Friday, October 30, 2009

“Tell me your name, I'll give you a skull.”

As All Hallow’s Eve approaches, let’s take a look at something that explores just what Halloween is supposed to mean. Sure, it may be an excuse to watch another obscure cartoon, but when its got Ray Bradbury involved in adapting a novella of the same name, then 1993’s The Halloween Tree is all good.

Four kids get ready for Halloween then run out to their “leader’s” house to find an ambulance in the driveway and that their buddy has appendicitis and might possibly die. A note left by the kid tells them to start Halloween without them and they start to do so before seeing what they think is their pal running through some woods and into a creepy old house where weird stuff starts to happen. The owner of the house, a rail thin bald guy who talks like he’s insane proceeds to take them on a chase through space and time as they explore the reasons for why they wear their costumes in a move that borders on edu-tainment while searching for their pal who’s being tossed through time as well. Its all standard stuff, but then in the last several minutes, shit gets real with a price that has to be paid for helping their friend.

(Note, TV Tropes will be referenced here, particularly the Five Man Band entry)
Joe Pipkin: Clearly regarded as the leader of the group, he’s also the one stricken with appendicitis at the beginning and spends the movie as a ghostly figure running through time clutching a pumpkin that is suspiciously carved like his head. More or less the instigator of the whole plot.

Tom Skelton: Naturally, dressed like a skeleton, Tom’s the lancer, the number two who assumes leadership in Pip’s absence. His costume gets explained with a trip to the Mexican Dia de los muertos.

Ralph: The mummy, and the smart guy of the group with glasses and the socially awkward one, more or less. Obvious connection to ancient Egypt.

Wally: The big guy, dressed up like a generic monster/gargoyle. He’s actually a fairly shy and cowardly guy with confidence issues and a penchant for saying “oh my gosh” A LOT. Connected to the gargoyles of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Jenny: The chick, but also a really smart one. Obviously dressed as a witch, she gets a connection to Stonehenge and witches and trying to overcome a fear of heights. There’s some interesting subtext going on between her and Tom as they’re more or less the two “main” characters.

Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud: Leonard Nimoy plays the cranky, lanky and mysterious Mr. Moundshroud. At first he just seems like a creepy old bald guy who lives in a creepy house and has a creepy tree in his backyard that has jack-o-lanterns hanging from the branches like leaves. It turns out he’s got a pretty clear agenda when it comes to chasing down Pip to get that pumpkin back. The creepiness of the agenda becomes clearer by the end when he demands a price for Pip’s pumpkin. He is quite the cackling badass.

Directed by Mario Piluso and the Hanna-Barbera company, the animation is generally pretty good and gets the job done nicely. There’s even some ambitions camera angles, like a shot of someone jumping over a fence and the camera doing a vertical 180 following them as they go.

Adapted for the screen by Ray Bradbury himself (and also narrated by him). The story is largely the same as the original with few changes. The themes are the same and so is the end result. It’s a solid adaptation. Storywise, it starts off having that “edutainment” vibe, but by the end, it does a great job of getting a Halloween atmosphere that blends the cheery stuff with the dark undertones of the holiday.

The original score by John Debney is very good, especially the music that plays over the opening credits.

Nostalgia may have made me put this into this month’s rotation, but it actually is a pretty solid Halloween themed kids movie. And it’s a damn dirty shame that this isn’t on DVD yet. Though apparently it does air on Cartoon Network during the season. I just never know when.

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