Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Halloween Tree

As today (November 1st) is the Day of the Dead, a time for remembering those who have passed away, we would like to remember great American writer Ray Bradbury (who died on June 5, 2012) with a review of a special that was based on one of his stories.

Premiered October 30, 1993

Wally, Ralph, Tom and Jenny in their costumes
Four kids in a small mid-western town meet up on Halloween.  Each is dressed as a Halloween archetype: Tom Skelton is dressed as a skeleton, Jenny as a witch, Ralph as a mummy and Wally as a (Quasimodo-esque) monster.  They plan to meet up with their friend Tom "Pip" Pipkin -- " Pipkin who could yell louder, sing better, and eat more popcorn. Pip, the greatest boy who ever lived."  Pip's favorite holiday is Halloween, so they are shocked when he doesn't meet up with them at the appointed time.

The kids look for Pip but can't find him
They think it must be Pip playing a Halloween trick on them, so they go to his house and find that there are no Halloween decorations out and that Pipkin is being loaded into an ambulance.  Pip left his friends a note saying he has appendicitis and asks them to start Halloween without him. He says he'll catch up to them.

Pip being loaded into the ambulance

Worried about their friend and unwilling to start the Halloween fun without him, the kids decide to run to the hospital, taking a short cut through the forest.  Suddenly, they see Pip running in front of them through the ravine.  Again, they wonder if Pip is playing some sort of Halloween prank.  Wally thinks he can see right through Pip, but the others brush this suggestion off as impossible.  The kids chase after Pipkin and stumble on a creepy, old mansion at the edge of the woods.

 Since this seems to be where Pip has been leading them, the children knock on the door which opens by itself and they are suddenly sucked into the interior of the house.   There they meet the mysterious Mr. Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud (Leonard Nimoy).

Moundshroud is disappointed that the children don't know the symbolic significance of their costumes or why Halloween is even celebrated.

Ghostly Pip startles Wally

 Pip's spirit is then seen running through the house and climbing up an amazing gnarled old tree that is decorated with jack o'lanterns.

The Halloween Tree
 Pip seizes a jack o'lantern that bears a striking resemblance to himself and flies away with it.   Mr. Moundshroud is upset at the theft of his "property" and sets off to track Pipkin down.   Tom and the others ask to be allowed to accompany him and help their friend.   Moundshroud initially refuses because of the kids' lack of knowledge about Halloween, but relents.  He says they'll make a game of it and hopefully solve three mysteries by the end of the night -- bringing Pip back, learning about why their costumes are significant and exploring the origins of Halloween.

The October Kite

Moundshroud creates an October kite with the help of the four children using old circus posters from the side of a dilapidated barn (the children serve as the kite's tail) and they begin a magical journey that spans 4,000 years in pursuit of Pipkin's wandering spirit.

As they travel to Halloweens past,  they learn about the origins of the holiday and their costumes.

Spirits of Ancient Egypt
They visit ancient Egypt and learn about mummification and celebrations for the dead there.

They witness rituals of Celtic Druids and learn of the origins of witches in old England.

Moundshroud helps build Notre Dame
 They travel to the unfinished Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (and finish it themselves in minutes, with a little magical assistance from Moundshroud) and learn of the use of monstrous gargoyles to ward off evil.

The kids riding on gargoyles

 Finally, they wend their way to Mexico where they learn of the Day of the Dead celebrations there featuring sugar skulls and overcoming the fear of death.

Do the children catch up with Pip and rescue his wandering spirit?  Will Moundshroud get his jack o'lantern back?  Will the three mysteries of the evening be solved?   You'll have to watch this special to find out!

RigbyMel says:

This special is based upon Bradbury's 1972 fantasy novel for kids, also called The Halloween Tree and Ray Bradbury himself wrote the screenplay and serves as narrator.   In my estimation, this is a huge plus for this special, and evidently it was a plus for Emmy voters as well as this feature length adaptation won the Emmy for "Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program" in 1994.

Although the Halloween history aspect of the special (and the book) is a little bit compressed and simplified, the story does serve as a good introduction to the subject for kids.   Moreover, the imagery of the narration is amazing (as one might expect from Ray Bradbury) -- Moundshroud's house is described as looking "as if it had been cut out of black marble with so many chimneys the roof seemed a vast cemetery" and the imagery accompanying it is note perfect.

Sometimes celebrity voice appearances in cartoons can be distracting,  but Leonard Nimoy does a fine character voice as Moundshroud.

As a person who loves Halloween and history and language,  I found this special (and the book upon which it is based) to be quite a lot of fun.    

RigbyMel's rating:
3 and 1/2 Jack O'Lanterns

J.A. Morris says:
A very good adaptation of a great children's book.  I'm in general agreement with RigbyMel about this special.  I'll second what she said about Nimoy.  He does a great job here, he never sounds like Spock.

 If I have any problems with The Halloween Tree, it's that the characters aren't very defined.  Like the costumes they wear, Tom, Wally, Jenny and Ralph are sort of archetypes.  And considering that the special was made in the 1990s, it would have been nice to see a little more diversity in the cast.  In the book, all the characters are boys, so at least they added Jenny to the mix.  But the special somewhat makes up for that with the explorations of other cultures.

Trick or treaters.

 The Halloween Tree was recently released on dvd as part of the Warner Archive Collection.  So in order to see it, you may have to buy it.  So I recommend you read the book first to decide if you want to get the dvd. 

Jenny jumps a hedge in her witch costume.

This special is recommended and its release on dvd serves as a nice tribute to a fantastic author. 

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 and 1/2 Jack O'Lanterns

1 comment:

bga said...

I need to read the book!