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The Halloween Tree DVD Review (Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection)

The Halloween Tree (1993) DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com The Halloween Tree
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Mario Piluso / Writer: Ray Bradbury (work & teleplay) / Executive Producer: David Kirschner

Voice Cast: Ray Bradbury (Narrator), Leonard Nimoy (Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud), Annie Barker (Jenny), Alex Greenwald (Joe Pipkin), Edan Gross, Andrew Keegan, Kevin Michaels, Darleen Carr, Lindsay Crouse, Mark L. Taylor

Original Air Date: October 30, 1993 / Running Time: 69 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Mono 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: August 28, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $14.95
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5 DVD-R) / Black Keepcase
Previously released on VHS

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The date was October 30, 1993. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas had just expanded to nationwide release. Hocus Pocus was already in second-run theaters. Christian Slater was hosting "Saturday Night Live" with, fittingly enough, The Smashing Pumpkins as musical guest. In primetime, ABC premiered Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen's Double, Double, Toil and Trouble.
A few hours before that, at 4:35 in the afternoon, TBS broadcast The Halloween Tree, an animated film adapted from Ray Bradbury's 1972 fantasy novel.

Bradbury began work on the story in 1967 as an animated screenplay for Looney Tunes legend Chuck Jones to direct. That project would go unrealized, but a quarter-century later, the author would himself adapt and narrate a TV movie produced by Hanna-Barbera and claiming ninety minutes of commercial airtime.

This film opens with some enticing Bradbury prose setting the scene. In an ordinary midwestern town comprised of equal parts civilization and wilderness, four young friends are looking forward to spending a Halloween with each other, but more so with Joe Pipkin, "the greatest boy who ever lived." The kids are dressed for the night: Tom Skeleton lives up to his surname, Jenny is going as a witch, Wally is wrapped up like a mummy, and Ralph intends to trick-or-treat as a monster.

Ralph, Tom Skeleton, Wally, and Jenny are saddened to find Pip not at home and a note explaining his absence. Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud (Moundshroud for short) questions the children at his house about their Halloween costumes.

Alas, Joe Pipkin, more commonly called Pip, is not at home. The kids spot an ambulance leaving his residence and find a note about appendicitis posted on his door. Oddly enough, though, Pip's friends catch a glimpse of him running through the woods. Following the vision, they end up at the seemingly haunted mansion of Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), a testy, pointy-nosed old bald rapscallion who isn't much in the holiday spirit. Moundshroud challenges his guests to explain the reasoning behind their costume selections, which they cannot do.

Then, he leads the kids to the Halloween Tree, an enormous tree whose flowers are unique, lit jack-o-lanterns. An ethereal Pip is spotted snatching the pumpkin that resembles him. Translucent and with jack-o-lantern likeness in hand, he takes off. Moundshroud and the kids follow him, intending to visit the Undiscovered Country with help from a kite made of posters for an old abandoned zoo's exhibits.

Flying through the night sky, the party winds up 4,000 years in the past in an Egypt that is anything but ancient. There, they observe the Feast of the Ghosts, a celebration that puts dead ancestors on display. From there, the journey leads to Stonehenge during the Dark Ages and a nearby broom festival, where witches conduct their business. The next stop is Paris, where the unfinished Notre Dame cathedral takes shape before their eyes and the kids learn about gargoyles. Finally, it's off to Mexico for Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, where sugar skills are enjoyed.

A translucent Joe "Pip" Pipkin, holding a jack-o-lantern in his likeness, leads Moundshroud and the kids on an adventure through time and around the world. At Notre Dame cathedral, newly completed before their very eyes, Pip becomes a water-spouting stone creature like the gargoyles.

The Halloween Tree is a sly work, one that manages to shed a great deal of light on the customs that form the basis of modern celebrations of Halloween. It plays less like a history lesson, though, and more like a very fun and suitably spooky globe-trotting adventure. Though used in moderation, Bradbury's wise narration and strong voice add class and perspective to the proceedings.
Even though it's not first-person narration by a grown-up reflecting on his youth, the design still recalls such landmark coming-of-age classics as "The Wonder Years", The Sandlot, and A Christmas Story. This movie does not really identify the present-day setting, opting for a timeless feel. Still, it is not difficult to recognize and appreciate it as a product of the mid-1990s.

