“Trick or Treat.
Trick or Treat.
Trick or Treat for Halloween.
So when Ghosts and Goblins by the score
Ring the bell on your front door
Better not be stingy or your nightmares will come true.”
Released October 10th, 1952 and directed by Jack Hannah from a story by Ralph Wright, the Disney animated short Trick or Treat was an interesting choice by the Disney Studio since its re-release would be limited to just a small window of opportunity every holiday season.
Animation was provided by Bill Justice, Volus Jones, Don Lusk and George Kreisl; effects animation by Dan MacManus; layout and background by Yale Gracey. The catchy title tune was written by Mack David, Al Hoffman and Jerry Livingston and sung by the Mellomen that included Thurl Ravenscroft.
A very mean Donald Duck plays tricks on his three nephews, the trick-or-treating Huey, Dewey and Louie, instead of giving them treats. The boys are befriended by a real witch named Witch Hazel (voiced by June Foray) who uses some special spells to pry the treats from a reluctant Donald.
She finally enchants his feet with a magic spray so that Donald is involuntarily used as a battering ram to smack into the locked closet of goodies. Witch Hazel flies off as the night comes to a close and the kids enjoy their treats.
“I enjoyed directing Trick or Treat because I got a chance to work with a different personality. June Foray, who did such a great job as the voice of the witch, still mentions the film to me whenever I see her,” said Jack Hannah in an interview I did with him in 1978.
“The short got a very high ARI rating when the Studio watched it in the sweatbox. Walt said he couldn’t understand some of the words; that the dialog was too fast. I heard that Carl Barks later adapted the cartoon into a comic book story, but I never saw it.”
Two years later, Warner Brothers released a short titled Bewtiched Bunny (1954) directed by Chuck Jones, also featuring a witch named “Witch Hazel” (voiced by
June Foray Bea Benederet). In this cartoon, Bugs Bunny must rescue Hansel and Gretel from a rather naughtier witch than the one at Disney. Foray herself was recruited to reprise the role in Jones’ sequel Broom-Stick Bunny, released in 1956.
“I did Witch Hazel as a short at Disney. She was a very funny character that I created the voice for. Chuck Jones loved it so much that he called me over to Warner Brothers to do her again. I went over there and they said, ‘You’re going to do Witch Hazel.’ And I thought, ‘how in hell are they going to do that?’ Disney owns it and they’re so litigious. But we did it. Chuck just went ahead and did it!
”So I asked him, just a couple of years ago, ‘How the heck did you ever do that and get away with it, taking a character out from under Disney’s nose?’ And he said, ‘Because it was an alcohol rub! He didn’t own the name!’ So Disney couldn’t capitalize on that or stop Chuck because it was already a copyrighted name,” Foray said in a December 1995 interview in Animation magazine.
Jones was probably referring to a North American shrub and the herbal medicine derived from it, witch hazel, and Warners used the character in four more cartoons. This is probably the reason that John Stanley was also able to use a Witch Hazel character in his Little Lulu comic book stories as well. It was just a natural name for a witch because it sounded so familiar.
Disney’s Witch Hazel has a broom named Beelzebub that acts as both her servant and her method of flying transportation just like a traditional witch. She is, essentially, a good witch, although quite a crackpot, and has been used fairly frequently in Italian comic books where she struggles to convince Goofy, not Donald, that witches are indeed real.
There was also a 1953 Little Golden Book titled “Donald and the Witch” illustrated by Dick Kelsey. The nephews think they saw a witch but Donald doesn’t believe them. After some supernatural hi-jinks, Donald becomes a believer and he and the boys enjoy a fall harvest feast with Witch Hazel.
For the record, if you want to recreate Witch Hazel’s recipe for the magic brew she stirs up in the animated short, it consists of eye of needle, tongue of shoe, hand of clock, neck of bottle, tail of pout (a type of fish) and whiskers from a billy goat.
Interestingly, the same time the cartoon was released, Dell comic books produced an adaptation written and drawn by Hannah’s old Disney writing partner, Carl Barks.
The story appeared in “Donald Duck” No. 26, November-December 1952. There is an interesting story behind this adaptation.
Western Publishing did a lot of seasonal comic books from special “Back To School” issues to of course, Christmas specials. So it was not unusual for them to come up with a comic book themed to Halloween.
“I was sent the storyboard stats and told to make the stuff into a feature-length story. I soon found that the material wouldn’t fill 32 pages that were then the length of a feature story. So I ad-libbed some extra stuff. I didn’t see the movie until long afterward,” Barks said. (The artwork on the boards that Barks saw was by Ralph Wright.)
Some of Barks’ changes were minor, like a nephew carrying a pumpkin on a pole instead of balancing it on his head. Other changes were more major. The Donald Duck of the animated cartoons was limited to what he could say since the audience had difficulty understanding Clarence Nash’s “duck speak” clearly.
The Donald Duck of Carl Barks’ stories was much more eloquent. So this adaptation is atypical of the work that Barks was doing at the time with Donald Duck when it came to dialog.
Barks did borrow some of Witch Hazel’s lines from the animated cartoon as well as some of the staging from the storyboards and poses from Witch Hazel’s model sheet.
Barks scripting emphasizes the reason for Donald’s meanness when it comes to giving out treats. He sees it as an unwelcome violation of his privacy. Barks also reinforces that Witch Hazel’s efforts on behalf of the nephews is to remind people that witches do still exist and the nephews belief in witches needs to be rewarded.
However, not all of Barks’ changes and additions were welcomed by the editorial staff at Western. To flesh out the thin story, Barks added an episode with Smorgie the Ogre, a six armed Cyclops wearing a derby hat, who had been conjured up by Hazel, and that sequence ran for several pages.
The editor was so angry that those pages deviated so wildly from the original cartoon that they were deleted from the original printing of the story and Barks was refused payment for those additional, unwanted drawings.
To replace those missing pages since the story was now barely 23 pages long, Barks wrote and illustrated a nine-page story, “Hobblin’ Goblins” to fill out the rest of the comic book. The story recounts how the nephews get a “Goblin Foiler” device from Gyro Gearlose that only makes their lives worse when dealing with their Uncle Donald.
The editors also felt that Barks opening panel of a graveyard in the foreground to Duckburg was too gruesome even though it was based on the opening shot of the cartoon itself and Barks replaced that splash panel with a page and a half more clearly explaining why Donald felt he had to lock up the treats from the nephews because they had already made an attempt to steal the goodies.
“I didn’t even know that Carl had done a comic book version of it,” Hannah told me. “We didn’t follow the comic books because they were so different from what we were doing. We didn’t have any input into those at all. I saw a painting he did on that subject a couple of years ago, but I’ve never seen the comic.”
The ending to the comic book story version is more uplifting that the final Jack O’Lantern “Boo!” scare in the animated cartoon with Donald coming to the realization that he enjoys Halloween and will dress up as a goblin next year.
The Happiest of Halloweens to you and yours from Animation Anecdotes and Cartoon Research!