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Dec. 14 – Heathcliff – “North Pole Cat”

 

north pole catHeathcliff, despite being a cat, shares a similarity to a certain cookie. And that cookie is Hydrox, the chocolate and cream sandwhich style cookie often mistaken for an Oreo. When I was a kid, Hydrox was the inferior Oreo, the knock-off, and I suspect that was true for a lot of people. The funny thing is, Hydrox predates Oreo. Nabisco essentially stole the concept and mass-produced its own version which eventually became more popular than the original. And how does this apply to Heathcliff? Well, most seem to view him as the Garfield knock-off even though he predates Garfield by a solid three years.

Heathcliff debuted in 1973 as a comic strip by George Gately. He became popular enough that he made the jump to animation in 1980 where he was given a voice by the late, great, Mel Blanc. Heathcliff, the cartoon series, consisted of two seasons of 13 episodes each. Heathcliff was paired up with some characters called The Ding-bats and later fellow comic character Marmaduke. The show was still shown for much of the 80s, but in 1984 a new cartoon was created by DiC also titled Heathcliff. This is the show I remember most from the 80s due in large part to the catchy theme song performed by Noam Kaniel. For this show, Heathcliff was paired up with some new characters called the Catillac Cats which is why this show is often referred to as Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats to differentiate it from the series that came before it. Each episode was organized into two segments, one Heathcliff and one Catillac Cats with the two rarely crossing over. The show produced 86 episodes and was shown in syndication into the 90s.

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Like a lot of 80s toon stars, Heathcliff first began life as a daily comic in print.

The final episode of the series is the one we’re going to talk about today. “North Pole Cat” is the lone Christmas segment and it stars Heathcliff. Wikipedia claims it originally aired on October 7, 1985 though IMDB simply lists it as airing in 1986. The plot borrows slightly from the much more viewed ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in which letters to Santa are returned and someone needs to figure out why. That someone is Heathcliff and he’s dragging his adversary Spike(Derek McGrath) along for the ride as the two make their way to the North Pole to figure out what’s going on.

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When Heathcliff returned to TV in 1984 he was joined by the Catillac Cats leaving that loser Marmaduke far behind.

The episode opens with Spike training with Muggsy (McGrath) so he can become a better bully, or “bull” as Muggsy calls him. He looks to test out his new skills on the unsuspecting mailman making his rounds who jumps with terror at the approach of the massive mut. Heathcliff watches from his stoop disapprovingly. He decides to get involved, and utilizing the mail carrier’s satchel like a matador does his red curtain, he tricks Spike into crashing into a number of obstacles before finally falling into an open manhole.

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This one wastes little time in getting going.

The mailman thanks Heathcliff and then hands over the mail. It seems both he and his owner, Iggy, have had their letters to Santa returned. I’m not sure what time of year it is as everything looks sunny and lovely, but I guess we can assume it’s sometime close to Christmas. The mailman adds this is the tenth such letter he’s had to deliver today and wonders if Santa has called it quits. Heathcliff wonders the same, but decides he needs to take action. Putting on a parka and some earmuffs, Heathcliff is ready to set off for the North Pole, but he needs a dog sled to get there. He decides to enlist Spike, and when he makes a crack about needing a red nose to pull Heathcliff’s sleigh the orange cat slaps one on him. He then produces a whip, and Spike is forced to go along with this plot.

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Santa’s rather bizarre workshop.

Heathcliff and Spike make tremendous time in getting to the North Pole. There they encounter a blizzard and the scene almost immediately shifts to Santa’s workshop. It looks like something designed by Dr. Seuss and inside an assembly line of toys is running. A cranky elf named Tuck seems intent on breaking toys rather than assembling them. An older elf calls him aside and wants to know why some of Santa’s letters were sent back. Tuck basically confesses and he’s proud to do it. He hates Christmas and thinks it’s a sham to get kids to behave all year to receive presents on one day. Well, this attitude has not gone unnoticed as the older elf informs Tuck that Santa has given him the order to let him go. Channeling another elf, Tuck declares he can’t be fired, for he quits, and takes his leave.

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Not much of a pole, is it?

