It is no secret that the animated television holiday special – or TV specials of any kind, even Christmas – seems to be going the way of the variety show: the dust bin of existence.
Still, for those of us old enough, these specials bring back warm memories of our childhood. And one of childhood’s boldest, most scary adventures is trick-or-treating every October 31.
The good, recognizable comic strip also seems to be journeying slowly toward the dust bin of existence, but there was a time the two teamed up for some TV hilarity ... or scar-ity!
Combing through numerous hours of American television, here are our managing editor Byron Brewer’s Top 3 Comic Strip-Influenced Halloween TV Specials.
3. The Far Side
This one is just plain strange, even for the Eve of All Hallows. Political commentator/cartoonist Gary Larson unleashed a barrage of his creativity in this very unexpected forum.
Gary Larson's Tales From the Far Side is actually an animated short film created in 1994 by Larson, based on his Far Side comic strip. It was first shown as a Halloween TV special and later it was awarded the Grand Prix at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.
See, told you. Strange.
The film is loosely structured, jumping between several simple stories. Cliches are rampant, such as undead monsters and the obligatory "dark and stormy night." The stories sometimes turn very macabre but are presented in a lighthearted fashion. They are mainly as those in the printed comic, including lots of background throwaway gags from well-known Far Side panels.
Larson's work is full of his common traits: aliens, anthropomorphic animals and other objects, and cowboys in the Old West. The art style is essentially the same as that of The Far Side.
In 1997, the TV special spawned a sequel, Tales From the Far Side II. This follow-up was never broadcast on American television, but it aired in the UK on
The comic strips’ laziest cat came from the newspaper page to TV in Garfield's Halloween Adventure (originally titled Garfield in Disguise) in 1985. It features Lorenza Music (Rhoda’s Carlton Your Doorman character, for those nostalgic) as the voice of Garfield. The special's plot is one of the darkest stories of Garfield adaptation to television.
Garfield is awakened early in the morning by the Binky The Clown Show and learns that it is Halloween. Garfield gets out of bed a few hours later in a good mood. He puts on his blanket and scares Jon (voiced by Thom Huge), who is busy carving a jack-o’-lantern. Garfield then scares Odie (voiced by Gregg Berger), but he then gets an idea and asks Odie to help in trick-or-treating in order to get twice as much candy for himself. The two of them head for the attic to find costumes. After trying on old clothes in a trunk, they settle on pirate costumes.
Jon gives them sacks, tells them to have a good time and not to be out too late. They head out trick-or-treating amongst other children in the neighborhood. They visit every house in the neighborhood and Garfield declares they have had a successful evening. The duo then steps out on a dock and Garfield notices more houses across the river, so he and Odie take a row boat to get to the other side.
Soon the boat arrives at an abandoned dock near a ramshackle mansion. Garfield and Odie notice a light in the window and see that it is coming from a fireplace. They venture inside the home, thinking it is empty, to warm themselves and are startled to find an old man (voiced by C. Lindsay Workman) sitting in a nearby armchair. The man tells the duo a story that only he knows: 100 years ago that very night, pirates, pursued by government troops, buried their treasure in the floor of the mansion and signed a blood oath (still with me, kids?) to return for the treasure at midnight 100 years later, even if it meant rising from the grave.
Our feline hero notices it is almost midnight and is skeptical, but the man tells him to believe it. The old man then tells them the pirates had a 10-year-old cabin boy, and that he was that boy who was with the pirates and that he never took the treasure for himself because the pirates would have tracked him down. Garfield and Odie start to leave and Garfield asks the man if he wants to come too, but the old man has disappeared! He is stealing their boat and he leaves the two behind.
A clock chimes midnight as Garfield and Odie watch a ghostly ship materialize on the river and pirate ghosts emerge. Garfield and Odie hide in an empty cupboard as the ghosts reclaim their buried treasure from the floorboards of the house. As the cat and dog stay where they are, Odie sneezes and it alerts the ghosts to their whereabouts. Making a run for it, Garfield and Odie jump into the river to escape, where Odie has to save Garfield as the cat cannot swim. Garfield and Odie wash ashore and find their boat with the candy still inside and untouched.
They go home happy and Garfield rewards Odie's rescue by (reluctantly) giving him his rightful share of the candy for saving his life. Garfield then turns on the TV and sees the old man, hosting an all-night pirate movie festival. Garfield abruptly turns off the television and goes to bed.
The rock, the World War I flying ace, Sally’s faith, Linus’ incredible sense of wonder and loyalty, Pig Pen’s dusty ghost.
Of course, the most famous and beloved Halloween animated special is It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, a special based on Peanuts by Charles M. Schultz. Its initial broadcast took place on October 27, 1966, on CBS.
On Halloween night, the Peanuts gang goes trick-or-treating. On the way, they stop at the pumpkin patch to ridicule Linus' missing the festivities, just as he did last year. Undeterred, Linus is convinced that the “Great Pumpkin” will rise from his “sincere” pumpkin patch, and persuades Sally to remain with him.
During trick-or-treating, the kids receive assorted candy, apples, gum, cookies, money, and popcorn balls — except for Charlie Brown, who for some reason is given a rock from every house they visit, possibly due to the ridiculous amount of holes in his ghost costume. After trick-or-treating and another visit to the pumpkin patch, the gang goes to Violet’s Halloween party. Meanwhile, Snoopy, wearing his World War I flying ace costume, climbs aboard his dog house/Sopwith Camel fighter plane to battle the Red Baron.
After a fierce but losing battle, Snoopy makes his way across "the countryside" to briefly crash the Halloween party, where he is entertained by Schroeder’s playing of World War I tunes on his piano, and then goes to the pumpkin patch. When Linus sees a shadowy figure rising from the moonlit patch, he believes the Great Pumpkin has arrived, and faints. When Sally sees that it is only Snoopy, she angrily scolds Linus for making her miss the trick-or-treating activities as well as the Halloween party festivities as the kids come to take her away with them. As they leave, and still convinced that the Great Pumpkin will materialize, Linus promises to put in a good word for them.
The next morning, Lucy awakens and notices that Linus is not in his bed. She finds her brother asleep in the pumpkin patch, shivering. She brings him home, takes off his shoes, and puts him to bed. Later, Charlie Brown and Linus are at a rock wall, commiserating about the previous night's disappointments. Although Charlie Brown attempts to console his friend, admitting that he himself has done “stupid things in my life” also, Linus angrily vows to him that the Great Pumpkin will come to the pumpkin patch … next year.
Hmm. Think I will return to reading those “funnies” in the Sunday paper!