oriented programming like Saved By the Bell. Yeah. Saturday morning's death knell was started by Screech. Riiight. Oh it started innocently enough, but the networks so little adverse effects, money-wise, and continued the trend. That spilled over into prime-time. Holiday specials began to go MIA. Kids had to go to Blockbuster to try and find at least a tape, if it existed. By the mid to late 90s, the animated special was pretty much a relic except for the few perfunctory airings of Charlie Brown and Frosty. Then, the kids began to fight back.
Kid-oriented networks like Nickolodeon and Cartoon Network became increasingly popular in the late 90s. All of the sudden there were Rugrats stuff everywhere. Blues Clues became a phenomenon. Scooby Doo revived on Cartoon Network and even a feature film was made. Old and new holiday specials were finding their way to cable television. Soon the cable networks began to discover that those kids in the 70s and 80s were having kids or headed in that direction, and the kids AND the parents eat this stuff up. What's my evidence, you boldly ask?
Look at the surge in animation since the late 90s for one thing. But perhaps the biggest piece of evidence is the DVD market and the internet. The fact that I, a 30-something adult, is sitting here extolling the virtues of Charlie's Brown is prima facie evidence. But you just take a moment and try to google, "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown" or look on Amazon or the Barnes and Noble website and see how many animated special DVD's are out there. Check out Ebay to see how much people are paying for old VHS copies of long forgotten specials. Go ahead, check it out. I'll wait right here until you get back.
Back already? I hope you get my point now. You have seen for yourself. Now, the major networks are still somewhat reluctant in putting more effort into showing the specials, but the effort is beginning. Just this year I have seen more advertisements for the airing of the "Great Pumpkin" than I can remember. And last Christmas, the number of animated specials increased than in years previous. And these are specials that have already been made. Did you catch that. It's a rerun! Put the show on, slap some new commercials in, and Whammo! More revenue. One catch for the networks, though. Since they scaled them back, the big nets have lost or sold the airing rights to most, except for the biggies like Charlie Brown, Garfield and a handful of Rankin -Bass specials. Now, the cable networks and DVD have the licenses. Oppsie! Lemmie ask you- was Screech really worth it? And that, kids, is the tale of the animated holiday special. Hopefully, they will continue their comeback. In the meantime, in honor of the season, we decided to mention a few of our favorites.
Now, we couldn't possibly include all Halloween specials in our review list, but today, we at the Shelf, present to you our top animated Halloween special picks, in no particular order. I have asked Wolfie to join me in today's "Top Shelf picks" list. So without further ado - here we go:
Top Shelf picks- Animated Halloween Special Edition.
Looney Tunes Howl-Oween Special
Disney's Halloween Treat
Fat Albert's Halloween Special
Garfield's Halloween Adventure
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
Looney Tunes Howl-Oween Special (1978)
There are quite a few critics of this special, if indeed this sort of thing generates critics. A splicing of old animated shorts that have something to do with Halloween, monsters, indeed, even fright- are blended with a sort of meta-narrative conducted by Bugs Bunny himself. What is particularly galling about this mis-mash is the newer animation as blatantly worse than the old stuff. Well- it doesn't particularly bother me, like the way a hangnail doesn't bother me unless I pick at it. I love Looney Tunes- so I overlooked it. It was great to see Bugs and the gang getting in the Halloween spirit. And it was a special that returned year after year ... for a while. It only exists on VHS now. A sad little relic of a forgotten time. Now that Looney Tunes are available on a glorious DVD collection it's nice to see the originals in their full glory. This one gets a sentimental vote.
Disney's Halloween Treat (1984)
This special is a cartoon medley that covers a lot of years of Disney animation to bring you some of their more "Halloween-ish" moments. I say "Halloween-ish" because there are several cartoon clips in the collection that offer only suspense or "cartoon fear" as their Halloween qualification. Example: Cruella DeVille chasing the 101 Dalmations - Though Cruella's face should be scary enough to allow it in the group, the scene itself never made me think of Halloween. There's a scene from "Peter Pan" and one from "Lady and the Tramp" as well ,but over all the film stays with the theme. My son and I have found a favorite in the clip where a gorilla (Ajax as he is called) is on the loose and pays a visit to Donald Duck and the nephews while Don is reading some scary stories. Another great moment comes later when Pluto dreams that he is sent to a "hell-like" location where he faces a jury of cats for his crimes against felines. The crowning scene of the whole film that really gets me in the Halloween mood is the section taken from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow where we follow Ichabod Crane from a dinner party ( where we enjoy the singing talents of Bing Crosby putting a warning to music) to the fateful ride across the covered bridge. That clip is also narrated by Bing Crosby who is a well loved favorite here at The Shelf. As a child, I watched a copy of this that my father taped off of T.V. right after "Private Eyes" which was in our movie count down. Every year it helped to put me in the mood and it will do the same for you. Overall this is a must watch.
