For many, the first sighting of The Great Pumpkin or Jamie Lee Curtis running from a knife wielding, masked murderer heralds our full thrust into the Halloween Season.
But, for many (and many devoted Disney animation fans), the sight of Mickey Mouse “bustin ghosts” and Huey, Dewey and Louie Trick or Treating is a better association with the Pumpkin Spice Season.
Two classic Disney cartoon short subjects that have become associated with Halloween, both celebrate anniversaries this year, which seems the perfect time to celebrate both of them.
Lonesome Ghosts, which debuted on December 24, 1937, marks its 80th anniversary this year. Hitting theaters just three days after Walt Disney’s groundbreaking, first full-length animated feature film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Lonesome Ghosts” was a co-starring vehicle for Mickey, Donald Duck and Goofy.
As the short opens, we see a dilapidated house, where inside three bored Ghosts (designed with full, ’30’s cartoony flair – complete with bowler hats and bulbous noses) decide to have some fun and feigning a female voice, they call the Ajax Ghost Exterminating company.
The three “exterminators” answer the call and quickly make their way to the house, where of course, our favorite Mouse, Duck and Whatever-Goofy-Is, are tortured by the Ghosts (don’t worry-spoiler alert!- the specters get theirs in the end).
Directed by Burt Gillett, a veteran of Disney shorts and featuring animation by such legends as Clyde Geronimo and Art Babbitt. It’s evident from the creativity used that “Lonesome Ghosts” was crafted by this creative mindtrust. What is particularly ingenious are the slapstick scenes in which Goofy becomes entangled in a dresser.
In fact, in an unfounded fan theory, many believe that Goofy in this short may have eventually inspired 1984’s “Ghostbusters,” as in “Lonesome Ghosts,”. The Goof actually utters the phrase “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” decades before Ray Parker sang about it
Through the years, “Lonesome Ghosts” was also a staple of Disney TV Halloween specials and Halloween episodes of the Disney TV series, such as 1977’s “Halloween Hall of Fame” and “Disney’s Halloween Treat” (1982) which featured a compilation of spooky shorts and clips from features.
Another classic Disney short also featured as part of these compilation shows was the Donald Duck short that the Studio made specifically for Halloween: “Trick or Treat.”
Released on October 10, 1952, just in time for the season, this classic short celebrates 65 years this month.
A perfectly crafted starring vehicle for Donald Duck, “Trick or Treat” centers on the “foul fowl,” who decides to play a trick, instead of providing treats to his nephews Hewey, Dewey and Louie, when the three innocents appear on his front door step on Halloween night.
When a witch – Witch Hazel to be exact – spots the boys while out traveling on her broom, Beelzebub, she takes pity on them and agrees to help. Through Hazel’s witchcraft, Donald winds up emptying his entire pantry of candy.
Directed by Jack Hannah, a veteran of numerous Donald Duck short subjects, “Trick or Treat” works perfectly, as not only a solid comedy short, but also captures the Halloween season.
One of the film’s highlights is the character of Witch Hazel. A character so full of personality, its a shame that she never appeared in another Disney Short.
Voiced by the one-and-only June Foray, the incredibly dynamic voice actress who just recently passed away in July, Hazel was the perfect “anti-heroine” and a terrific foil for Donald.
In an ironic twist, June would provide the voice for Witch Hazel again…later at Warner Bros. and for MGM! The home of Looney Tunes introduced their own character of Witch Hazel (with a completely different character design and voiced at first by Bea Benaderet), in “Bewitched Bunny” (1954). Witch Hazel (voiced by June) would appear again in Hanna Barbera’s Tom & Jerry cartoon The Flying Sorceress and Warner Bros. Broomstick Bunny (both 1956).
In addition to the Disney version of Witch Hazel, “Trick or Treat” also features a number of Halloween traditions that, through the beautiful, full animation that is the Studio’s Hallmark, truly bring the Season to life. There’s a full moon, a black cat, traditional costumes and, once again, cartoony Ghosts, who, with the voices of the popular singing group, The Mellowmen, sing the short’s catchy, title song (good luck getting that “ear worm” out of your mind after you’ve heard it).
Long before 1993’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas, ” Donald’s Duck’s “Trick or Treat” was Disney’s main foray into Halloween. In addition to annual showings, there was also a Disneyland record album version of the short.
And, proof of “Trick or Treat’s” lasting popularity can be seen in this season’s new Disney Channel special “The Scariest Story Ever: A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular.” In it, Huey, Dewey and Louie dress in the same costumes worn in the classic short.
More recent evidence as to why many fans pass on Linus in the Pumpkin Patch and John Carpenter’s cinema slasher, in favor of the Disney classics “Lonesome Ghosts” and “Trick or Treat.”
And, remember…”You better not be stingy or your nightmares with come true! Boo!!”