The Halloween Tree. This cartoon haunted me as a child. I found it absolutely mesmerizing. I used to cherish the VHS tape where my mother had recorded it from TV, loving it despite the parts where the tape skipped and become so dark I couldn’t see what was happening.
Like many parts of our childhood, one day the film was shoved to the back of the shelf, forgotten, and left to collect dust.
I can’t remember why it came to me in college, but I suddenly had the urge to watch it again. I dusted off the VHS, popped it in, and watched as the somewhat antiquated yet timelessly alluring animated clouds parted in the opening credits. That’s when I saw: “Adapted from the Book by Ray Bradbury.”
Ray Bradbury? The famous author?
Perhaps this film has become embedded in my mind as a chilling yet mystical image of nostalgic days when the magic of Halloween swept in each year on cool autumn breezes and crunchy leaves.
A group of trick-or-treaters encounters a mysterious figure in a haunted house who offers to take them on a journey through time, a la Christmas Carol, and show them what Halloween is really about. What follows is a lyrical exploration of the themes of death and mortality and the varying ways humanity has dealt with them through the ages, joyously illuminated with all the spooky accouterments of Halloween–a flight of witches and crypts with mummies and skeletons aplenty, and of course the titular tree full of jack-o-lanterns.
Bradbury’s prose is as scrumptious as always. I didn’t find this was quite as captivating as Something Wicked This Way Comes, his other (better-known) book set at Halloween, but enjoyed every page nonetheless.
The eight boys are dressed up as typical Halloween spooks (a mummy, a monster, etc..) and leave their homes on Halloween evening, excited for a trick-or-treating adventure. However, they are missing their friend Pipkin who is wheeled away by ambulance–only spotting him briefly but noting he looks to be a ghostly version of himself. A mysterious old man, Mr. Moundshroud, launches this quest as a means of finding Pip, leading to the exploration of death through various cultures and customs—from ancient Egyptian mummification to Mexico’s Dia del Muerte—each representing a costumed donned by each of the boys.
The Halloween Tree: Film
The film makes a few adaptations, one of which is that it reduces the cast of characters from eight to four and adds a female character. I found this reduction actually helped me connect to the characters better and offered a more intimate insight into their unique relationships with Pipkin.
But more than anything, it is Ray Bradbury himself that narrates the animation of The Halloween Tree, and his words are poetic and mesmerizing. The language is simple enough for a child, and yet echoes into the depths of concepts so deep and intangible, they leave you feeling somehow both full and empty simultaneously— a bit like if a cool breeze flitted through you, leaving you with a chill and nothing more, just a reminder it had been there.
While I encourage everyone to read this, personally, I know I’ll just be indulging in the film once more, as I do every Halloween!