Friday, October 24, 2008

The Halloween Tree

Today's Monster Memories are of:
1993's "The Halloween Tree"
(Click on images to view full size.)

"The Halloween Tree," first broadcast in 1993, and televised each Halloween season on the Cartoon Network, has been a spooky holiday treat for kids (and adults like me) for years since. Inexplicably, it has not been released on DVD, although each October I keep hoping for it. In the meantime, I took my VHS copy, bought some years ago, and recorded it to DVD so I can watch it on the big screen TV. It will have to do until it gets a long-overdue DVD treatment.

This made-for-TV special has a lot going for it. The painted backgrounds are many and magnificent, the character design memorable, the voice work outstanding (particularly that by Leonard Nimoy), the theatrical-quality music by John Debney is worthy of a soundtrack CD release (which I have yet to see), and the narration by the author himself is icing on the cake.

Nearly-verbatim chunks of the original prose from the book are heard over sections of the story, that stand out as examples of the synergy between the poetry and the paintings. For example, the opening title sequence, the trip through The Ravine, and the first view of Moundshroud's house; all scenes that make me warm and chilly at the same time.

In case you haven't seen it in a while, here are a series of images I captured that will give you a chance to view and enjoy some of the dense artwork of the backgrounds and various scenes.

Ray Bradbury was more involved in this production than any other adaptation of his works. He wrote the screenplay, and provided the voice work for the narration. In the story, a group of friends are taken on a trip through time and space by the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud, as they chase the soul of a dying friend. As it flits from place to place, the kids learn how all the customs of Halloween originated, and in the end are responsible for reclaiming the life of Pipkin from the designs their guide have upon it.

The following two panoramic scenes I stitched together from four screen captures each as the camera panned across the artwork. The camera movement caused a little blurring during the screen capture process but you can get a good idea of the original paintings.

The start of the film is similar in feel to the opening sequence in the other Bradbury movie adaptation, "Something Wicked This Way Comes," with the narration of the book's prose over scenes of autumn in a small midwest town of yesteryear.

Now, that's what I would call a haunted house!

Although meant to be the incarnation of Death, Mr. Moundshroud seems to have several different agendas going on at the same time. Is he evil, is he good, is he really trying to educate the kids, and to what purpose? Is he part of the natural order, or is he stealing souls for his own ends? Was their sacrifice for their friend at the end something he was subtly trying to encourage? His motivations are a mystery. What are your thoughts on the subject? Discuss.

I'd dearly love to own some of the artwork done for these backgrounds to frame, wouldn't you? Each one belongs in a museum art display.

"Sweet skulls, sweet skulls, crystal sugar candy skulls..." -Mr. Moundshroud from Ray Bradbury's "The Halloween Tree."

This line of text was the inspiration for the name of my other blog, "Sweet Skulls." Every year I enjoy reading the short book, which is roughly the same size as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," itself another reading/viewing tradition during October.


Dark Destinations said...

I enjoyed the movie more than reading the book. I also thought it was an improvement that they changed the kid wearing the witch costume from a boy (the book) to a girl (the movie). While I've seen many males of different ages dress up in female costumes for Halloween...I've never seen a male dress up as a traditional Halloween witch. The Halloween Tree itself was really cool looking in the film.

I think Moundshroud was a neutral entity. He was there to collect his due. I don't think he was evil so much as he just enjoyed his work. Ultimately, he gave the kids a bargain if you do the math.

However, those kids were crappy negotiators. I would have waited for Moundshroud to reject a few offers from the other kids before offering up my year. Not that I'm greedy...but heck he might have taken less. The other kids probably would have been pissed at me, but screw it. I'd possibly outlive them all. :)

-Tom G

Frederick said...


Great observations! Although the book has some great prose, I too like the screenplay's changing of the characters. They went from a large group of mostly unremarkable kid-avatars to a small, tightly-knit circle of friends made of of unique individuals that included a girl.

Thanks for the interesting insights!

Mark Harvey said...

I've been appreciating your blog during the Halloween season and instead of continuing my lurking status thought I would say thank you.

Season's Creepings!

Mark Harvey

Frederick said...


Thanks so much for coming out of the shadows and commenting! I appreciate it.

Mr. Karswell said...

This is a fun movie... not sure I can say I like it better than the book but it's right up there for sure!

Nedz said...

I never comment, but... thanks so much for posting this! I love this movie so much, along with Halloween in general, and I was inspired enough by the awesome pics I'm using them for my next painting I do...thanks again!

Heheh I also realize I'm two years late but...still wanted to let you know haha.

Frederick said...

Anytime is a good time for a comment of appreciation! Glad you enjoyed it, you should send a digital image of the painting when you finish!

Have a Ghoulishly Happy Halloween!

Unknown said...

What a wonderful blog! I've been poring through all the entries, which reads like a disordered scrapbook of my own life - I was born in 1958 and grew up on the same diet of CoF, FM, comics, the Monster Times, and paperbacks as you did...

Speaking of "The Halloween Tree," there is an above average, dramatized audio-book of the book available on which restores the really awesome last few pages of the novel, which I;ve always regretted were omitted from the animated adaptation (which I also love.)

Something you might recall that very, very few people do: The great Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones had a 1971 live action Saturday Morning kid's show (I think on ABC) for one season, "The Curiosity Shop". It featured a trio of kids who wandered into "Mr. Jones'" shop, which was full of animated furniture, etc. (Mr. Jones was never seen, but left a recorded message each week for the kids) (much like the much later "Pee Wee's Playhouse"), and the episode was filled with short animated spots and songs and such, all around a (usually educational) theme.

The Halloween episode was hosted by Vincent Price, and featured an animated adaptation of the (quite spooky) Ray Bradbury poem "The Groon". It ended with Vincent Price leading the kids in a song about onomatopoeia, titled (naturally) "Onomatopeia".

I really wish I had a copy of that show!

Frederick said...


Thanks for commenting, glad you are enjoying the blog! Good to know you enjoyed the same things growing up. I have scanned images of the covers from my first three issues of TMT framed and hanging over my DVD cabinets! They mean that much to me in my memories.

I missed that show you talked about, completely, somehow. I hope you find the episode you want somewhere! Have you tried youtube yet? It's possible!

Anonymous said...

Ray Bradbury's poem "Groon" :)

SuperSoupSupper said...

Well Moundshroud has evil plans all right. If you haven't noticed, all 3 kids who wears masks (except for the mummy) leaves their masks around Moundshroud's mansion unnoticed. That I believe was definitely no coincidence.