Halloween has seen its share of animated specials produced, ranging from the all-time classics to the obscure. Below are six of my favorite Halloween specials by decade, to avoid such lists’ bias toward “stuff made when I was a kid.” Also, SPOILERS ahead.
It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966)
The most popular animated Halloween special, of course, is the 1966 “Peanuts” special “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
The special sees the gang celebrate Halloween in their trademark manner. Meanwhile, Linus waits (with a reluctant Sally) in a pumpkin patch for the (imaginary) “Great Pumpkin”: a figure that supposedly hands out gifts to “sincere” children on Halloween.
This special’s as excellent as the classic Christmas special. Some of my favorite parts:
- Linus moaning about Lucy jabbing a knife into the pumpkin to carve it.
- The scene of Linus writing the letter to the Great Pumpkin. Lucy and Charlie Brown think Linus is being ridiculous.
- The World War I flying ace scenes.
- Lucy dragging Linus back to bed at 4 AM on November 1.
- And the best part: the classic “I got a rock” scene. Funny for the “rock” gag, but the scene’s made even funnier with Lucy’s remarks (“can I have an extra piece of candy for my stupid brother?”).
“Great Pumpkin,” like the other “Peanuts” specials, is now exclusive to Apple TV+. While PBS aired the “Peanuts” specials in 2020 and 2021, as of 2022, there’s no longer any TV airings scheduled (as PBS notes).
Unless you already have Apple TV+, I recommend buying the special on Blu-ray. There’s no digital copies to buy or rent; it’s either buy the Blu-ray or pay for Apple TV+. The “Peanuts Holiday Collection” set will get you “Great Pumpkin,” along with the Thanksgiving and Christmas specials, plus several other minor specials.
The Scooby-Doo Show: The Headless Horseman of Halloween / To Switch a Witch (1976-1978)
The Headless Horseman of Halloween
The gang, plus Scooby’s visiting cousin Scooby-Dum, solve the mystery of the Headless Horseman haunting a friend’s house during a Halloween party.
This is one of only four episodes (all in “The Scooby-Doo Show”) to feature Scooby’s country bumpkin cousin. However, he’s always seen in the show’s introduction.
To Switch a Witch
The gang, while visiting a friend in Salem, Massachusetts on Halloween, must solve the mystery of said friend’s witch ancestor supposedly coming back from the dead after 200 years.
“The Scooby-Doo Show” is available to stream on Boomerang and HBO Max, as well as buy digitally.
Warner Bros.’ handling of “The Scooby-Doo Show” on physical media is, frankly, a mess. Most (but not all) of the episodes are available, scattered across two DVD box sets (“The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour” and the short-lived third season revival of “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?”) and several single-disc DVD releases. Your best option for affordably getting both episodes on DVDs/Blu-ray:
- “Trick or Treat, Scooby-Doo!,” a 2022 DVD release with both episodes included as extras (along with an episode of “Be Cool, Scooby-Doo”). The main feature itself has made the news for positive reasons (Velma Dinkley finally acknowledged as attracted to other girls).
Otherwise, if you want an HD copy, your best options are to buy them digitally or use the streaming services above.
Garfield’s Halloween Adventure (1985)
“Garfield’s Halloween Adventure” first aired on CBS in 1985, originally under the title “Garfield in Disguise.”
The plot sees Garfield get excited about going trick-or-treating. Bringing Odie with him (in a scheme to get more candy for himself), the cat and dog soon encounter something truly scary that night.
One of the best “Garfield” specials (along with the Christmas special), this one had plenty of good moments:
- WBOR-TV’s sign-on at the start of its broadcasting day (remember those?), calling itself the “easy-viewing, easy-listening station.”
- Binky. This marked the obnoxious clown’s first animated appearance, before he became a staple on “Garfield and Friends.”
- The “Scaredy Cat” song.
- The entire abandoned house scene.
Formerly a TV staple, “Garfield’s Halloween Adventure” hasn’t aired on TV in years. However, the special’s available to watch in several places.
A stand-alone DVD was released in 2018, which also includes the special “Garfield Goes Hollywood.” No Blu-ray version exists.
