Animating Halloween: The Halloween Tree Review


Plot: Tom, Jenny, Ralph and Wally are preparing to trick-or-treat together on Halloween night. After they meet up, they wonder where the leader of their group, the supposed ‘greatest boy who ever lived’, Pip, is since he adores Halloween. They decide they cannot start Halloween without him, so they go to his house to see what’s up and arrive just in time to see Pip being loaded into an ambulance. A note on the door indicates that Pip is being rushed to the hospital with appendicitis.

As the group worries about their friend, they suddenly spot a ghostly looking Pip leading them through the spooky woods to a large and ominous house. When they arrive, they meet the odd Mr. Moundshroud and ask if he’s seen Pip. He denies it, but Pip’s spirit pops up again and rushes to a mysterious tree outside. It’s a tree covered in jack-o-lanterns with each face different from the last.

Pip grabs a pumpkin that is carved in his likeness and runs off into the sky. Moundshroud reveals that the pumpkin actually contains Pip’s soul, and he recruits the kids to join him in his quest to retrieve the pumpkin. Along the way, the kids learn about the history of Halloween and the lore behind the creatures they have dressed up as, but most importantly, they have to save Pip’s soul from the very same person who is teaching them these lessons.

Breakdown: Have you ever caught wind of one of these old shows/movies and think it looks really cool, everyone hails it as a classic and it is a staple on several ‘best’ lists, but you don’t remember ever seeing it? So when you finally sit down and watch it you believe you’re in for a new treat only to have that sneaking suspicion that you actually have watched it but don’t remember when you would have?

I didn’t think I had ever watched this movie when I put this on my list for this series, but about 15 minutes in I was bombarded with deja vu. There are numerous scenes in the first act where I could swear I’ve seen it before.

What’s even weirder is that I don’t remember a thing about the other two acts. I may have caught only the first part of this movie sometime when I was younger, but it’s bugging the hell out of me that I can’t remember when I’ve ever seen this.

That out of the way, I can see why so many people herald this as a true Halloween classic. There just aren’t many Halloween specials or movies out there that are meant to be heartwarming. They always want to go down the realm of horror, which is obviously understandable. You’d imagine that it’s very difficult to write an original and heartwarming tale about Halloween, but this knocks it out of the park.

Instead of focusing on the creepy aspects of Halloween or even the candy and whatnot, this movie opts to focus on the history of Halloween, the lore of several monsters and friendship. This movie really gives off one of those warm tales of friendship that were so popular in the 80’s, and the animation and music also seemed like this feature came right out of the 80’s but nope, 1993. Not to say that’s a bad thing, entirely, because I’d rather have that old 80’s feeling in a story like this.

I liked how they creatively yet somewhat realistically depicted Halloween throughout the ages and the significance and meaning of several popular Halloween icons likes monsters, witches, mummies and skeletons. However, I don’t really get the connection between the characters to their costumes, if they were meant to have such a thing.

The first segment focused on Ralph and brings us to ancient Egypt where we see what is essentially the original Halloween in The Feast of Ghosts, where people in ancient Egypt would actually dine with the corpses of their loved ones and leave food out on their stoops for spirits who had no families. How this pertains to Ralph, I don’t know. The main reason for this will be brought up later.

Next, we head to Stonehenge and find some Celtic druids and witches having a broom festival. This section is Jenny’s since her chosen costume was a witch. The connection back to Halloween here is that Halloween to them back then was actually a sort of new years since it was the end of summer and the start of winter.

Basically, she gets over her fear of heights here by flying a broom and saving Pip from falling, which makes no sense because 1) he’s a ghost and 2) he has the ability to fly.

Outside of that, they actually make Jenny dislike her chosen costume. Despite the fact that they explain witches here as incredibly smart people who decided to fake being magical for the sake of separating themselves from the rest of society (yeah, that’s what happened) Right before they leave they see that an angry mob has formed to eliminate the witches, and the last we see of them is a huge fire where I guess they all burned alive. Moundshroud asks if she wants to be a witch anymore and she says no.