Out in the snow, Heathcliff is rather mercilessly whipping Spike to get him to go faster until Spike decides he’s had enough. He stops and declares he won’t move another inch. Heathcliff just looks at him with an expression of bewilderment as he stands on the sleigh, which slowly starts to slide backwards. As it takes off down an incline, Spike gets pulled along with it smashing his head into a giant ice spike sticking up from the ground. Heathcliff declares this ice formation is the actual North Pole (I guess it doesn’t always need to resemble a candy cane) and congratulates Spike for finding it, who is looking a bit shell-shocked.

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This is Tuck and he’s pretty much a murderous asshole.

Tuck has taken notice of the cat and dog duo and decides to make a little mischief. He rolls a giant snowball at the pair which knocks them both out onto some ice. Heathcliff warns Spike the ice won’t hold forever (you’re at the North Pole, Heathcliff, it’s probably pretty safe) as the two slowly crawl back to land. Tuck is apparently intent on murdering them as he starts smashing the ice with a mallet. The ice beneath the pair splits open and Spike is left dancing on a small, floating, chunk while Heathcliff climbs all over him. Tuck then pelts the two with snowballs until they fall in. He tells them to have a nice day and squeezes a bicycle horn he has affixed to his belt for punctuation, I guess that’s his “thing.”

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Poor Spike is feeling a little chilly. This is actually rather sweet of Heathcliff to lend him his parka.

Heathcliff paddles a frozen Spike back to land and then kindly wraps Spike in his parka (which magically grows in size to fit Spike) and earmuffs before taking off after Tuck. Tuck continues to pelt him with snowballs forcing Heathcliff to build a giant snow fort for protection. Tuck apparently does the same as the two are now behind castle-like fortifications made of snow which of course makes me think of the classic Disney short Donald’s Snow Fight. Heathcliff quickly assembles a seesaw and puts a giant snowball on one end before smacking the other with a mallet he apparently keeps in his back pocket. The snowball smashes into Tuck’s wall forcing the elf to run away in terror as the ball of snow rolls after him.

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Remember kids, icicles will stop a rampaging polar bear.

Heathcliff, satisfied with himself for taking care of the elf, turns when he hears a loud growl. Poor Spike is being set on by a polar bear and Heathcliff dashes off to help his sometimes adversary. Spike is frozen with fear as the bear sniffs him. A scream from Tuck, who’s still being chased by a rolling ball of snow, causes Spike to yell which in turn causes the bear to rise to its hind legs and do the same. As Tuck runs by, the snowball finally gets him and the bear sending the two into a cave. Heathcliff and Spike look on as Tuck screams for help. Reasoning that Santa might be watching, Heathcliff decides to help the elf out by tossing a snowball at the cave entrance causing a bunch of icicles to drop down forming a cage which prevents the polar bear from leaving the cave.

Heathcliff and Spike then approach Tuck who is trying to catch his breath. He thanks them for the help, but Heathcliff is still pretty salty about all of the stuff Tuck tried before the rescue. Tuck apologizes, claiming he’s going through “some stuff” at the moment, before declaring he’ll help them see Santa. Heathcliff and Spike are amazed at the workshop while Tuck acts nonchalantly about the whole thing. The old elf from earlier doesn’t seem surprised to see Tuck return so soon. He remarks it’s a jungle out there, but Tuck corrects him by saying “Actually, it’s a blizzard,” honking that horn again (this guy sucks). Tuck then starts begging for his job back, but the old elf instructs him he’ll have to take his plea to the big boss man and gestures towards a door at the top of some stairs.

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The big man himself ready to pass judgement on Tuck and our heroes.

The trio enter and find Santa sitting at his desk. He’s a pretty warm and friendly sort of Santa who may or may not be voiced by Peter Cullen. He asks what they want and Tuck asks Heathcliff to explain it for him. Heathcliff holds up the letters and explains they were sent back. Tuck immediately fesses up to sending them back, then starts begging for his job back. Santa is a pretty generous guy and does indeed restore Tuck’s employment. He then thanks Heathcliff and Spike for returning the letters to him. Then he goes into his whole “Have you been good this year?” routine and Heathcliff and Spike both claim that they have. Each time one starts to make that claim, the other stomps on their foot. Santa gives a chuckle seemingly amused by their petty violence and tells them returning the letters essentially undoes whatever bad deeds they committed. He then points out they need a ride home and orders Tuck to saddle-up his team as the duo dance happily about going for a ride on Santa’s sleigh.

