Monday, October 26, 2009

Boo! Animation for Halloween

Ah, Halloween. Once again, it’s time to put your pumpkin carving skills to the test, stock up a candy before all the good stuff sells out, and curl up with some appropriately themed animation. If you’re puzzling over what spooky toons you should be checking out, fear not! The Ink and Pixel Club has got you covered. Here, in the usual no particular order, are some scary scenes, spooky specials, and other spine-tingling animated goodies to get you in the Halloween spirit.

Pinocchio - Lampwick Turns Into A Donkey


Pinocchio is certainly among Disney’s most frightening films. The film’s puppet protagonist faces a cruel world of characters set on either exploiting or destroying him, none of whom receive any kind of comeuppance. One of the scariest moments in this or any Disney film comes as Pinocchio and his delinquent pal Lampwick discover the price of their misbehavior. The audience has already discovered along with Jiminy Cricket that Pleasure Island is designed to encourage little boys to act so badly that they turn into donkeys. So the scares in this scene come not from the surprise of seeing Lampwick and Pinocchio start to transform, but the terrified reactions of the characters themselves. Lampwick is first tipped off by his own braying laugh. He feels around his face and the realization that his features have changed starts to sink in. When he looks in the mirror and finds his head is now a donkey’s head, the formerly cocky Lampwick goes into full panic mode. He begs Pinocchio to help as, to Pinocchio’s horror and our own, his hands turn into hooves pawing at Pinocchio’s chest. As with many scary scenes, the most frightening elements here are the ones we don’t see. All we get of Lampwick’s final transformation is his shadow on the wall turning from boy to donkey, accompanied by his terrified screams of “Maaaa-maaaaaa!” The last time we see Lampwick, the transformation is complete and he is a panic-stricken donkey, braying and kicking over furniture. It’s a grim reminder of the fate that awaits Pinocchio if he doesn’t escape from Pleasure Island and a scene that gives me chills to this day.

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown


While unlikely to scare anyone and not as tight a story as A Charlie Brown Christmas, this perennial Halloween favorite has everything you would want from a “Peanuts” special: appealing limited animation, charmingly awkward child voice actors, a jazzy Vince Guaraldi score, and a heaping helping of disappointment. Sally’s ending diatribe where she demonstrates “the fury of a woman who’s been cheated out of trick-or-treats,” culminating in a furious “You owe me restitution!”, is still a joy to behold.

Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island


The Mystery Inc. gang and their cowardly Great Dane have starred in numerous direct-to-video and DVD movies, but the first one remains the best. The film reunites the five characters as they try to track down a real monster after years of chasing crooks in costumes. A trip to the Louisiana bayou puts our heroes face to face with real zombies as they try to solve the mystery of Moonscar Island. The movie combines an entertaining story, some in-jokes for fans of the franchise, and something previous unknown to the world of Scooby-Doo: interesting shot composition and camera angles. With some genuine scares Zombie Island is arguably the most frightening Scooby-Doo story ever (unless you count episodes where Scooby’s extended family shows up.)

The Nightmare Before Christmas


Like the intro to Thundercats in my list of the best animated TV show intros, this one almost goes without saying. The story of the year Jack Skellington and the citizens of Halloweentown decided to take over Christmas has become a cult classic. The movie successfully brought the world of Tim Burton’s mind to life with just the right balance of creepiness, humor, and heart and prioed that puppet animation could still attract an audience. Every shot is so packed with detail that you can literally watch the movie dozens of times and keep noticing something you missed before.

The Tell-Tale Heart


Again? Yes. This is one of the scariest animated shorts I’ve ever seen. Visuals, music, and narration combine perfectly to trap the audience inside the mind of a murderer more effectively than any film before or since.

