Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Top 10 Spooky Disney Shorts

Way back when I was just a little kid, it always excited me to combine two things I loved into one offering, and for today’s topic it’s animated Disney shorts with a spooky Halloween make-over. Oh boy, I loved Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons so much as a kid, and when you put them in a holiday themed scenario ... it’s instant gold. Their Halloween shorts are among some of their most nostalgic, and I find myself watching every year. For this countdown, I’ll be listing my personal favorite Spooky or Halloween Disney shorts, preferably the ones themed around the Mickey Mouse characters, although there will be some exceptions. Also, I won’t be including any half-hour episodes from Disney channel cartoon’s unless it features someone like Donald Duck or Goofy, so don’t expect to see any “Gargoyles” on this countdown.

#10 Mickey Mouse cartoon “Pluto’s Judgment Day

Disney had a positive way of conveying timeless morals to kids, all except for episodes like this in which he scared the kids into taking his message to heart. Mickeys dog Pluto is a real bully toward cats, and his actions of chasing them down lead to a terrifying nightmare. Pluto gets captured by a hellish underground cat cult who put him on trial and sentence him to death by way of burning. So, in other words, kids need to learn to be good or they’ll suffer by burning at the steak … I guess that’s one way to make sure the message sticks with you. Seeing poor Pluto chained up and tortured in this episode is unpleasant enough, but we also learn that he’s responsible for the death of some cats, which really makes this a darker Disney venture than usual. Actually, some of the animation in this episode can get quiet terrifying, especially this one red robbed cat prosecutor. It may not be the most enjoyable Disney episode to watch, but it’s undeniably one of their most memorable spooky outings.

#9 Mickey Mouse cartoon “The Worm Turns” 

This episode takes a step back from the spooky visuals and focuses more on concurring fears. Basically, Micky creates a brew that will give others the strength to concur their enemies. We have a fly turning on a really creepy Spider, we have a mouse chasing a Black Cat, and even Pluto gets the chance to fight off the villain Pete. There really isn’t much Halloween in this episode, but the image of Micky in his mad scientist outfit always stood out to me as a memorable holiday design. It may not be a spooky episode, but a great Micky Mouse classic in its own right.     

#8 Quack Packs “Cat & louis” 

Black Cat’s return in yet another Disney cartoon from the Quack Pack TV series. While Quack Pack has never been one of my favorite Disney cartoons, it still features a classic like Donald Duck and there are two stand out episodes that I love watching around Halloween. I’ll talk about the other one later on my list, but for now, let’s talk about “Cat & Louis”. During a TV interview with a wild cat trainer, Huey reunites with a Black Cat that he encountered years ago on a Halloween night, and saw robbing a house. Once again, we have a cartoon that revolves around concurring your fear, but it’s also about discovering something lovable underneath a frightening presence. The Halloween flashback also adds a lot to the appeal of the episode, as I’ve always loved the concept of something from your childhood coming back to haunt you when you’re all grown up. 

#7 B&W Mickey Mouse cartoon “Mickey’s Haunted House

It’s a dark, stormy night and Micky’s desperation to reach shelter leads him to an abandoned house that just happens to be haunted. There’s so many spooky visual highlights and the animation is great for such an old Black and White cartoon. We have a hooded crypt keeper, skeletons, and a full-on party in which all the haunted objects come to life. It’s great stuff that gets you in the perfect holiday mood.   

#6 B&W Mickey Mouse cartoon “The Mad Doctor

One of their darker episodes was titled “The Mad Doctor”, which involved an evil scientist that captured Pluto and is experimenting on him in his castle, so it’s up to Mickey to rescue him. This episode has some stunning animation, and a lot of spooky details including skeletons coming to life, giant spiders and the castle itself becomes a character. Now despite some amazing animation, many of the imagery could get really tense, most notably this shot of Micky Mouse strapped to a table and is about to be sawed in half. It’s some crazy dark stuff for a Disney cartoon, but that’s what also gives the episode some appeal, because it’s so drastically different from we typically get from these cartoons.

