The crinkle of leaves, the windy nights.
You can go ahead and enjoy all the pumpkin spice whatever you like. I’ve never been a fan of pumpkin other than decoratively.
For me, other than the aesthetics of a neighborhood or roadways lines with multi-colored leaves, the thing I look forward to the most this time of year is Halloween specials. I’m not a horror movie guy, so Jason, Freddy, the rest of you will have to sit this one out. The old, original Universal crew of Dracula, Frankenstein and friends? Okay, those I’ll get behind. And maybe one day I’ll talk about the wonder that is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Or how I have to watch Arsenic & Old Lace with Cary Grant at least once a season.
But beyond those, there’s something I really, really dig this time of year on the same level of those classics, and that’s watching family-friendly Halloween specials with the kids. I love it. Absolutely love it and look forward to it every year. Sometimes it’s a weekend, nighttime treat with a big bowl of popcorn for all of us and some apple cider to sip on. Or, it’s just a spur of the moment afternoon viewing because it’s Autumn and why not?
Either way, Fall and Halloween specials with the kids are my bag, and I wanted to pass along some of my personal favorites to recommend for anyone looking for some non-scary, but intensely entertaining treats for the eyes of your little ones, or even just you.
So, let’s hope into this leaf pile of nostalgia and spooks, shall we?
The Skeleton Dance, a Walt Disney short from 1929, in all its black and white glory, is simply that – a group of skeletons that come out of the cemetery when the sun goes down and dance the night away, with macabre music made on their very own bones.
Lonesome Ghosts is a 1937 Disney short featuring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as ghost hunters tricked into an old house by a group of mischievous ghosts looking for some entertainment. This one, in full-color, is another Disney classic.
If you possibly get iffy at times about the use of firearms in old cartoons, as I tend to be a bit wary of, know Mickey does bring a shotgun with him into the home. Standard for cartoons of the day, it’s good to know upfront should you want to put it into both a historical and safety context for any young ones, as I’ve tried to while we enjoy. Or, if unlike me, you don’t care about that sort of thing, then enjoy all on its own.
Capping off the Disney trio is my favorite of the three – Trick or Treat from 1952, featuring Huey, Dewey and Louie enlisting the help of a witch named Hazel (voiced by the late, great voiceover legend June Foray) for some Halloween comeuppance against their Uncle Donald, who proves to be the worst uncle in the world with the tricks he plays on the boys.
The opening and closing song of “Trick or Treat” will get stuck in your head, but it’s so much fun to sing, you won’t mind.
I’m always intrigued by the fact that the Grinch was one of Dr. Seuss’ most popular characters, but only appeared in that one published tale when he stole Christmas. Other than that, he’s been relegated to screen appearances, perhaps fueled by the adage about small doses. With its typical Seussian rhymes, it focuses on a young Who from Whoville who confronts the Grinch on Halloween/Grinch Night in an effort to stall him from making it to Whoville and scaring the entire population.
There’s familiar canine companion Max, and a lot of bizarre, surreal elements during the scare-sequence that might seem like something out of a Dali painting brought to life, but in the end, this sing-song tale of facing your fears is a fun Halloween romp that was actually written by Dr. Seuss himself! Minus Karloff this time around, Hans Conried, a familiar face to TV audiences in the 50s/60s and prolific voice-over actor, brings his refined diction to the titular Grinch.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Come on, does this one really need much of a write-up? This one has been a classic for decades.
Though no matter how many years go by, you can’t help but ask why this group of kids are so incredibly mean to poor Charlie Brown (and in this case, Linus, too).
Linus waits in the pumpkin patch for the Great Pumpkin to arrive on Halloween night, while the rest of the Peanuts gang go trick-or-treating in ghost costumes, where ol’ Chuck gets nothing but rocks. While yes, moments in it serve as a great reminder to not be so mean to people (what is your problem all the time, Lucy?!) the classic animation and characters still make it a fun tradition each and every year.
Curious George Halloween Boo Fest
I refer to this as a contemporary classic and it’s quickly become one of my staples of the fall season.
Seriously. I will watch this whether kids are in the room or not. And it’s not just because the Man in the Yellow Hat is my spirit animal.
Taking place primarily at the Man’s country house (my favorite setting for the PBS Kids Curious George TV series, which alternates between their city apartment and the man’s family home in the country), George is intrigued by the neighborhood tales of No-Noggin, the scarecrow whose head disappeared years and years ago and now comes back at Halloween to kick off people’s hats and take them as his own.
Great songs, great characters, and just enough spooky Halloween atmosphere without being scary, this has become such a favorite of mine that when it recently came off of Netflix, I had to go out and buy a copy on DVD so we could have it.
So there’s your homework this season. To enjoy some fun viewings with your little ones or on your own that still stand the test of time in my opinion and are the perfect on-screen companion to the month of October.
Grown-Up Bonus Viewing: Send the kids to bed and delight in all the kitsch of 1970s pop culture with the Paul Lynde Halloween Special, where Mr. Center Square himself guffaws his way through a haunted castle with Margaret “Wicked Witch of the West” Hamilton at his side and cameos by everyone from Betty White, to Florence Henderson, to KISS and H.R. Puffenstuff’s Witchiepoo.
I’m by no means the person handing out toothbrushes or bags of pennies that I sometimes encountered when I was a kid, but I do like to break things up a little bit from the sugary sweets that kids find at so many houses on that night of ghouls.
