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A Salute to Disney's Halloween Television Specials

"Serpents and spiders, tail of a rat... call in the spirits, wherever they're at." - Madame Leota


By Aaron Willcott

The days are getting shorter, and the harvest is upon us. It's the time of year when children dress up and go knocking on doors in the hopes of bringing home overflowing bags of candy. Halloween is looming upon us, and everyone has traditions they enjoy looking forward to.
Whether it is putting together a costume, decorating the house in cobwebs and skeletons, or handing out candy to excited and innocent trick-or-treaters, there is so much fun to be had during this holiday...and not just in frightful scares.

As this All Hallow's Eve approaches, I find myself remembering the old TV specials that used to air on The Disney Channel when I was a kid. Had it not been for the spooky holiday programming, I might never have seen The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949), Lonesome Ghosts (1937), and Trick or Treat (1952). Those childhood connections with familiar Disney characters are tough for today's youth to make. Nowadays, children must actively seek out expensive DVDs (some of which are out-of-print) in order to even see parts of these old Disney specials. Gone are the days when you could look forward to the yearly tradition of these Disney television programs as a family because lest we forget... most of these cartoons were seen by our parents when they were kids and thus offered nostalgia for them while pure happy entertainment for us kids.

This Halloween season, I invite readers to join me on a trip down memory lane. Enjoy reliving these old Disney Halloween made-for-TV movies and specials all over again. And if it is your first time hearing about these programs, then I hope you'll appreciate some of the Halloween traditions I grew up with.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" supplements the Ichabod half of Disney's 1949 feature "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" with an animated biography of author Washington Irving.

THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW (1955)

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was originally released as part of the 1949 feature film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. In this episode of the anthology series (first aired October 26, 1955), Walt Disney introduces us to the life of Washington Irving, the author of the Sleepy Hollow tale. "Most of us are well acquainted with Ichabod Crane and the legend of Sleepy Hollow," Walt says, "a story which has entertained and delighted readers for a century and a half. But some of us may be less familiar with the man who created the legend of Sleepy Hollow and whose literary genius brought him international recognition as America's first professional man of letters." So before hearing Bing Crosby narrate for us the story of Sleepy Hollow, we are given a brief biography of Washington Irving.

Both the Irving biography and the Sleepy Hollow short are vintage Disney at its wholesome best. Simultaneously entertaining and educational, this program would be aired several times throughout the following decades on the anthology series and would also air on The Disney Channel for several years around the Halloween season.

Later edited into "Disney's Greatest Villains", Disneyland episode "Our Unsung Villains" has Paul Conried voicing both the Magic Mirror and, in recycled "Peter Pan" footage, Captain Hook.

OUR UNSUNG VILLAINS (1956) and DISNEY'S GREATEST VILLAINS (1977)

Disney's Greatest Villains originally aired on the anthology series on May 5, 1977. This TV special was actually an edited version of 1956 "Disneyland" episode "Our Unsung Villains."
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Hosted by the Magic Mirror, this is a compilation of Disney films highlighting the most "misjudged" character... the villain. As the Magic Mirror states, "He's the fellow who does his best to give you his worst." After all, without the villains who would need a hero?

The Magic Mirror himself was portrayed by Hans Conried, the voice of Captain Hook, which only adds to the familiar nostalgia in this TV show. Narrating the show, Conried treats us to a series of dark or spooky segments including The Three Little Wolves (1936) and The Wicked Queen's Transformation into the Old Hag from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Both Disney's Greatest Villains and "Our Unsung Villains" would air several times throughout the anthology series' run and also on The Disney Channel at Halloweentime.

Walt Disney interacts with the Magic Mirror in the 1957 Disneyland anthology episode "All About Magic."

ALL ABOUT MAGIC (1957)

"All About Magic" is one of those really fun Walt-era "Disneyland" anthology episodes. The program starts by having Walt take us down into the studio basement where all the magical props are displayed for our viewing, including a headless princess who comes to life, and a magic top hat that releases balloons, a rabbit and a white dove... all to the magic words "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo". Walt then calls upon the slave in the Magic Mirror (played again by Hans Conried) to take over as host of the program. The result is a compilation of magical themed programming including the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment from Fantasia (1940).

While "All About Magic" was not originally intended to be a Halloween episode (it premiered in January of 1957), it manages to be spooky enough to have become another annual Halloween season staple on the anthology series and The Disney Channel.

Comedy actor Jonathan Winters pulls double duty as a night watchmen and John "Jack" O'Lantern in 1977 Disney television special "Halloween Hall o' Fame."