Trivia Tid-Bit: There are two versions of this. One has a talking pumpkin hosting the film and the other has the magic mirror from "Snow White" as M.C. They both have the same cartoon clips but in different order. (I'm partial to the pumpkin myself.)
Fat Albert's Halloween Special (1977)
Fat Albert's Halloween Special didn't run for too many years, but if you watched the Cosby kids you loved the specials. Fat Albert and the gang dress up for Halloween and go trick or treat around the hood. They end up going to the movies but get kicked out for their nutty hijinks. The decide to hit up some houses for candy goodness, but end up getting stiffed and robbed by an old geezer who eats all their candy. They try to hit a spooky house, owned by an equally spooky lady. The gang freaks out and takes off, but one little sister stays behind, and it's up to the gang to save her. Do they learn about judging others? Is the lady really the meanest lady in town? Check it out and find out. I loved this special when I was a kid and it's great to see it out again on DVD! Bill Cosby does some great voice work as always and his close association with the show is apparent. I believe that you should watch this show. But you don't have to take my word for it. (Cue Levar Burton)
Garfield's Halloween Adventure ( 1985)
Garfield's Halloween Adventure is one of those essential cartoon specials to watch every year, much like "The Great Pumpkin". It is not a spectacular feet of cartoon writing but bears the must-haves of any Halloween special: Costumes, Ghosts, and Trick-or-Treating. Halloween is the perfect set up for Garfield because candy is being passed out like......well......candy. Once Garfield is informed of this sugar orgy he starts off by finding the perfect costume. After donning the Halloween duds, he and Odie go trick-or-treating only to get the bright idea of rowing a boat across a river to a bigger neighborhood. Of course this plan is stymied and dog/cat cartoon hilarity ensues. The pair wind up on an island with a spooky looking house and an even spookier looking old man inside who tells them tales of ghosts and buried pirate treasure before leaving the island in the animals domesticus' boat. Needless to say, our heroes witness the ghosts and dive into the river to get away from them. We discover that the orange fat-cat can't swim so Odie pulls him to shore ( Odie should've left him for all the abuse that Garfield swings towards him). Like all of these specials, there is a happy ending and it accomplishes it's goal: putting you in the Halloween mood. (That's Helloween to you Baravelli.) It's a classic that my kid enjoys, allowing me to engage in some cartoon nostalgia every year. Last but not least, as always Lou Rawls sings a couple of songs and if you are a fan, that's always a plus. Definitely a must-watch.
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
This is the mac daddy of all Halloween specials. It’s almost like it wouldn’t be Halloween without the candy, the costumes, or Charlie Brown telling everyone that he got a rock. It starts off pretty sweet for old Chuck, because everyone’s focus is on Linus and his ravings about the Great Pumpkin like Tom Cruise making the rounds about Scientology. For once, Chuck feels like he’s part of the crowd. Of course, that doesn’t last long. Once he hits the Trick or Treat circuit it's all downhill. In fact the whole Halloween Party scene where Lucy, Violet, and Patty submit Charlie Brown to even more humiliation. Is it his fault they didn't have Rogain in the 60s? They way these girls treat him is like watching an animated version of Heathers. Luckily, Christian Slater, uh...ahem, I mean Snoopy, does invade the party for some justice on Lucy, who subsequently tells us that she is not into "dog lips." Whatever gets you through the night, Lucy.
Later that night, the gang returns to find that Linus has gotten bubkus. In fact, Linus fainted when he thought the Great Pumpkin was rising out of the patch. Of course it was Snoop. Linus discovers an important life lesson- don't tick off the little lady. She got cheated out of treats, Linus; she ain't gonna let you forget that anytime soon, sweet baboo or not. He sticks to his guns, and it's up to Lucy to go out in bring him in from the cold. The next morning, Linus is pretty down, but definately not going to a psychiatrist- cause thats against the L.Ron Great Pumpkin way of life. Charlie Brown tells him not to worry about it, because he has "done some stupid things in his life." Not a way to convince the kiddies, Chuck. Linus then goes off the deep end, as if he was sitting on Oprah's couch. Despite everything, Linus stays the course. He's a true believer. Now, come on. You know this is the classic of classics. It is a must-see ever year. My kids and I take in at least three or four viewings. Sometimes Mom even joins us. Family classic all around. Do yourself a favor and pass it on to your kids.
Well that's it, shelfers. Let us know what you think in the comments section. Did we miss one of your favorites? If so, let us know. Look out for another weekend review from Baravelli.
Posted by J.C. Loophole & Wolf Flywheel
i've learned there are three things you don't discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.