ANIMATION ANECDOTES
October 29, 2021 posted by Jim Korkis

Ray Bradbury’s Halloween Tree

Suspended Animation #343

In a career spanning more than seventy years, Ray Bradbury, who died on June 5th, 2012, at the age of 91, inspired generations of readers.

A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and close to fifty books, as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays, and screenplays, Bradbury won an Emmy for his screenplay adaptation of his book The Halloween Tree for Hanna-Barbera’s 1993 seventy minute animated film.

Bradbury also narrated the story and the film was nominated for Outstanding Animated Program.

Bradbury’s 1972 fantasy novel was the third in a series of books referred to as the “Green Town” stories. The other two are Something Wicked This Way Comes and Dandelion Wine.

The Halloween Tree traces the history of Samhain and Halloween. A group of eight boys (dressed in iconic costumes like a skeleton, grim reaper, mummy, Jack-O-Lantern, etc.) set out to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, only to discover that Pip, a ninth friend is on the verge of death.

Led by the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud, they must pursue their friend’s spirit across time and space to rescue him. Along the way, they learn the origins of the spooky holiday. The Halloween Tree itself, with its many branches laden with jack-o’-lanterns, serves as a metaphor for the historical connection of these many different traditions.

Curiously, most animation fans are unaware that this tale of Halloween actually originated as a half hour animated special script written by Bradbury for Chuck Jones.

With business partner Les Goldman, Jones started an independent animation studio, Sib Tower 12 Productions. In 1963, MGM contracted with the studio to produce new Tom and Jerry short cartoons. In 1964, MGM absorbed the studio and renamed it MGM Animation.

Ray Bradbury and Chuck Jones – Photo credit: The Chuck Jones Center for Creativity

The studio under Jones’ direction produced the 1966 television special How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Jones was always looking for more material that led to projects like 1969’s The Pogo Special Birthday Special.

The second holiday-themed, prime time half hour Charlie Brown special, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown aired on CBS on October 27th, 1966. Bradbury and his daughters eagerly sat down that evening to watch that special and none of them liked it.

Bradbury complained about his disappointment over lunch to his friend Jones who agreed with him. He soon brought Jones an oil painting of a Halloween Tree Bradbury had made a few years before, a dark, haunting tree decorated with jack-o-lanterns swaying from its autumn branches.

Jones arranged for MGM to hire Bradbury to write a half-hour animated special about Halloween for Jones to produce and direct. However, soon afterwards MGM closed its animation department in 1970 and the script was never filmed. In 1972, Bradbury revised and expanded the story into a book with illustrations by Joe Mugnaini.

In 1967, Bradbury wrote, “I’m writing a film. It’s going to be a cartoon by Chuck Jones. A wonderful man to work with. It’s a history of Halloween in cartoon form. It’s going to be a heck of a lot of fun and it’s going to be much better than the ‘Great Pumpkin’ show by Charles Schulz.

“I thought the Great Pumpkin was just dreadful. So mean. It was dreadfully mean, to anticipate the ‘Great Pumpkin’ arriving for a half hour and when it was over my kids sat there, and they were depressed. And so was I. I thought it was dreadful of Mr. Schulz not to know that you can’t build up this kind of need in people to see the Great Pumpkin, and not have him show up one way or another. It’s a shame. I thought he knew better.”

In October 1993 with the release of the Hanna-Barbera version, Bradbury wrote: “Run back with me to the day after Halloween 1966. While sharing drinks with Chuck Jones, creator of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, he described an amazing encounter from the night before.

‘Some kids rang my bell,’ Chuck said, ‘and when I opened the door they cried ‘Trick or Treat!’ I yelled back, ‘Trick!’ which stunned and surprised them. So one little boy ran out on the lawn and stood on his head! In the old days, if I hadn’t handed out treats, they would have soaped my windows or firecrackered my mailbox. I stared at all these kids, dressed up as witches, mummies, and ghosts and asked them why they dressed that way. No one knew. They had no roots in the past!’

“I countered with my own tale. “Every Halloween for years,’ I said, “I go visit my father’s grave. Friends protest, ‘Don’t you have any respect for the dead?’ To which I reply, ‘It’s because I do respect the dead that I go.’ That’s what Halloween is, but we have forgotten.