So, in what has become a bit of a tradition, I hand out comic books to kids coming to our door. Age appropriate, of course.
It began with piles of coverless comics that I would buy in bulk from my local comic book store. Often times they were from the 70s or 80s and had lost much value due to their lack of cover. So, the store was just looking to get them off their hands, selling them in piles for around $2-3.
I couldn’t resist. They ranged from talking animals (Disney Ducks, my favorite!) to long-underwear wearing Superman or Batman (the classic derring do-gooders of yesteryear. Not the dark avengers so commonplace today).
And with piles in hand, I would hand out books to kids as they made their way up our front steps.
Another year I was not so lucky to find such coverless treasures, so I would raid 50 cent bins, but that could get pricey. Sometimes I’d just go through piles of comics I didn’t want anymore that I knew would take more time and effort to sell than they were worth.
Then, last year, something quite fantastic happened. Comic book companies and distributors got together and following in the steps of the annual Free Comic Book Day (traditionally in May), began offering stacks of full-color mini-comics specifically to be handed out on Halloween in what they call Halloween ComicFest.
Fortunately for me, my local comic shop was participating and for $5 I was able to purchase a pack of 20 comic books to hand out to the ghosts and ghouls at our door. With different titles to choose from, I spent $20 and walked away with four packs. That’s four different comic titles totaling 80 books. We were well-stocked and fortunately for me, well-received when kids would come by.
Those kids who didn’t care for the comics had a choice of a small, plastic Halloween toy, like a spider-ring or vampire teeth, that my wife had the foresight to pick up.
So, I followed suit this year, with three packs of comics safe for all ages – Archie, Grimmiss Island, and the Boom Studios Halloween Haunt, featuring various short comic stories that are safe for kids but can entertain adults as well. And this year there’s 25 comics in a pack, so I got more bang for my buck!
I really recommend it.
And I won’t lie. When there’s a lull, I tend to sneak a few reads while I’m waiting for the kids.
I’ve always wondered how dentists feel about Halloween.
Back when I was anchoring the news, we would occasionally have dentists on-set once a month, and when it came to this time of year they’d often have candy-returns that they would plug, where their offices would collect candy and ship it overseas to people in the armed services. In return, kids would be put into the running for contests.
But I can’t help but think that, despite pushing for moderation, there’s got to be some dentist offices filling up with kids who just go overboard with the stuff.
Anyway, that was a bit of a stream of consciousness.
My mind was on candy because this year, we’re trying something a little different. In years past, we’ve always given the option of candy or a comic book, culled from stacks I would accumulate throughout the year to give away. However, as time has gone on, those kiddie comics of the past that used to be so easy to find in “6 for a $1” bins, have disappeared.
So, this year, imagine my delightful surprise when I walked into my local comic shop (where I’ve been going regularly since the age of about 7, when I had to stand on a footstool to peer into the back issue boxes) and found pre-packaged stacks of mini-comic books, ready to hand out and completely kid-appropriate.
I was thrilled!
Coming 20 per pack, they had varying titles and topics, but all were labeled ‘all ages,” meaning, it’s okay for little ones to get them. And, I admit, I love the slogan on the package “lasts longer than candy!” You’re darn tootin’ it does. I would have went nuts with glee as a kid if I had gone to a house on Halloween and gotten a comic book instead of a mini Snickers, and in the years past when I’ve given out comics, I’ve smiled ear to ear at having some kids genuinely feel the same way, running feverishly down our sidewalk to their parents yelling “Comics!! They gave me comics!!!” It’s been pretty darn cool.
So, this year, I’m keeping up the tradition, thanks to these Halloween Comicfest comic packets, and Meg has also ordered some Halloween toys (glow in the dark vampire fangs and spider-rings) as an option as well.
So, it’s a candy-free Halloween this year for us, and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. I like the idea of finding something that’s still fun, but a little bit different for the kids. They are items that can be enjoyed long after the wrapper is taken off and at the same time, safe for everyone, even kids with allergies or diabetes, as has been very popular with the Teal pumpkin initiative as of late.
And I mean, it’s not like we’re handing out toothbrushes. 🙂
With Halloween fast-approaching, we carved a pumpkin this weekend. While it may not be rocket science, I want to offer one bit of advice that I found made our whole process incredibly easier – if your child is taking an afternoon nap, use that nap-time to get all the gutting of your pumpkin out of the way.
It may not seem like much, because it’s such a small, simple thing, but it can make a world of difference if you’re little one is not quite at the age of carving themselves, but still wants to take part.
I’ve heard a lot lately about how pumpkin’s last longer if you carve them from the bottom, but I went for the traditional method of cutting around the stem and pulling it out to make my way inside.
Then, using the carving knife and an ice cream scoops, I gutted all of those seeds and pumpkin-innards until we were left with one big, hollow pumpkin.
This made things so incredibly easy when the little guy woke up from his nap and wanted to carve his pumpkin after dinner. We weren’t trying to juggle the circus of a 2-year-old wanting to pull everything out himself, getting it everywhere, or just losing interest.
With just the hollow pumpkin, ready to go, we simply put him at the table (with his little step stool) and he guided us through the process of what he wanted his pumpkin to look like, from the eyes, to the shape of the nose and what kind of mouth he wanted. (“Happy pumpkin!” was pretty much the description he gave us to work from for the mouth).
So, here we have it – our Little Carving Supervisor’s Pumpkin, made all the easier by getting the prep out-of-the-way during nap-time.
I totally recommend it.