Animation Cel-ebration
September 25, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

Hidden Haunts: Seldom Seen Halloween TV Specials

Like the candy collected by trick or treaters that’s been cast aside, you know, the lollipops passed over in favor of a Fun Size Milky Way candy bar, several animated Halloween specials have not reached the pop-culture heights of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. But, as we begin to make our way through the spooky season, if your viewing choices begin to run dry, you may want to consider one, or all, of these seemingly forgotten animated Halloween specials.

Witch’s Night Out (1978)

A witch who decides to do something about the fact that no one seems to be appropriately scared on Halloween is the subject of this Canadian-produced special.

The witch befriends three children in a small town and transforms them into a werewolf, a ghost, and a Frankenstein monster before they set out for a Halloween party. The town’s citizens turn into an angry mob, and it’s the witch who must save the day.

There’s a friendly theme of acceptance in Witch’s Night Out, with overly stylized, simplistic animation, with each character a different color and shape.

Additionally, Witch’s Night Out features the stellar voice cast of comedy legends Gilda Radner and Catherine O’Hara. It’s a low-budget product of its time, for sure, but that only adds to this special’s charm.

Casper’s Halloween Special (1979)

A very innocent special that focuses on Casper saving Halloween for a group of orphans who have their trick or treating threatened by the villains: the ghosts Hairy Scarey and Screech, as well as Winifred Witch.

This special was produced by Hanna-Barbera, during a period when the studio had the rights to Casper in the late ’70s, giving him a “re-boot,” of sorts, with a new Saturday Morning series, Casper and the Angels, that paired the Friendly Ghost with a Charlie’s Angels-like group.

During this time, Hanna -Barbera not only produced Casper’s Halloween Special (which also had two other titles: Casper Saves Halloween and He Ain’t Scary, He’s Our Brother) there was also Casper’s First Christmas that paired him with Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and some other of the HB Stars.

Casper’s Halloween Special is straightforward, the songs somewhat forgettable, and the animation is…well…very Hanna-Barbera. However, all of that makes it feel like the TV comfort food of another era. Here’s a clip:

Will Vinton’s Claymation Comedy of Horrors (1991)

From stop-motion animation legend Will Vinton (of California Raisins fame) comes one of the strangest Halloween specials you may ever see.

Two characters, Wilshire Pig and Sheldon Snail (whose face bears a striking resemblance to the Dominoes Pizza “Noid,” another Vinton creation), uncover a map to “Doctor Frankenswine’s” castle while testing a ride for their new carnival. The two head to the castle, only to find a convention of monsters going on in honor of Halloween. While trying to stay one step ahead of the monsters, Wilshire and Sheldon also attempt to bring Doctor Frankenswine’s monster to life.

As expected, the animation in Comedy of Horrors is impressive, as every element in the special seems to be in constant motion. The scene where the two main characters happen upon the map includes a sequence of stop-motion transformations that’s dizzying and imaginative. And the monsters who pursue the two main characters are each a marvel of character design.

Comedy of Horrors with quick one-liners and asides moves at a breakneck pace that’s sometimes so fast, it’s difficult to determine what’s going on and only adds to the weird vibe of the show. Still, as a visual feast, this is thirty minutes of Will Vinton’s stop-motion magic.

The Scariest Story Ever: A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular! (2017)

One of the most irreverent Mickey Mouse cartoons ever, with more Disney “Easter eggs” than you’re likely to find at The Magic Kingdom on Easter Sunday!

Utlizing the “new” Mickey design and style, this special takes place on Halloween night, after Mickey Donald and Goofy have taken Donald’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie and his nephews, Morty and Ferdy, trick or treating.

When they return home, Mickey decides to tell the nephews a scary story. He starts with a tale of “Dr. Goofenstein,” who attempts to bring to life a monster (that looks suspiciously like Mickey and breaks into a disco dance when he does come alive…don’t ask).

That story fails to scare the nephews, so Mickey tries with another story. This one is a take on a vampire legend, starring Mickey as famed vampire hunter “Van Mousing,” with Donald and Goofy at his side, taking on a mouse-like version of Dracula.

