In my opinion, the greatest Halloween films all have one thing in common: they feel like Halloween. Films like Halloween (1978), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) and Trick ‘r Treat (2007) have all the ingredients: the autumn weather, the decorations, the brown-orange hue; they have it all.
However, when it comes to the holiday, I feel there’s no greater representation than on television, ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ and ‘Over the Garden Wall’ come to mind. Yet, the greatest of them all isn’t as well known as the ones I’ve just mentioned. There’s one that represents the holiday more than any of them. The greatest Halloween story ever told is The Halloween Tree.
The Halloween Tree (1993), based on the novel of the same name by Ray Bradbury, is about four children who learn the origins of Halloween and the holiday’s customs as they’re trying to save the life of their friend.
Similar to ‘Over the Garden Wall’, the film isn’t just a sweet tale centered around Halloween, but it’s also a tale of friendship, courage, mortality, and death. The film also answers a very important question: why do we celebrate Halloween?
As I mentioned before, the four children learn the origins of Halloween and the holiday’s customs, and they learn by visiting several places in time that are currently celebrating their versions of the holiday.
They visit Ancient Egypt and learn of its celebration: ‘the Feast of the Ghosts’.
They visit the Dark Ages in England and learn of witches celebrating the New Year.
They visit France and arrive at the unfinished Notre Dame Cathedral. They learn of the cathedral’s use as sanctuary and gargoyles.
Finally, they visit Mexico and learn of ‘Día de los Muertos’ – the Day of the Dead – and the holiday’s significance use of skeletons.
Each one has to do with the celebration of death. The celebrations are less like a funeral and more like a birthday party. They celebrate the life rather than the death. Whether the death is of a loved one or of the season’s changing, it all depends on the culture.
Halloween is most children’s exposure to death and the macabre. It’s a holiday built upon the celebration of all things dark and scary. But instead of shying away, we welcome it with open arms. We celebrate Halloween in order to face our fears, to face our ultimate fear: death. It’s an easy way to cope with the darkness in life. We get dressed up in costumes and go door-to-door, stare death in the face and say, “Trick or Treat!” It’s a holiday that tells us to celebrate death just as much as life.
While the film’s animation and setting do help with the Halloween aesthetic, the film’s music, composed by John Debney, sells the film as Halloween. From the first moment the music swells, you’ll see nothing but jack-o’-lanterns and black cats, witches and ghosts, chocolate, candy and laughing children.
Bradbury, who narrates the film, adapted his own work and received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program. The film was also nominated for Outstanding Animated Program. I mean, he is Ray Bradbury, what did you expect?
The Halloween Tree is a sweet tale that I’m sure anybody would love, especially if you love Halloween. (4.5/5)
The film is available to rent on Amazon.