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Maybe the A-Team only flies on Christmas and these are the D-List reindeer.

Santa’s sleigh is apparently to be pulled by two shoddy looking reindeer, with one being blue for some reason. I don’t think it’s Christmas Eve, so I guess that explains why the full team isn’t needed. Before they depart, Santa asks Tuck if he wants to go for a ride too and the little, blue, elf perks up and climbs in excitedly. They whiz past the moon, as is customary, and Heathcliff points out his house to Santa. The town is now covered in snow and Santa deposits the two in the street. As Heathcliff turns to head home, Spike mentions how they’re supposed to be nice to each other and stuff. Heathcliff then gets nailed by a snowball. He turns to find Spike preparing to hurl another in his direction. A halo forms above his head, and quickly falls down around his neck as Heathcliff decides they don’t need to start being nice right away. The two then engage in a snowball fight as the episode comes to an end.

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I’d be shocked if this shot wasn’t in the episode.

“North Pole Cat” is a fairly run-of-the-mill Christmas special of a pretty run-of-the-mill 80s cartoon. My most enduring memory of this show was the theme song, and with good reason. It’s a catchy little number, and the cartoon that follows is largely unremarkable. The intro promises a character in Heathcliff who plays pranks, but he seems like more of a righteous character in this episode. There are attempts at one-liners, but they all fall flat. It’s also a bit odd the plot is essentially a homicidal elf who hates Christmas tries to kill Heathcliff for no reason, but then is in turn saved by the cat and returns to his old post. Why would Santa employ an attempted murderer? Is it because the life of a dog and cat mean nothing to him? For shame, Santa.

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If Heathcliff was really all about playing pranks on everyone then he’d definitely be spitting right now.

Mel Blanc’s performance is actually the best aspect of the show as it’s unique enough amongst his many performances to stand-out. The rest of the voice cast is fine, though like many shows of this era it’s really hard to figure out who is voicing who outside of the main characters. The role of Tuck sounds similar to Charlie Adler, but I could not find any indication that he did work on this show. It’s not unheard of for actors to go uncredited, but usually that stuff is revealed leaving me to believe whoever did the voice for Tuck (as well as the other one-off characters like Santa, the mailman, and head elf) is someone in the main cast. Which, for the record, included Danny Mann, Peter Cullen, Stanley Jones, Ted Zeigler, Derek McGrath, Danny Wells, Donna Christie, Jeannie Elias, and Marilyn Lightstone.

heathcliff snowball fight

The eternal battle rages on.

As a Christmas special, this one doesn’t try to do too much. It has one character in Tuck sort of come to appreciate the spirit of the holiday, but not really. Heathcliff and Spike don’t learn anything and Santa confirms you can undo a year of naughtiness with a single act at the last second. Visually, the look of Santa’s workshop is interesting, but we barely see anything. Santa himself looks fine and so do the elves, except Tuck who’s a bit odd looking. The overall animation is pretty much what you would expect of a DiC program. It’s better than what Hanna-Barbera were doing in the 70s, but not as good as what would follow. Both Spike and Heathcliff have a white rectangle on their nose that’s supposed to create the illusion of a round, shiny, nose, but often has no curve to it and really annoyed me. And the reindeer looked terrible, like malnourished donkeys with horns stapled to their heads.

If you wish to watch this one yourself this holiday season, and I don’t really recommend that you do, the easiest way is to simply plug it into YouTube. Heathcliff is not a bankable star these days so his cartoons are rather easy to find. You can pay for digital copies if you want to, though I don’t know why you would. After receiving sparse, partial, releases on DVD the entire series was released as a set in 2016 by Mill Creek Entertainment. It retails for about 12 bucks brand new so if Heathcliff is your kind of cat then why not get the whole show? Though if you really are into Heathcliff then you probably already own it and disagree with my take on this episode entirely. Either way, merry Christmas!


