Review: The Halloween Tree

October 31, 2011

Ah, Halloween – a night unlike any other. People get to dress in a most unusual manner, children get candy just by knocking, and for reasons that are still unclear to me, women dress up in sexy outfits, most of them just skimpy versions of real work uniforms (such as sexy nurse, sexy police officer, and one that really boggles me, sexy nun). Of course, I’m not here to talk about the way Halloween is celebrated today. Tonight, we delve into a story about Halloween’s origins, based on a story by and narrated by Ray Bradbury, and featuring Leonard Nimoy, The Halloween Tree.

The film starts as Bradbury tells of a small town somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, where four friends are preparing to go trick-or-treating with their friend and local legend Joseph “Pip” Pipkin. Jenny, who’s going as a witch, Ralph, going as a mummy, Wally as a monster, and Tom Skeleton as a skeleton. They meet up at the crossroads, and when Pip doesn’t show, they figure he must be tricking them.

They head to his house, which is uncharacteristically undecorated, where they find a note from Pip, telling them that he’s gone to the hospital with appendicitis, and to go on without him. They instead decide to go visit their friend via a shortcut through the woods. They spot a ghostly Pip and follow him through the ravine to Mr. Moundshoud’s house, where a whirlwind pushes them inside. Moundshroud asks them if they know why they’re dressed the way they are, but they don’t.

They spot ghost Pip inside and he runs away, with Moundshroud shouting behind him that they still have unfinished business. Pip climbs up the titular Halloween Tree trying to get to his soul-bearing Jack O’Lantern and the four climb up to help him. Another whirlwind picks up, and sweeps Pip away with the pumpkin, off to the undiscovered country.

The four join Moundshroud on a trip to catch up to pip, first through Egypt to learn from the Book of the Dead and the significance of mummification, then on to ancient Ireland to see a Celtic ritual and the origin of witches, on to Paris to the unfinished Notre Dame de Paris where they learn that gargoyles were used to ward off evil spirits, and finally to Mexico and the Dia de los Muertos, where the significance of skeletons is learned amid the celebrations as a way to overcome fear of death.

As they find Pip in a burial vault, Moundshroud tells them that it’s too late for him, and that Pip is now his property. The four trade a year of their lives each for Pip’s, and they return to Pip’s home to find him back from the hospital and feeling much better. Moundshroud disappears into his own pumpkin as a fierce wind batters the Halloween Tree, blowing away all the pumpkins – with the sole exception of Pip’s, sitting undisturbed on his front porch.

This is still one of my seasonal favorites, despite it not having aired for quite some time. Ray Bradbury’s voice is perfectly matched to the story, Leonard Nimoy as Moundshroud was an amazing casting choice as he lends the character a sinister air with omnipotent undertones, and the lessons are well done and relevant to the plot. The animation is the standard early 90’s fare, but the story seems oddly suited to animation. It’s a good movie, and if it ever comes out on DVD, I’d say grab a copy. Until then, keep circulating the tapes.


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