#5 Quack Packs “The Boy who Cried Ghost

Whenever Disney had a marathon of all their Halloween episodes, it was the “Quack Pack” episode “The Boy Who Cried Ghost” that always stood out as a personal favorite of mine. While Donald Duck escorts his nephews to a Halloween dance, the always troublesome Dewey is driving everyone crazy with his spooky pranks. His antics lead to a car crash, forcing them to stay the night at a mysterious old house. The place turns out to be the home of classic Halloween monsters including a vampire, a werewolf, a zombie and a ghost who all aim to scare the new arrivals to death, and their serious about that “death” part. With no-one believing him, Dewey has to utilize all his prankster skills to protect his family from the monsters. This episode boasts some quality animation, lots of great Halloween visuals, and even some really funny jokes. One of my favorite gags revolves around Dewey’s “tough conscience”. As a kid I loved this episode so much that I actually got a VHS tape titled “Quack Pack: House of Haunts”, which allowed me to re-watch this episode more times than I should have. Needless to say, it’s been ingrained in my mind as a personal animated Halloween classic.

#4 Mickey Mouse cartoon “Lonesome Ghosts

In this animated classic, Mickey, Donald and Goofy are out hunting a silly gang of Ghosts in their creepy old house. It’s always a treat to have all three of the classic Disney characters together in one episode, and each encounter with the ghosts leads to some great slapstick. For an old cartoon from 1937, there’s some great animation on display and I love all the details of the house from the banging window shutters to the tilted stairways. The four titular Lonesome Ghosts featured in this episode have become staples of the holiday season for me, and their even iconic from Disney’s side of the Halloween season.

#3 Disney’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow

This classic Disney short made its debut in 1949 as part of the theatrical movie “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad”, but it’s always stood tall on its own as a traditional and timeless animated Halloween special. It captures the essence of the season so perfectly, but it’s also a relatively dark short with scary sequences, and a richly haunting atmosphere. It’s the story of a man who encounters the frightening headless horseman, and the actual events of the story leading up to the encounter is subdued, making you forget it’s even a Halloween special until the end. It’s simply one of Disney’s greatest shorts and a worthwhile holiday classic all around. 

#2 Donald Duck cartoon “Trick R’ Treat” (1952)

Here’s one of my favorite Disney cartoons that’s always stood out to me as a Halloween classic along with the likes of It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie BrownWhen Donald Duck cruelly mistreats his nephews, a kind old Witch named Hazel comes to their aid and gives them a healthy dose of tricks and treats. Old Witch Hazel is one of the most memorable guest characters from the Disney cartoon roster, and her hex casting antics lead to some bouncy animation highlights. There’s a really catchy theme song to boot in this episode, and the animation, like I said is just bursting with memorable holiday visuals. A lot of people say that 1968’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” is what really started the notion of classic animated Halloween specials, but look at this short, almost a decade before it and is just swimming with holiday delights.

Before I reveal my #1 Favorite, here are some quick honorable mentions … 

Donald Duck and the Gorilla

The Skeleton Dance

GHOUL Friend

Donald’s Halloween Scare” 

Runaway Brain

#1 Disney’s “A Night on Bald Mountain”  

  For the finale of Disney’s 1940 animated classic “Fantasia”, we’re treated to one of the spookiest musical numbers of all time, as armies of Ghosts and demons gather around their evil master and dance savagely through the night. I can’t even express in words how thrilling, yet terrifying this was to see at a young age. Its scary right from the start, with that painting of the mountain, all that green lighting and the chilling silence … it draws you in immediately. 
Then that creepy music begins to build up and throughout the remainder of the cartoon, we get shadows engulfing towns, cemeteries, creepy imagery, phantoms floating all over the place, demonic creatures dancing around flames and all kinds of unspeakable, terrifying creatures just leaping at the screen. I remember being 4 years old and running behind my couch because I was so scared that those things would leap out of my TV screen. I honestly don’t think any other animated cartoon can match the spooky atmosphere and visual flare on display in this short. The animation of course is stunning, with a nice assortment of colors ranging from cold blues to fiery pinks. Of course, the character taking center stage in this episode is the demonic villain named Chernabog, who certainly had a number of creepy facial close up's. Those evil eye's and wicked smile always came back to haunt my dreams. In all its spooky and Gothic glory, “A Night on Bald Mountain” remains one of the most frightening experiences from my childhood, yet one of the most thrilling and consistently entertaining carton shorts that I just have to watch every year. With their joyful overtones, nostalgic novelty and no shortage of Halloween delights, I highly recommend looking up some of these old Disney cartoons during October.

                                            The End

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