HALLOWEEN HALL O' FAME (1977)

Halloween Hall O' Fame is not just your typical compilation program. A lot more thought and production work went into this. The basis of the special is that a night watchman (played hilariously by Jonathan Winters) is making the rounds at the Disney Studios.
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He enters the prop department where a crystal ball housing the spirit of John O'Lantern (nicknamed "Jack O' Lantern" and also played by Winters) comes to life and co-hosts the show as the two argue about the lore behind the Halloween holiday. Clips from spooky shorts like Trick or Treat and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow are shown.

Disney's makeup department was still top of the line during the 1970s and 1980s. The same team that turned Dean Jones into the Shaggy D.A. and Bill Cosby into the devilishly scary Barney Satin was able to transform Jonathan Winters into Jack O' Lantern. The script is smart and Winters is at his best. At one point, Jack says something like, "The only thing scary about Halloween these days is the cavities the kids are going to get from eatin' all that candy." Halloween Hall O' Fame also has somewhat of a storyline tying all of the clips together, making this one very fun and engaging special. Like "All About Magic", this compilation became another Halloween TV fixture, airing annually on The Disney Channel.

A modern boy is haunted by a glowing blue Civil War era ghost in the remembered yet forgotten 1978 Disney television movie "Child of Glass."

CHILD OF GLASS (1978)

Child of Glass is a terrific made-for-TV movie. A boy named Alexander Ainsworth (the late Steve Shaw) and his family move into an old Southern mansion. Not long after, Alexander is visited by the spirit of a young girl (Olivia Barash) who claims to be Inez Dumaine, a girl who died in 1862. She tells him that he has until midnight on Halloween to solve a riddle that will help unlock the secrets of how Inez died. If he doesn't, he will be haunted for the rest of his life.

Filmed on location in Danville, Kentucky, Child of Glass has an authentic feel to it. It debuted as a 2-hour installment of the anthology series, then called "The Wonderful World of Disney", on May 14, 1978. It also aired several times on The Disney Channel, particularly around Halloween. It is a wonderfully spooky movie that is never truly scary despite the eerie plot. The blue images of the ghosts, the riddle told in rhyme, and the chiming tune of "Frθre Jacques" are some of the most memorable magical moments in this sorely missed Disney treat.

1982 TV special "Disney's Halloween Treat" is hosted by a talking pumpkin and samples spooky Disney feature animation of the past.

DISNEY'S HALLOWEEN TREAT (1982)

Disney's Halloween Treat was another compilation program created for the anthology series (when the title was shortened to just "Walt Disney"). This one first aired on October 30, 1982 and is hosted by a talking pumpkin. After an eerie opening title song ("Disney's Halloween Treat" written by John Debney with lyrics by Galen Brandt) we are shown clips of Disney animation. Scenes such as the wizards duel from The Sword in the Stone (1963), the Night on Bald Mountain sequence from Fantasia, and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad are presented with tons of animated clips and shorts throughout.

The Magic Mirror returns alongside a black cat in 1983 special "A Disney Halloween."

A DISNEY HALLOWEEN (1983)

This special aired on October 1, 1983, just six months after The Disney Channel debuted. A Disney Halloween aired almost every year thereafter and thus has been in the memories of many children who grew up in the '80s and '90s. This is basically an expanded version of Disney's Halloween Treat without the pumpkin host. After the same eerie opening song, we are shown clips of Disney animation hosted by our friend, the Magic Mirror (using re-edited vintage footage of Hans Conried). Running an hour and a half, this compilation special is the quintessential Halloween program offering both Disney villains and Halloween themed cartoons in the Disney library. In 1992, a version of this program aired alongside a television showing of Tim Burton's little seen live-action short film, Frankenweenie (1984), soon to be adapted into a stop-motion feature.

1980s child stars Kristy Swanson, David Faustino, and Benji Gregory are the kids, Richard Masur and Mimi Kennedy the parents in "Mr. Boogedy", an hour-long special vividly remembered by all who saw it as kids.

MR. BOOGEDY (1986)

Mr. Boogedy is one of those legendary movies that everyone remembers, but no one can seem to find a copy of. It has been years since it last aired on television,
and as of this writing there has never been an official VHS/Laserdisc/DVD release here in the United States (though avid collectors and eBay watchers will know that a PAL VHS was available briefly in Australia).

The story follows the Davis family who move into an old house in Lucifer Falls. What they don't expect is that their new house is haunted by a ghost named Mr. Boogedy and holds the key to a 200-year-old mystery involving a woman and her son trapped in another dimension.