Dec. 5 – The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin: Winter Adventure

maxresdefault-12For a brief time in the mid 1980’s, there was a stuffed bear by the name of Teddy Ruxpin who basically owned Christmas. He wasn’t just an ordinary teddy bear, but a bear built around a cassette player with motors in his face. Insert one of his tapes and press play and Teddy comes alive to tell your kids a story, or terrify them which happened a lot. Teddy was the first hot item at Christmas that I can remember. He set off a craze not unlike the one for Tickle Me Elmo would a decade later. Parents did dirty, shameful things to secure one for their kid at Christmas, and it’s probably not surprising to hear that Teddy was able to make the jump from retail shelves to television screen.

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This is what people were going nuts for in 1986.

Creating a TV show based around Teddy Ruxpin was actually pretty easy. The stories and books that the toy worked with could be used to storyboard actual episodes of the cartoon without the need for much additional writing. The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin thus largely stayed close to the source material and was created with the idea of going straight to syndication. For a show with so many episodes, it’s kind of interesting how it just sort of faded away from the public consciousness about as quickly as it arrived. Now in 2017, there’s a new Teddy Ruxpin at retail, but as far as I know there are no plans for anything beyond that.

Full disclosure, this episode is not technically a Christmas episode. It’s based on a story of the same name from the books and basically described a holiday that might as well be Christmas. To get you up to speed, if you’re not familiar with the world of Teddy Ruxpin, Teddy and his caterpillar-like friend Grubby are far from home on an adventure to find a treasure. They’ve befriended a human named Newton Gimmick, an inventor who was willing to share his house with them. There they live in the shadow of Tweeg’s tower, a villainous sort who’s very protective of his recipes (seriously) and has it in for Gimmick and his new friends. He frequently fires off cannons at Gimmick’s house, but his aim is notoriously bad and thus no one actually fears him. When they’re not at home, Teddy and his friends search for treasure in Gimmick’s airship.

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Teddy and his pal Grubby.

The episode opens with Teddy, Grubby, and Gimmick who are all freezing in Gimmick’s house. They realize winter has arrived when they notice the falling snow (which has already accumulated a lot so apparently they aren’t very observant) and decide to venture out and play in the white stuff after breakfast. We then get a brief scene of the chief villain of the series, Quellor, who looks like a pile of robes with horns. He’s distressed about the incompetence around him. This guy is basically after the same treasure Teddy is searching for, and leads an organization called M.A.V.O. (Monster and Villains Organization) which Tweeg is trying to gain entry into. He’s not real important for this episode, and we quickly join up with Teddy and his friends as they play in the snow and sing a happy song.

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The villainous Tweeg, who’s mostly harmless despite his best efforts.

While outside, Teddy and Grubby discuss a custom from their homeward where at the onset of winter it becomes customary to give gifts and treats to those you call friends (which is where our Christmas feeling comes in). Gimmick is not familiar with the custom, but he loves it and suggests they carry on the tradition here. The trio head into the house to start baking and getting to work on making gifts while Tweeg pops up to spy on them. He notices they’re using buttermilk, and Tweeg’s character is convinced he has a recipe to convert buttermilk into gold, and so he becomes very suspicious of their actions and is convinced his subordinate, L.B., gave away his recipe.

Tweeg returns to his tower to scold L.B. He’s naturally confused by Tweeg’s anger and denies giving his formula away. Nevertheless, Tweeg kicks L.B. and his fellow bounders (little red creatures with no arms and a horn on their head) out of his tower during which we get a canned sound effect that Hannah Barbera used to use all of the time on The Flintstones when Fred would start running. After the bounders leave, some M.A.V.O. goons show up. Their boss wants Tweeg’s formula and they tie him up and start trashing his tower in search of the recipe. They’re brazenly stupid and some-what proud of it. There’s a lot of attempts at humor, but I’m not sure any are laughing. There’s even our first audio screw up where the wrong voice comes out of the wrong character. During all of this, Tweeg is tied up and mortified about how his stuff is getting destroyed. L.B. shows up by the window, for no apparent reason other than the writers wanted him to, and basically mocks Tweeg as he leaves him to his fate.

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L.B. the bounder. Notice the “Return to Tweeg” stamp on the cannon balls.