The Great Mouse Detective - Ratigan Loses It


During the climax of this film, which takes place in and around London’s Big Ben, the heroic Basil has his final confrontation with his archnemesis, Professor Ratigan. As Basil escapes after having foiled Ratigan’s scheme to become king of the mice of England, Ratigan’s mind snaps, as we see in three quick cuts that go in closer and closer on his eyes blazing with rage. He leaps between the clocks massive gears in pursuit of his enemy. His clothes, symbols of his civility are torn in the process and by the time he lunges at Basil, much of his fur is visible and standing on end, reflecting his anger. Throughout the movie, Ratigan has been denying that he is a rat, claiming instead that he is a rather large mouse. Ratigan seems to associate his identifying as a mouse with civility and the upper class privilege he feels himself entitled to. Like many good frightening moments, a lot of the fear here comes from the psychological implications of the moment: Ratigan has finally become the savage animal he so adamantly claimed not to be.

The Adventures of Mark Twain - The Mysterious Stranger


Will Vinton’s nearly forgotten clay animated feature film follows the titular writer and his creations Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Fin, and Becky Thatcher as they pursue Haley’s Comet. Along the way, they witness and interact with various scenes from Twain’s works, including his unfinished novel, The Mysterious Stranger. Tom, Huck, and Becky encounter an “angel” named Satan, a figure with a lower body former from the clay of the floating island he lives on, a fully-formed upper body, and a shapeshifting talking mask on a stick in place of a head. Satan invites the children to make little clay people and then brings them to life. Satan quickly grown agitated when two of the little figures start squabbling over an ox and kills them both. He then destroys the entire village and its inhabitants through natural disasters. The little people are barely more than clay blobs and their dialogue is gibberish, but their beautifully animated body language clearly communicates their terror and despair as they perish. Satan’s claim that “I can do no wrong, for I do not know what it is” makes for a truly horrifying take on the nature of evil.

Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron - “Upstairs With The Baby”

There hasn’t yet been a perfect translation of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics to film. But in my opinion, the direct-to-DVD Hellboy Animated movies come much closer to the source material than the live-action ones do. This second of two films produced has the agents of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense investigating a house that is being haunted by the ghosts of the victims of Erzsebet Ondrushko, a vampire who bathed in the blood of her victims in order to stay young. (She is based on the historical Countess Elizabeth Báthory, a serial killer who later stories and legends linked with the fictional Count Dracula.) Professor Bruttenholm, Hellboy’s mentor and father figure, has battled Erzsebet before, as we see in a series of flashbacks. One of the film’s most frightening moments comes in one of these flashbacks, where Erzsebet meets her next victim at the dress shop where the young woman has come to claim her wedding gown. To explain the absence of the dressmaker, Erzsebet tells the woman that she is “upstairs with the baby.” Oh, that’s nice.


Oh wait, no. No, it isn’t.

As with the scene from Pinocchio, what isn’t shown is even more terrifying than what is. Marie the seamstress is clearly dead; we’ve seen the same blank eyes on Erzsebet’s other victims. But just what happened to the baby is left up to the viewer imagination, which is always far scarier than anything the animators could actually show.

The Night of the Headless Horseman

The Disney version of Washington Irving’s classic tale – originally shown as half of the feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad - is more well known than this one and a few friends mentioned it to me as something that scared them as kids that still holds up well today. But this 1999 computer animated version is just as scary, if not more so. It isn’t so much that it does a better job of telling the story. What’s truly frightening about this version of the tale is the animation itself, which remains some of the ugliest I have ever seen.


Horrible character design and stiff animation that looked terrible even ten years ago make this movie a true nightmare for any animation fan. Some of the voice work, provided by the likes of Clancy Brown, Mark Hamill, and William H. Macy, is actually pretty decent, so if you close your eyes and ignore the visuals, you may be able to enjoy it as a radio play. The whole movie is available on Hulu, so you can go ahead and watch it, if you dare.

So that’s my list of animated treats (and one rather ugly trick). If I left out any of your favorites, feel free to share. Happy Halloween!

All images are copyright their respective owners.

1 comment:

  1. Happy New Year !!!

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