‘Shucks,’ said Chuck, ‘why don’t we make a cartoon to teach people why they wear bones and sneeze mummy dust?’ So we started work on a half hour television special about the history of Halloween.”

A longer limited-edition “author’s preferred text” of the novel, compiled and edited by Donn Albright, was published in 2005. This edition also included both the 1967 and 1992 screenplays and a joint interview with Bradbury and Chuck Jones discussing that original screenplay.

At a birthday party celebrating Jones’s 55th. Someone asked Bradbury what he would like to be when he grew up and he replied, “I want to be 14 years old, just like Chuck Jones.”

Two decades after the novel appeared, Hanna-Barbera approached Bradbury about adapting the story for television. The animation of the film was produced overseas for Hanna-Barbera by Fil-Cartoons in the Philippines. The film premiered on ABC on October 2, 1993.

Bradbury made some changes in the adaptation narrowing the eight children in the original story down to four and changing one of the boys into a girl. The laser disc release has a commentary track by Bradbury but there were no extras on the DVD.

The film won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program, triumphing over “Animaniacs”, “Batman”, “Bobby’s World”, “Eek! The Cat”, and “Rugrats” that defeated Halloween Tree in the Outstanding Animated Children’s Program category.

On October 31, 2007, 87-year-old, wheelchair-bound author Ray Bradbury attended the dedication of a Halloween Tree at Frontierland in Disneyland that was to be included as part of its annual park-wide Halloween decorations every year.

An oak tree near the Golden Horseshoe Saloon was designated to be the representation of Bradbury’s Halloween Tree during the Halloween season and is decorated with nearly 1,500 glowing red and orange lights and roughly 50 different hand-painted jack-o-lanterns. Bradbury would visit the tree several times before he died in 2012.

Disney writer and historian Tim O’Day told me, “Ray and I actually came up with the idea of placing a Halloween Tree at Disneyland in late spring/early summer 2007 over lunch at Storyteller’s Cafe at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. We were joined by Duncan Wardle from Disney Parks Public Relations.

“I was unaware of Ray’s book and when he mentioned that he had a ‘new’ book coming out (an anniversary re-print) the proverbial light bulb went off in my head.

The original idea for The Halloween Tree was to fabricate a large, 60-foot tall, gnarly oak tree in Town Square where the Christmas tree traditionally resides. The Oak tree would have been hung with hundreds of swinging, illuminated, jack-o-lanterns. It would have been quite the impressive sight!

“To be sure, Ray was VERY enthused about the idea and couldn’t wait to see the concept become a reality. Duncan and I valiantly tried to move the idea forward but plans were already in place for the giant ‘Mickey’ pumpkin to be placed in Town Square. Not letting a good idea die, I told Imagineer Tony Baxter about the book release and the tree idea and he and Imagineer Kim Irvine made it a reality.”

10 Comments

  • There was always a strong sense of the macabre running through Ray Bradbury’s fiction. His earliest short stories were self-conscious imitations of Edgar Allan Poe. Many of them appeared in pulp magazines like Weird Tales, and his first book was published by Arkham House, a specialty publisher of fantasy and horror. He was a good friend of Charles Addams, who illustrated some of his fiction. And among the many autobiographical essays he wrote for Reader’s Digest in his later years was a nostalgic reminiscence of the Halloweens of his childhood. The Bradbury family really went all out for the holiday.

    In view of this, I find it hilariously ironic that the author of “The Veldt” and “The October Game” thought “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” was “dreadfully mean.” If Bradbury seriously expected the Great Pumpkin to manifest itself in Linus’s pumpkin patch as vindication for the boy’s faith and sincerity, he could not possibly have missed the point of the special more completely.

    The character of Mr. Moundshroud in “The Halloween Tree” was voiced by Leonard Nimoy. After Pip takes the jack-o-lantern with his features from the Halloween Tree and is swept away by the whirlwind, Mr. Moundshroud says: “Pip’s escaped to the Undiscovered Country!” That was the subtitle of the sixth Star Trek movie, released less than two years previously. Ray Bradbury was a close friend of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and was deeply affected by his death in 1991. So it seems that Bradbury included a little tribute to his late friend, as well as a knowing wink to fans of the show.