Meanwhile, Teddy, Grubby, and Gimmick are busy putting together their gifts. When Gimmick steps out he warns the other two not to go poking around in the closet. Grubby wants to almost the second the door shuts, but Teddy, playing the straight man, lets him know that isn’t okay and Grubby doesn’t put up a fight. The bounders soon gather around Gimmick’s house. They’ve apparently grown to miss Tweeg already, since he was the only boss they ever had. Teddy, Gimmick, and Grubby soon emerge from the house with their gifts for their friends and head straight for the airship, completely oblivious to the four bounders gathered outside the house (they literally walk right past them without batting an eye, bright red creatures against a white backdrop). They take off and the bounders head inside.

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Teddy and friends deliver gifts to the fobs.

The heroes take to the sky and embark on a musical montage of them giving out gifts to their friends. We get brief cameos from the fobs (little fuzzy bird-rats that speak like Alvin and the Chipmunks), the Wooly Whatsit, the Grunges, and Leota the wood sprite. Afterwards, they return home to find the house all lit up and the back door open, the bounders having just escaped detection. Apparently they just needed some supplies to create a dummy that looks like Tweeg. How they managed to stick one together without arms is a true mystery. They return to Tweeg’s tower to find everyone asleep and Tweeg still tied up. The goons apparently fell asleep after wrecking Tweeg’s kitchen. After trading insults, L.B. agrees to free Tweeg and they replace him with the dummy. The monsters awake soon after they leave and happily scoop up the dummy to bring to Quellor.

Back at Gimmick’s house, the friends are exchanging gifts and are all really happy with the gifts they receive from each other. Soon they’re surprised by a knock on the door and all of their friends from the earlier montage show up with gifts for them. The gift-giving song from earlier is reprised and we get our dose of warm, Christmas feelings even though no one utters the word Christmas. Tweeg, in a very Grinch-like moment, hears the singing and decides he needs to fire a canon at the commotion. The resulting canon blast creates an avalanche and Tweeg and his co-horts are buried in the tower. Teddy and company load up the airship and bring Tweeg some hot chocolate and seem to sincerely give him a shovel to dig his way out of the mess, rather than in a mocking fashion, before departing with a “see you in the spring.”

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Gimmick, Teddy, and Grubby deliver a gift to Leota.

After they leave, Tweeg apparently was able to free himself and is bit by the gift-giving bug and gives the bounders snow hats for saving him early. They reward him by saying his name properly (all episode they’d call him something like Dweeb instead of Tweeg, a running gag throughout every episode). They comment on how this is the nicest day they’ve had, then vow to go back to being mean and nasty the next day. L.B. remarks how all of this niceness can make a guy gag. We then take a quick trip to M.O.V.A. headquarters where Quellor is gifted with Tweeg, which turns out to be the dummy. He’s irritated and demands the recipe book with the buttermilk to gold recipe. His lackeys soon realize they used the recipe book as wrapping paper for the dummy, but assure their boss they can glue it back together. Quellor then slumps back to his throne wondering why he didn’t just collect stamps instead of dummies before going out with a “Why me?” as so many 80s cartoons villains before him.

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The source material.

That’s Teddy Ruxpin’s “Winter Adventure.” It basically feels like an 80s time capsule with typical animation, humor, and characters from that era. Virtually all of the enemies are dumb, and the only ones with an ounce of intelligence seem to only rely on imbeciles to do their dirty work. Meanwhile Teddy and his friends are pretty sterile. I find Teddy’s voice so saccharine that it’s grating. It’s the same voice actor as the toy, but in that format it never stuck out as much. This episode is mostly in-line with the book it’s sourced from. I should know as I still have the copy from my youth. Basically all of the stuff with Tweeg and M.O.V.A. was added for television as the book was basically just concerned with the gift-giving concept. The songs are even from there as well, and to be honest, they don’t bother me. I even kind of like them, but maybe that’s nostalgia.

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If you want more Teddy, the entire series is available on DVD. All 65 episodes. Just make sure it’s what you really want.

