The Halloween Tree – Retro Review

Starring: Ray Bradbury, Leonard Nimoy, Annie Barker, Alex Greenwald, Edan Gross, Andrew Keegan
Written by: Ray Bradbury
Directed by: Mario Piluso
Original Year of Release: 1993 (TV Movie)
Distributor: Warner Archive Collection
Buy Now: Warner Archive Collection

With the Fall season upon us, the spirited Halloween movies can never come soon enough. Who doesn’t have wonderful memories of being young and breathing that first breath of pumpkin air and knowing it was time for costumes, candy, and all the exciting TV specials celebrating the most beloved of holidays? Back in the early 90’s, when I was young, I remember coming home, hanging up my costume, and turning on the TV just in time for a little-animated movie called The Halloween Tree.

For almost 20 Halloweens since that night, I have tuned in over and over in hopes I might catch my little-lost TV special again. When I was a child, the music moved me to tears, the colors lit up my imagination, and the story stuck with me throughout my adolescence and adulthood. The Halloween Tree was finally released, a few years ago, to DVD, and many of us who remember this lost treasure tale by Ray Bradbury had the chance to revisit the magic all over again.

The master storyteller, himself, narrates as the story unfolds before us, taking us to a picturesque Halloween night in a small autumn town. Here, we meet a gang of four friends who stumble upon the adventure of their lives as they follow the spirit of their sick friend, Pip, throughout time and space. Guided by the mysterious and sinister Mr. Moundshroud (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), the children discover the true meaning of Halloween and its origins as they fight to save Pip. Watching The Halloween Tree through adult eyes is merely a reaffirmation of how this kind of storytelling transcends time.
Ray Bradbury had a gift of painting pictures through words and it is always refreshing to see his stories come to life. The fact that this movie is animated certainly implies that it is geared toward a child audience. However, the lessons learned about friendship and the depth of the human spirit wrapped up in a magic blanket of Halloween are appealing and touching at any age. This is clearly a movie that was made before children’s programming was “dumbed down”. You know, back before parents were afraid of stories that might make their child think or feel something. The music is still tearjerking. It gives the simple Hanna-Barbera animation an incredible depth and serves as a worthy complement to such a heartwarming tale. Composer John Debney thankfully slid this project in among Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Hocus Pocus (both also aired/released that year).  After all, every good Halloween story deserves the perfect music.

This is finally the year for everyone to go and pick up a copy of The Halloween Tree. Although the DVD itself contains no special features, it is still worth adding this little 70-minute treasure to the shelf. So, dip some caramel apples, carve some jack-o-lanterns, and pop it in. Hopefully, almost two decades after it was made, it can still become the seasonal family favorite it was destined to be. Happy Fall.

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