    One tiny, minuscule candy corn kernel of a quibble: While several operas have indeed been based on Bradbury’s fiction, including a really bad Australian one of “Fahrenheit 451”, Bradbury himself didn’t write the libretto to any of them, much less the music.

  • There were several Disney connections between the Hanna-Barbera film and Ray Bradbury, chief among them the longtime friendship between Bradbury and Walt Disney. Peter Pan’s Flight was one of Bradbury’s favorite attractions (and continues to command the longest queues to this day) and he also consulted on Spaceship Earth for Epcot.

    The composer for Hanna-Barbera’s “Halloween Tree” film was John Debney, now one of Hollywood’s major composers who credits Hanna-Barbera with giving him a lot of great opportunities in his early music career (including “Jetsons the Movie,” “Johnny’s Golden Quest,” and “I Yabba Dabba Doo!”). Debney grew up on the Disney lot as his father was studio assistant director Lou Debney.

    Hoyt Curtin taught him composing techniques at H-B that he brought to Disney’s “Ducktales”). Hanna-Barbera deserves more credit for what it provided for other studios (especially talent) as well as the industry in general.

  • Imagine the opportunity to “trick” Chuck Jones. Talk about asking for it! Of course he should have answered the door dressed as the Grinch.

  • “Oh my gosh!”

  • I am second-to-none in my admiration of Ray Bradbury; I once even traveled cross country just to meet him.

    But, I have to admit, I never “got” The Halloween Tree. It just doesn’t really hold together for me. And Chuck Jones – another man I admire unreservedly – was the perfect partner for Bradbury: both men all too often let their “genius” get in the way of their talent.

  • Today, I saw one of the scariest animated films ever in honor of Halloween. It was called something like DAFFY DUCK MEETS THE GROOVY GHOULIES! HOW and WHY did this monstrosity come to be? I remember seeing part of it on TV when it first aired, but when the only thing I remember was the “mirror house” live acton sequence, you know the film “special” had to be something that my mind chose to forget! Just awful dialogue here. Not much Mel Banc could do to save this THING! Plus, Daffy’ and Tweety’s voices were sped up too much and Porky’s was not sped up at all. The guy who did the voice work as the Karloffian Frankenstein Monster was pretty good – maybe the only “bright spot” in the whole production!

    Jim, this could be a whole column in itself – or has this “thing” been talked about before?

    • The full title is “Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies”, and it aired on the ABC Saturday Superstar Movie in 1972. It’s notorious as the absolute nadir of the entire Looney Tunes corpus. (Its one saving grace is that Bugs Bunny isn’t in it.). I, too, would like to know more about it, specifically who came up with it and why they thought it was a good idea.

  • The version I accidentally saw was cobbled together from two – or maybe three? – sources. Some of it was black-and-white video. Why somebody would go through all the trouble to patch up a complete version is beyond me, BUT … there are fans of PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE, aren’t there?

    • “Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies” has, unsurprisingly, never been released on home video. For many years it was only seen, when it was seen at all, in a bootleg video with very poor quality black-and-white picture. A full-colour video recording of a German broadcast turned up several years ago. European broadcasts of the special made several cuts, notably the entire live-action sequence in Mad Mirror Land; however, most of that footage has survived in colour, having been used in another episode of the show. The video you saw combines the original soundtrack with the German video and the Mad Mirror sequence from the other episode, splicing in bits of the old bootleg when no better element was available.

      I’ve seen PLAN 9 dozens of times, and it still makes me laugh harder than most comedies do. I put “DD & PP Meet the GGs” in the same league as the Star Wars Holiday Special, or the Beach Boys song that Charles Manson wrote. It’s an unbelievably terrible thing that should never have happened, and the only point of watching it now is simply to prove that it did.

  • I am not dying for it, but I do want to read the “special edition” of the book at least once. Perhaps I could sell it when I’m done, or rent it somehow. But my curiosity has peaked.

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