After that, we head to France where it’s Wally’s turn to be the main character. He’s dressed up as a generic monster, so the place to go here would be Notre Dame. The cathedral is completed under Moundshroud’s magic, but Wally must call forth the monsters needed to make the gargoyles on the sides. It’s here where the significance of such monsters is revealed, which is that they were meant to ward off evil spirits on their version of Halloween, All Souls’ Night. I also don’t really see what sort of connection this has to Wally.

Finally, we head to Mexico where probably the most well-known version of Halloween, Dia de los muertos or Day of the Dead is happening. Everyone is dressed liked skeletal creatures, people are making coffins and selling dolls of funeral processions and skeletal figures are everywhere.

Contrary to what this may seem, the lesson of this day and Tom’s chosen costume as a skeleton are about celebrating life and facing death, to not give it the power to grasp you in fear and worry as you live. This might be a connection back to Pip since Tom must literally face corpses in order to reach his friend, but the actual connection back to Tom is still unclear.

The reason behind why these segments and ultimate connections don’t make a lot of sense to me is because the kids more or less act the same. They don’t really have differing personalities.

At best, Tom seems like he’s a secondary leader to their group (and wow when you hear his confession to Pip at the end of his segment…let me just say, you’ll probably think he’s kind of an ass)

Jenny’s….the girl….who is also smart I guess (Also, they hint that she might have a crush on Pip and Tom, so chalk up ‘love interest’ here too, even though they only mention it through dialogue. We never see any hints of this in how they act.)

Ralph is…..a bit of a dork, and I’m really only getting that because his one thing was people making fun of his glasses.

And Wally is fat and awkward? Oh yeah and Wally says ‘Oh my gosh’ about 7 million times over the course of the movie, if that counts.

Other than these pretty flimsy personality traits, they basically all act exactly the same. Nice, fascinated by everything they’re seeing and willing to do whatever it takes to save Pip. That’s why these segments don’t seem to fit well to me in terms of connecting them back to these characters. I liked learning about the meaning behind their costumes, both historically and psychologically, but when they try to make real connections with the characters who chose these costumes I just can’t see it.

Other than that, though, this movie is a fantastic ride that never has hiccups in pacing, has likable characters at least, displays true shows of friendship (in the end most of all) and is a creative story that I’ve never seen for a Halloween tale before. Plus, Moundshround is pretty memorable, but also a bit mysterious in that he seems to be on the side of the children, going out of his way to teach them all about Halloween and everything, yet he still wants to keep Pip’s soul on the Halloween tree.

That’s another thing; this whole plot is built on Moundshround having a contract with Pip and him claiming his soul because his time was up. The thing is, they never explain why Pip had such an arrangement with Moundshroud. He’s ‘the greatest boy who ever lived’, I don’t see why he’d make a deal with his soul on the line. The only thing I can surmise is that one of his friends’ lives was in danger so he might have made a deal to save them by putting his soul up as a wager.

Art and Animation-wise, this definitely shows its age….and its Hanna Barbera-ness. Yup, this was animated by good ol’ Hanna Barbera Productions and it really shows in several spots. It’s not that bad, but there are many points of really lazy animating, awkward shots and jumpy movements.

Music-wise, it’s nothing too amazing, but it was all beautifully scored with music that fit the theme just right.

Finally, I’d like to note that I liked how this was narrated like it was a storybook. This movie actually is based off of a book by Ray Bradbury, and Bradbury himself is the one narrating.

This story does deviate from the book in several respects. For instance, the original book was about eight boys and included many more creatures and locations to learn about while the movie only has three boys and a girl with four locales and creatures. However, I’ve never read the book so how much this affects you, I don’t know.

I like narration throughout stories like this because it really does feel like someone is reading you a bedtime story, and Mr. Bradbury definitely has a voice fitting for such a soothing storybook narration.

Bottom Line: This is certainly worthy of being called a Halloween classic. I can’t really think of any other stories like it, and while it may have its problems in the personalities of the main characters and spotty animation, it’s something I’d be glad to revisit Halloween after Halloween. In fact, I think I just found another Halloween staple to add to my traditions. Hm….maybe I should make my own Halloween tree. I wonder if they sell souls next to the seeds at the garden center.

Recommended Audience: There are numerous mentions of death and some kind of creepy imagery like eating dinner with a dead body. Also, a somewhat off-screen mass murder by fire. 7+?

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