Again, the nephews are unimpressed and unscared. Frustrated, Mickey attempts one last story about a group of little boys (played by the nephews in the story) who tried to steal a freshly baked pie from a mysterious older woman, who turns out to be a witch.

The third story is a charm and finally scares the nephews. Unfortunately, it also scares Donald and Goofy and eventually Mickey, who mistakes Minnie for the witch from the story, when she comes to the door.

Throughout The Scariest Story Ever, there are enough “hidden Mickey” details to satisfy even the most discerning Disney “eye.” Huey, Dewey, and Louie wear the same Halloween costumes seen in the studio classic short Trick or Treat from 1953, while Goofy is dressed as his alter-ego superhero, “Super Goof,” made famous in Disney Comics after debuting in 1965. Also, there are cameos by appropriate Halloween-themed characters, The Headless Horseman and Fantasia’s Chernabog. Even candle holders from “The Haunted Mansion” can be spotted in the background.

As if that wasn’t enough, the special also pays homage to classic Universal Monster films and the Hammer Studio horror movies.

While the new tone and style employed in The Scariest Story Ever may not be for everyone, there’s no denying that the creators of this special love Halloween and love Disney, so there is lots to love here.

So, with Halloween season in full swing, take a break from the standard scares, and don’t be afraid to try one of these, seldom-seen specials. All of them prove to be the perfect accompaniment to a Fun-Size Milky Way bar.


  • Some of my favorites include:

    “Raggedy Ann and Andy and the Pumpkin Who Couldn’t Smile”
    “Hallowe’en is Grinch Night”
    “Mad Mad Monsters” (from Rankin-Bass)
    And while not technically a Hallowe’en special, the following serves as great Hallowe’en viewing all the same: “The Flintstones Meet Rockula and Frankenstone”
    A great episode of “The Mouse Factory” is titled “Spooks and Magic” hilariously hosted by Phyllis Diller
    The Disneyland TV series included “All About Magic” hosted by Walt Disney and Hans Conreid
    There are more, but those are some of my top favorites.

  • “Witch’s Night Out” is a follow-up of the same Canadian company’s 1974 Christmas special “The Gift of Winter” with many of the same monochromatic characters with adjectives for names (voiced mostly by pre-“SNL” Dan Aykroyd along with Gilda Radner) and almost no in-betweens. It had to have influenced cartoonist Cathy Guisewite because “Tender” is a dead ringer for Guisewite’s eponymous comic strip character Cathy.

    Though not a special, Disney’s “Teacher’s Pet” had a great Halloween episode (“Tell Tale Taffy”) with a terrific special-worthy musical number “It’s About the Candy,” sung by Nathan Lane, that no Halloween cartoon collection is complete without.

    And of course there’s the immortal “Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” the best of the “Peanuts” specials. I was always jealous that the kids got to do both trick-or-treat and a party; usually it’s one or the other. The only sour note is: what kind of warped adult would give poor Charlie Brown a rock? (Maybe mean teenagers were handing out candy that year.)

    It’s a shame about contemporary TV: no specials anymore. And there are so few Halloween-themed theatrical cartoons that, unlike Christmas, they don’t begin to fill a two-hour DVD; however, it’s a good time to rewatch “Ichabod and Mr. Toad.” And always “The Skeleton Dance.”

  • There was the Spook-a-Nanny episode of “The Woody Woodpecker Show”, which KTVU puffed up with an in-studio party hosted by Captain Satellite. Only ran as part of the series.

    Don’t remember any actual Halloween specials in boomer childhood days. Perhaps the assumption was that all the suburban kids would be away from their TVs.

    “Nightmare Before Christmas” is now the perennial, officially stretching the Christmas retail season all the way to Oct. 31.

  • I was hoping you would include “Tales from the Far Side” (1994). I’m pretty sure it only aired on TV once. I taped it at the time and still have it on VHS (somewhere). I haven’t watched it in at least 20 years, but I remember some segments, vividly.
    As far as I can tell, the entire special has not been uploaded to YouTube, only a few segments.

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