During the first year of "The Disney Sunday Movie" anthology series, Disney relied heavily on a number of unsold TV show pilots to fill the Sunday evening anthology time slots (e.g. 2½ Dads, I-Man, Casebusters, My Town, etc.). The 1-hour Mr. Boogedy was also made as a pilot for a series that never got picked up. It premiered on April 20, 1986. Its reception led not only to several subsequent seasonal airings, but also a two-hour sequel.

Mr. Boogedy is back in the 1987 sequel movie "Bride of Boogedy." (So are Richard Masur and Mimi Kennedy as Mr. and Mrs. Davis.)

BRIDE OF BOOGEDY (1987)

A direct sequel to the 1986 surprise hit pilot-turned-movie Mr. Boogedy, Bride of Boogedy continues the story of the ghost from Lucifer Falls who still disrupts the Davis Family.
Even though he was defeated, Mr. Boogedy makes it back when he puts Mr. Davis under his spell to retrieve his lost magical cloak from a secret doorway in their house. Upon getting his powers back, Boogedy terrorizes the town and tries to take Mrs. Davis as his bride (cleverly spoofing Elsa Lanchester's look in 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein).

Bride of Boogedy originally aired on April 12, 1987. Though no such series was ever made from this movie and its pilot predecessor, Bride would also air around Halloween time for years to come. The town-square of Lucifer Falls was shot on the still standing set from the 1983 theatrical film Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bride of Boogedy has also never had a home video release here in the United States, but collectors can tell you that a PAL VHS was released in Europe.

DISNEY'S DTV MONSTER HITS (1987)

Disney's DTV was original programming exclusively made for The Disney Channel to air between shows and movies.
Disney's take on the then-thriving MTV music video, the first of these aired on May 5, 1984. The concept for the series was basically to take a hit song and set Disney clips to the music. Anything in the Disney library was fair game, and the result was a memorable and fun interlude between Disney Channel programs.

On October 30, 1987, Disney created an hour long DTV Halloween special to air on NBC. Hosted by the Magic Mirror (this time played by Ferris Bueller alum Jeffrey Jones), Disney's DTV Monster Hits included music videos for such Halloween favorites as Michael Jackson's "Thriller", Ray Parker, Jr.'s "Ghostbusters", and Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash". While the special never aired again in its entirety to my knowledge, Disney Channel would air the individual videos around Halloween for years to come.


While the tradition of original Halloween programming on Disney Channel has continued, these programs from my childhood seem to be forgotten. More recent creations like the Halloweentown series, Tower of Terror (1997), the Twitches movies, and other Disney Channel programming are not without merit. Perhaps next year they can be explored in detail. Until then, however, I'll sit back and enjoy my nostalgic childhood memories of Disney's Halloween TV traditions. Here's hoping that the folks at the studio will make these childhood memories of mine available for today's generation of children (young and old) to enjoy. This trick-or-treater wishes everyone a safe and Happy Halloween!

About the Author: Aaron Willcott has a Master's degree in Physician Assistant Studies and is a certified PA practicing in Northeast Kansas. An avid movie buff, Aaron has also been studying film since early high school. Filling up his electives with film classes, working through college at a video store, watching every DVD special feature, and attending as many film festivals and lectures as possible Aaron has become a typical amateur film critic. In his free time, he likes to research the production of old films, particularly live-action Disney ones. Aaron is currently working on several book ideas including All Things Westworld and The Story of Amblimation.

Halloween DVD Reviews at UltimateDisney.com and DVDizzy.com
Related Reviews - Halloween DVDs:
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad • The Nightmare Before Christmas • Hocus Pocus
Halloweentown & Halloweentown II • Halloweentown High • Return to Halloweentown • Twitches • Twitches Too
Return to Oz • The Watcher in the Woods • Something Wicked This Way Comes • The Haunted Mansion
Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie • Sing Along Songs: Happy Haunting - Party at Disneyland • Mickey's House of Villains
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Remastered Deluxe Edition) • Alvin and the Chipmunks: Trick or Treason

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Halloween Episodes:
Home Improvement: Season 3 • Boy Meets World: Season 2 • Lizzie McGuire: Volume 1 • Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Treat
Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Season 2 • Sweet Valley High: Season 1 • My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Hundred Acre Wood Haunt
The Spectacular Spider-Man: Season 1 • Gargoyles: Season 2, Volume 1 • Home Improvement: Season 6 • Ellen: Season 3
Desperate Housewives: Season 4 • Ugly Betty: Season 1 • Walker, Texas Ranger: Season 6

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Published October 19, 2009.