The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin obviously are no longer on television and haven’t been for a number of years. If you’re interested in checking out “Winter Adventure” you can either watch it on youtube or purchase the DVD set of the entire series. You’re not likely to find it in a big box store, but amazon carries it. I can’t really recommend the DVD set. It’s 65 episodes of a forgettable cartoon with a pretty subpar transfer (I’m sure the masters weren’t in the best working condition since who ever thought this show would merit a home video release down the line?) and no special features. The packaging is kind of nice relying on some stock images from the books. The show was presented in a serialized format, so plot points carry over from episode to another which is pretty cool for an 80s cartoon. It’s still not enough to make it very interesting, so unless you’re really nostalgic for the show or have a kid that somehow got into Teddy Ruxpin, there’s almost no reason to purchase the set. Teddy Ruxpin would eventually tackle Christmas properly in the books, but never on television. Still, this feels like a Christmas special, which is why it’s here.

 


Essential Halloween Viewing

When it comes to holiday themed television specials and films, Christmas leads the way with its countless amount. Coming in second is likely Halloween. Unlike Christmas, there usually isn’t some serious undercurrent to Halloween specials. It also feels less sinister when it comes to marketing, even though there’s certainly lots of money to be made off of Halloween by costume and candy suppliers. For the most part, Halloween is just fun and it’s emphasis on scares helps to distinguish it from other holidays. Like many people, I enjoy a good Halloween special whenever the season rolls around, but with so many out there it can be hard to make time for them all in what amounts to only a month. There are some modern ones out there, like the entertaining Toy Story of Terror, but for the most part I like to watch the specials I watched as a kid. Without further adieu, here’s The Nostalgia Spot’s Halloween viewing guide.

Mickey Mouse in “Lonesome Ghosts”

220px-Lonesome_GhostsHere’s an oldie from way back in 1937, something that would have entertained my adolescent grandfather. Since I only discovered it a few years back, it’s not exactly something I remember from my childhood but certainly fits the theme of this blog. In this cartoon, professional ghost exterminators Mickey, Donald, and Goofy investigate paranormal activities in an old house. The twist is that the trio were hired by the ghosts themselves because no one ever enters their haunted house anymore and they’re just plain bored. Less creepy than it is humorous, it’s mostly a slapstick affair as the ghosts play tricks on their would-be exterminators. It’s an entertaining short, and one can’t help but wonder if it maybe partly inspired Ghostbuster, or at least the theme song, especially when Goofy declares, “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!” The short has been shown on television numerous times over the years as part of Halloween specials. It was also re-released to theaters in the 1960’s and has been released on VHS and DVD as well. The easiest way to see it these days is probably youtube.

Donald Duck in “Trick or Treat”

By the late 40’s and into the 1950’s, Donald Duck was basically the only classic Disney character still receiving new short films. There just wasn’t much money in the format anymore and the budget for each short was scaled back considerably. For the 1952 short “Trick or Treat,” Disney decided to increase the budget to give Donald a proper Halloween special. It has its own theme song and the animation is quite nicely done in comparison with other shorts from around that time. In this one, Donald’s nephews Huey, Duey, and Louie are out trick or treating and come upon their uncle’s house. When the boys knock on his door and request their tricks or treats, Donald (not surprisingly) elects trick. A witch, Witch Hazel, passing by happens to see this and decides to help the boys get their treats out of Donald. Apparently, the Halloween spirit does not include the tricks portion of the ages old phrase. Hazel uses her magic on Donald and a lot of physical comedy follows. Like “Lonesome Ghosts,” this one has been released on VHS and DVD over the years either on Halloween compilations or as a bonus feature with certain films. There’s a chance it could pop up on one of the Disney channels this Halloween, but if you want to see it better head to youtube.

The Real Ghostbusters – “When Halloween Was Forever”

Samhain, the spirit of Halloween!

Samhain, the spirit of Halloween!

A cartoon that centers around four guys (and a ghost) who hunt down paranormal creatures naturally lends itself well to Halloween. Pretty much any episode could qualify for such a holiday, but the episode “When Halloween Was Forever” happens to deal with the holiday directly. This episode features the ghost Samhain, the spirit of Halloween, who decides to freeze time on Halloween night so that it lasts forever. Since Halloween is said to be derived from the Pagan holiday Samhain, it’s a nice touch to name the ghost after it. The Real Ghostbusters was a DIC production and if you’re familiar with any of their cartoons from the 80’s then you likely know what to expect out of the audio and animation. It’s standard for the era, with the soundtrack being appropriately spooky. While no episode of this cartoon can come close to matching the film it was based on, it’s actually not a bad show and time has been far kinder to it than it has the more popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Ren & Stimpy – “Haunted House”

