Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thrilling Thursday: A Handful of Specials to Chill Your Blood

So I've already lamented on the fact that they simply don't put enough original Halloween programming on television anymore, particularly on series'.  But did you know that at one time studios used to commission short works to be shown only on Halloween?  Sure, everyone has heard of the "Charlie Brown" cartoons and the Rankin/Bass stop motion and animated shows for Christmas (cause Christmas is the only holiday that really gets any original programming produced anymore)...but they used to make cartoons for Halloween too.  Really, I'm not lying.  Today I want to talk about two of my favorite Halloween themed specials that aired back in the 70s and were still in rotation when I started watching television in the 1980s.  In fact, Halloween wasn't complete until I watched them (on the tape we recorded them on when they were aired...yes friends, we had a Halloween tape and two Christmas tapes full of TV specials we snagged from The Disney Channel).  The first deals with a witch who loves to party and the second deals with a favorite Seuss character that we all love to without further ado let's pop in the old video tape and look at Witch's Night Out and Halloween is Grinch Night.

Witch's Night Out starts with a fairly dated, but catchy, disco theme song (seriously, I watched this days ago and I can't get the damn thing out of my head) that signals the era of animation fairly quickly.  Then we are introduced to several monochrome colored characters in a picturesque and contemporary small town.  The two lead children, Small and Tender, are excitedly preparing for Halloween while the adults, Rotten, Malicious, Nicely, and Goodly, are wishing that it wasn't so juvenile and decide to throw a party for the grown-ups in the scary old house across town.  Meanwhile, in the scary old house across town, a Witch is pacing back and forth waiting for someone to call on her for some Halloween magic.  It seems that she is feeling washed up and useless now that no one seems to need Halloween magic anymore (she's a bit like Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd.).  However, when she overhears Goodly and Rotten planning their party downstairs, she gets excited and starts making her own plans.  Later that evening Small and Tender are disappointed that everyone recognizes them behind their masks and are sad that they weren't able to scare anyone.  After being read a bedtime story by their babysitter Bazooey, both children wish they had a fairy godmother to turn them into the monsters of their choice.  This apparently is 'the call' the Witch has been waiting for and she flies to their aid.  This sets in motion a breezy adventure for the four of them (The Witch, Bazooey, Small, and Tender) that promises to be a night of "magical mischief".

Witch's Night Out is the kind of story that would never be produced today because execs would probably call it boring, simplistic, and pandering.  What they would miss is the level of wit present in the writing and the fact that this story is probably more timely now than it was in 1978.  We have shuffled Halloween off into a corner where its either only for kids, or only for people who like Horror, and have forgotten that it is about having fun and being someone else for a few hours.  However, it doesn't beat the idea over your head...rather it allows the viewer to figure it out through character actions and what happens to them.  It also have some tremendous one-liners that are perhaps too precious for today, but cracked me up back then.  For example, any of the jokes related to Small calling the Witch a fairy godmother are priceless.  The voice work is solid as well, with Gilda Radner providing the voice of quite possibly the most friendly Witch in the world.  It is an excellent toon for kids and fun for adults too.

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Our next short was built as a sequel of sorts to one of the most famous holiday shorts, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and yet it has an identity of its own.  It begins on a typical Fall day in Whoville and the people are out enjoying the day happily...that is, until one of them gets a whiff of the dreaded 'sour-sweet wind'.  The veteran adults of Whoville know that this means the start of another Grinch Night, a night when the noise from the creatures awakened by the sour-sweet wind gets the Grinch of Mount Crumpet riled.  When that happens, everyone must lock themselves indoors and not venture out, because the Grinch intends to break into Town Hall and hold the Annual Grinch Night Ball...with himself as the sole guest.  So the Grinch hops into his Paraphernalia Wagon and begins his journey down to Whoville.  Meanwhile young Ukaraiah Who, who was on his way to use the Euphemism (bathroom), gets blown away by the sour-sweet wind to Mount Crumpet where he runs right into the Grinch.  Ukaraiah then decides that it is up to him to stall the Grinch as long as he can, and thus try to prevent the destruction the Grinch will undoubtedly cause.

Believe it or not, Grinch Night was my first introduction to the Grinch and the Whos of Whoville.  When I found out that there was a Christmas movie featuring the Grinch I was so excited to see it...I had no idea that Grinch Night was a sequel or that it was even considered an inferior one.  However, I think this cartoon has plenty of lovely merits of its own.  First, that same Seuss wit is present that is there in all of his books and films making this highly amusing.  Also, the animation is fairly good (if a little less detailed) for its time and has a polish to it that is missing from the earlier film.  There is a fairly good message embedded in the film as well, a message about looking fear in the eye and realizing how little power it really has over us when we shed some light on it.  It is great for young ones, if not the best for older children.  If you can find them together on Youtube, these make a delightful double feature for the holiday.

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