Our 7 Favorite Disney Animated Treats
In 1977, "Halloween Hall o' Fame" aired on CBS as part of the Sunday night hallmark "The Wonderful World of Disney." Inside a loose framework, wherein Jonathan Winters played a security guard at the Walt Disney Studios, were several of the studio's classic cartoons and a wonderfully wicked vibe. This was followed by another "Wonderful World of Disney" special, "Disney's Halloween Treat," which aired in 1982 and was immediately succeeded by the much more comprehensive "A Disney Halloween" the following year (it was sort of a greatest hits compilation and also featured footage from the Haunted Mansion). What these specials did, beside provide a wonderful dose of pre-Halloween fun, was showcase some of the best, most wicked shorts and segments from Disney's history. Here are some of those (and more), to put you in the perfect pumpkin-carving mood.
'Runaway Brain' (1995)
This devilishly delightful short, originally attached to "A Kid in King Arthur's Court," was so controversial that it mothballed the Mickey Mouse character for almost 20 years. In this Academy Award-nominated short, Mickey's brain is put in the body of a giant monster, and the monster's brain gets placed inside of his. It leads to some very scary situations, including a sequence in which Minnie is nearly assaulted by a ravenous not-Mickey. (It's seriously icky.) It's a shame "Brain" has been buried because it's absolutely brilliant -- it is hilarious, uncomfortable and incredibly animated. This should have brought Mickey back for modern audiences, instead it got him locked up, almost for good. Seek it out.
'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' (1949)
Originally exhibited as part of a "package film" with "The Wind in the Willows," it was broken up and aired individually as early as 1955 (as part of the "Disneyland" TV series). And on its own, it's totally wonderful. A lively adaptation of Washington Irving's classic tale, re-watching it will give you a new appreciation for it. While the segment (featuring Bing Crosby as Ichabod Crane) ends rather abruptly, up until then it's a stunning exercise in sustained tension and Disney's ability to build mood and atmosphere in a deliberate, methodical way. So much imagery from the movie has become standard Halloween lore; a glowing statue of the Headless Horseman was unveiled at Disney California Adventure this year. It rules.
'The Skeleton Dance' (1929)
This was actually the first-ever Silly Symphony, produced and directed by Walt Disney and animated by his longtime confederate Ub Iwerks. Composer Carl Stalling utilized a number of influences, both direct and indirect, for this eye-popping five-and-a-half minute short. It's hypnotic the way that the skeletons move and groove, with skulls and bones being swapped and thrown around, is deeply amazing, especially for the time. The graveyard, with its cracked headstones and sinister owls, is a triumph of Disney design and aesthetics.
'Trick or Treat' (1952)
This is the most Halloween-y of all the original Disney shorts, mostly because it takes place on Halloween and because those Halloween specials liberally utilized it. In the short, Donald and his nephews -- Huey, Dewey, and Louie -- attempt to one-up each other in terms of who can pull off the most fiendish Halloween prank. But soon enough, real ghouls and goblins enter the picture, making things even more hilarious and slightly scary. Again, the design work here is impeccable and the pace unbeatable, full of well-timed laughs and frights.
'Lonesome Ghosts' (1937)
Unbelievably this super memorable short film, featuring Mickey, Donald and Goofy as "Ghost Eliminators," premiered just three days after "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" debuted, changing the cinematic landscape forever. While not as revolutionary but just as charming, "Lonesome Ghosts" features some terrific otherworldly designs that wouldn't be out of place in the Haunted Mansion, and some awesome interplay between the three leads. The influence of this short can be felt in everything from "Ghostbusters" to the "Luigi's Mansion" videogame series.
When Tim Burton was working at Disney Animation, he cooked up this adorable stop-motion short, about a young boy who is obsessed with Vincent Price. (Burton somehow convinced Price to narrate it.) This short, running just shy of six minutes, is a marvel. It's charming and immaculately designed, with all of Burton's influences front and center, along with his singular point-of-view (lonely, forlorn, an outsider looking in). Few artists are so fully formed so early in their career, but it's easy to see Burton's entire filmography in this brief introduction.
'The Scariest Story Ever: A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular!' (2017)
Paul Rudish's recent "Mickey Mouse" shorts (which premiered in 2013) have brought the character back from near-obscurity, updating Mickey while retaining what made him so special in the first place. And you can really appreciate all that Rudish and his collaborators have accomplished with this super-sized special, which follows Mickey as he tries to tell the scariest Halloween story imaginable. The DVD release has some of the spookier shorts from elsewhere in the series, including the genuinely bizarre "Ghoul Friend," where Goofy appears as a squishy bog zombie.