The premise for this one is conventional, Ren and Stimpy stumble upon a creepy looking house and, in need of shelter for the night, decide to head inside. Unbeknownst to them, the house is haunted and a malicious ghost lurks inside who can’t wait to scare them. The twist here is that Ren and Stimpy are seemingly in on the joke as they break the fourth wall and end up impervious to the ghost’s efforts. This naturally frustrates the ghost, to the point that he becomes depressed and suicidal (apparently, ghosts can “die” in Ren and Stimpy’s world). Highlights of the episode include a Psycho shower-scene parody and the previously mentioned fourth-wall breaking remarks (“This looks like a good place to kill 12 minutes!”). There’s also the usual random humor found in a Ren and Stimpy short that people either find amusing or stupid. This one is unlikely to show up on television so anyone looking to watch it will either have to pick it up on DVD or turn to the internet. Be warned, the version found on the official Ren & Stimpy Volume 1 is censored with the Bloody Head Fairy bit removed completely. Apparently it was considered too gruesome after the fact.

Beavis and Butt-Head – “Bungholio: ┬áLord of the Harvest”

Beavis and Butt-Head on a quest for candy.

Beavis and Butt-Head on a quest for candy.

Sometimes referred to as “Buttoween,” this episode features everyone’s favorite dim-witted duo as they go trick or treating in search of free candy. Since they weren’t even aware Halloween was coming until trick or treaters showed up at their house, the two do not have costumes so Butt-Head covers his head in cheese sauce (“I’m nachos.”) while Beavis wears his underwear on his head (“I’m a nad!”). Beavis eventually has too much sugar and his alter-ego, The Great Cornholio, shows itself. The two soon find themselves on a farm ripped right from a slasher film. Most of the humor comes from watching the two try and get some candy in the first part of the episode, while the second part puts the two in an obvious bad situation that they’re apparently oblivious to. The animation is pretty terrible, but anyone who has seen an episode of Beavis and Butt-Head before should already be aware of this. It’s stupid humor, but it is pretty funny. You either like it or you don’t.

South Park – “Pinkeye”

South Park is more known for its numerous Christmas specials, but early seasons often featured other holiday themed episodes. The first season episode, “Pinkeye,” remains the show’s top Halloween special. In this one, a mishap with worcestershire sauce causes a dead Kenny to turned into a zombie. Kenny, as patient zero, spreads a zombie plague all through-out South Park that a clueless doctor mistakes as a severe case of pinkeye. It’s up to Chef and the boys to put a stop to the zombie menace so they can go trick or treating and get some candy. The episode includes some notable gags such as Cartman’s mom on the cover of Crack Whore Magazine and a memorable parody of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” It also features Cartman’s attempt to find a non-offensive Halloween costume.

The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror V”

Treehouse of Horror V is best-remembered for its parody of Stephen King's "The Shining."

Treehouse of Horror V is best-remembered for its parody of Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

The Simpsons Halloween special, Treehouse of Horror, has become an annual tradition. With 24 to choose from, some may consider it a daunting task to select only one. As is the case with most things “Simpsons,” the earlier episodes are usually considered the better, and for me, it came down to a choice between Treehouse of Horror II and V. V is just slightly stronger and a little more horror-themed than the more sci-fi II. Treehouse of Horror V features parodies of The Shining, The Sound of Thunder, and Soylent Green. In the first segment, “The Shinning,” the Simpsons are basically dropped into the plot of its source material and includes the memorable line “No beer and no TV make Homer go something, something.” The second segment, “Time and Punishment,” puts a time-traveling toaster in Homer’s hands resulting in Homer unintentionally creating a new present time ruled by Flanders. The third segment, “Nightmare Cafeteria,” has Principal Skinner resort to cannibalism of the student body to cope with budget cuts at Springfield Elementary. If a Treehouse of Horror is able to hit on two out of three, it’s generally considered a good iteration of the venerable television special, but Treehouse of Horror V is the rare one where all three are pretty entertaining. With The Simpsons now being featured on the FXX channel, hopefully a Treehouse of Horror marathon is in the near future. The 25th version of the special is set to air tonight.


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