This movie won Ray Bradbury a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program, triumphing over the long-form series "Animaniacs", "Batman", "Bobby's World", "Eek! The Cat", and "Rugrats" (which defeated Halloween Tree in the Outstanding Animated Children's Program category).

Given the holiday subject matter and the fond memories that many a '90s kid and, thanks to seasonal Cartoon Network airings, younger people hold onto, you would think that The Halloween Tree could sustain a timely DVD release in general retail. The movie came to VHS in September 1994 and for a long time now, it's been out of print, with used copies selling for as much as $25. At long last, it has come to DVD in the way that most titles in the Hanna-Barbera library long relegated to unavailability and increasing obscurity do: the Warner Archive Collection, bearing the label "Hanna-Barbera Classic Collection."

VIDEO and AUDIO

Manufactured on demand DVD-Rs always arrive with disclaimers that the featured title "has not been remastered or restored." It's a good idea to lower your expectations for a long-shelved TV movie coming to disc this way. But you need not lower them too much here, because The Halloween Tree actually looks quite good for a nearly twenty-year-old cartoon. On a few occasions, you'll notice a single vertical line briefly running down the screen. More frequent but less striking are the scattered miniscule specks. Beyond that, you're mostly in the clear. The 1.33:1 picture satisfies, the animation staying clean and avoiding any major concerns.

The Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack is also pleasing, remaining clear and intelligible throughout. The movie benefits from a nice and liberal score from John Debney, a composer on the verge of graduating from television to film and who had just tackled Halloween for Hocus Pocus. The clarity is especially appreciated because, as usual, neither closed captioning nor subtitles are provided here.

The Halloween Tree's DVD menu is as simple as they come, with your only option being to play movie or keep looking at the menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

It's not really possible to encounter a DVD more barebones than this one. The static, silent menu contains a single option: "Play Movie." There are no extras to see and nothing to set up. A scene selection menu might have been nice, but you can probably make do with just utilizing the stops uniformly placed every ten minutes.

So minimalist is this release that it doesn't even use the standard DVD Video logo, instead featuring the letters in an ordinary bold font. The full-color disc art is more than what many studios do for DVD these days. That label and the cover artwork around the uncut Eco-Box keepcase are not of discernibly lower quality than that of standard retail DVDs' packaging, though the rear cover is marred by a number of typos (e.g. "Kip").

The Halloween Tree bears countless unique and lit jack-o-lanterns. Tom Skeleton bravely summons the courage needed to help Pip, his friend in need.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It's easy to understand why The Halloween Tree is remembered fondly by those who have seen it. Ray Bradbury's adaptation of his own story is a marvelous celebration of the holiday and the old customs that inspire it. It is most informative, but in a subtle and effortless way, not at all like the carefully constructed and spoon-fed education of preschool programming.
First and foremost, this movie is entertaining, which, like "Schoolhouse Rock", heightens the impact of the lessons shared.

It is sad but true that certain concessions had to be made for this feature-length special to see the light of day. But most should be able to forgive the omission of subtitles, no one could have really expected this to have gotten any special features, and the video/audio quality is perfectly satisfactory. The $15 list price isn't that high compared to general retail rates and it's more reasonable than other made-to-order discs. While there isn't much to admire about this DVD, I enjoyed the movie more than enough to recommend. I anticipate adding it to my small rotation of highly rewatchable Halloween cartoons alongside It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Garfield's Halloween Adventure.

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Related Reviews:
New: Hocus Pocus Arachnophobia Pocahontas & Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World Ebbie The Aristocats Mad Monster Party
Ray Brabury: Something Wicked This Way Comes Walt: The Man Behind the Myth Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland
Hanna-Barbera Animation: Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo Yogi Bear's All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper



Halloween:
The Nightmare Before Christmas It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
DreamWorks Spooky Stories (featuring Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space & Scared Shrekless) Alvin and the Chipmunks: Trick or Treason
TV Movies: Halloweentown & Halloweentown II Halloweentown High Return to Halloweentown Twitches Twitches Too
Goosebumps: The Blob That Ate Everyone The Goonies Kiki's Delivery Service The Watcher in the Woods Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Sing Along Songs: Happy Haunting - Party at Disneyland Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Treat
Halloween Episodes: Gargoyles: Season 2, Volume 1 The Simpsons: Season 13 Boy Meets World: Season 2 Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Season 2

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Reviewed September 1, 2012.



Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1993 Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc. and 2012 Warner Home Video.
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