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'A Disney Halloween' -- My unique family tradition

31 Days of Halloween

‘A Disney Halloween’ — My unique family tradition

A retrospective look at the classic holiday special A Disney Halloween.

Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

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Holidays are often shaped, in a child’s mind, by the tradition and ritual unique to their own families — things that, later in life, a person is astounded to learn aren’t a universal aspect of a given celebration. I had always assumed that everyone opened gifts to one another on Christmas Eve and that Santa bestowed his unreasonable bounty the next morning (it should be said that my mother is a problem shopper). There are a wide array of dishes that are essential for a proper Thanksgiving (or F--k Columbus Friendsgiving) dinner.

a disney halloween 1
Look out! *Street toughs*!

It has always staggered me to know that most kids my age did not spend most of October slowly wearing out a beaten VHS on which A Disney Halloween was recorded.

Along with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, and, later, a variety of Nickelodeon Nick or Treat or SNICK offerings, A Disney Halloween seemed like it should be a ubiquitous member of the wider 80s/90s Halloween programming.

'A Disney Halloween' -- My unique family tradition
His name is Ajax, the TERRIBLE gorilla.

Every year, at the beginning of October (or, let’s face, like mid-September), my siblings and I would go rifling through the cabinet in which our clunky cassette copies of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Batman were stored, looking for the treasured Memorex in question. It went into the VCR and, until Halloween had passed us by, did not come back out.

Originally aired on the Disney Channel in 1983, A Disney Halloween was an unbalanced Disney clip-show, comprised of two previous episodes from Disney’s back catalog of anthology TV shows (“Disney’s Halloween Treat” from Walt Disney in 1982, and “Disney’s Greatest Villains” from The Wonderful World of Disney way back in 1977).

'A Disney Halloween' -- My unique family tradition
The true, harrowing face of horror.

Like those Nick or Treat offerings, it’s essentially a collation of what ‘spooky’ content the parent company could throw together. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, the Disney Channel didn’t have a lot of spooky content—unlike Nickelodeon, with its child-horror specific Aaahh!!! Real Monsters and Are You Afraid of the Dark, Disney wasn’t exactly trafficking in compelling haunts (beyond, of course, a very specific mansion).

'A Disney Halloween' -- My unique family tradition
They want to greet you.

What we’re treated to, instead, are the “Night at Bald Mountain” sequence of Fantasia (with its demons and ghosts) and “The Old Mill’ Silly Symphony” short. We’re entreated to Merlin’s battle with Madam Mim, which is the only part of The Sword in the Stone I can properly remember. Small segments of old Mickey and Donald shorts compete with Winnie the Pooh’s Heffalumps and Woozles.

'A Disney Halloween' -- My unique family tradition
It’s important for you to know that they’re *insincere*.

For reasons which I can’t ascertain, about a third of the program’s runtime is simply about cats — cats who torment Pluto (named and unnamed), cats stunting the spread of the plague, and, of course, the most racist portion of The Lady and the Tramp.

'A Disney Halloween' -- My unique family tradition
Oh, great, it’s *these* assholes.

The highlight of the whole thing is the performance by voice actor Hans Confried, who dons ghoulish makeup and becomes the floating face of the Magic Mirror; his sequences introduce a variety of Disney villains, but the joy is in the moments in which he is on camera, dressed in black against a black backdrop so that it seems he is only a floating face. It’s a simple effect, aided spectacularly by the low resolution of televisions at the time.

'A Disney Halloween' -- My unique family tradition
Look how cool this guy is.

Watching it back, it is not a piece of television that would hold the attention of children over the age of six or seven. Nonetheless, as I near forty, rediscovering it for this article swept me back into the anticipation of the season, that particular sort of magic available to a child for only a short window of their lives; the nostalgia overwhelmed me.

A Disney Halloween isn’t the masterpiece I remembered it to be, but it does a great job of dropping in on some classic bits of animation, reminding viewers to avail themselves of the joys of the old Disney shorts whenever they can.

I’m happy to work it back into my own tradition.

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