The special’s also available to stream for free through the following services:
The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror IV (1993)
“Treehouse of Horror IV” first aired in 1993, and is one of the best “Simpsons” Halloween specials, mainly for the final segment. The segments include:
“The Devil and Homer Simpson”
Homer discovers that his neighbor Ned Flanders is really Satan, and gets tricked into selling his soul for a donut. Homer trying to get out of this results in Satan taking him to a supernatural court.
“Terror at 5½ Feet”
In a parody of the “Twilight Zone” episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (starring William Shatner), Bart is the only one on his school bus who can see a gremlin trying to unhook one of the wheels. The segment introduced German exchange student Uter to the series.
“Bart Simpson’s Dracula”
The best segment of the bunch. Ostensibly a loose parody of the then-recent film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” every vampire cliché (up to the mid-90s) the writers could think of is seen here. Even Bart (in a brief intro) admits as such; he states “we just threw something together with vampires.”
The plot (such as it is): The family goes to visit Mr. Burns’ house in creepy rural Pennsylvania for dinner. Burns, of course, is a vampire, and turns Bart into one. Hijinks ensue.
Some of the best moments:
- The police are unable to find out who’s been draining blood from the townspeople, despite finding a black cape labeled “Dracula.” (They think it’s a mummy.)
- Homer: “Oh, Lisa, you and your stories. ‘Bart is a vampire.’ ‘Beer kills brain cells.’ Now let’s go back to that… building… thingy, where our beds and TV… is.”
- Milhouse (turned into a vampire by Bart): “… and if you say you’re a vampire, you get a free small soda at the movies.”
- The ending, with Marge and the entire family (save for Lisa) revealed to be vampires (under Marge’s control as the head vampire)… even Maggie!
The episode’s only flaws are a few now-dated terms, showing it was made in 1993. Homer uses the words “Eskimo” and “queer” (the latter as an insult) at two points.
“Treehouse of Horror IV” is available on the series’ fifth season DVD set. It’s also available to stream on Disney+.
No Blu-ray release exists; for an HD copy, you’ll need to either buy it digitally or use Disney+.
What’s New Scooby-Doo?: A Scooby-Doo Halloween (2003)
I know, there’s two “Scooby-Doo” entries on this list, but I was having a tough time thinking of a 2000s-era entry to choose, so I went with this one.
“A Scooby-Doo Halloween” is a 2003 episode of the 2002-2006 revival series “What’s New Scooby-Doo?” that also serves as a stand-alone Halloween special. In this one, the gang visit Velma’s relatives, who live in a small rural town. The mystery of the episode involves scarecrows haunting the town’s Halloween festivities.
An OK outing, though with some weird elements: a laugh track (presumably in homage to the original series using such) and special guest stars KISS. The 70s rock group make a second Scooby-Doo appearance in a direct-to-video crossover film.
The entire run of “What’s New Scooby-Doo?” is available to stream on Boomerang and HBO Max.
“A Scooby-Doo Halloween” has also been released on a handful of compilation DVDs. The best options:
- The second season DVD set of “What’s New Scooby-Doo?” (released in 2007)
- “13 Spooky Tales: Run for Your ‘Rife!,” a two-disc DVD compilation of 13 episodes across various spin-offs (released in 2013)
- “Happy Halloween, Scooby-Doo,” as an extra feature (released in 2020)
If you want an HD copy of “A Scooby-Doo Halloween,” you’ll either have to use one of the streaming services above or buy it digitally. No Blu-ray version is currently available.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Legend of Boo-kini Bottom (2017)
This 2017 “SpongeBob” special is done in stop-motion animation, similar to the excellent Christmas special “It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!.”
The plot sees SpongeBob and Patrick set out to go trick-or-treating on Halloween. SpongeBob, initially afraid of the scarier aspects of Halloween, is convinced by Patrick that “scary = funny,” and laughs his way through the night. Unfortunately, this runs afoul of Bikini Bottom’s resident evil ghost, the Flying Dutchman, who insists Halloween should be scary. The Dutchman sets out to forcibly convince SpongeBob to see otherwise.
While I like the stop-motion Christmas special better, this one’s enjoyable.
“The Legend of Boo-kini Bottom” is available to stream on Paramount+.
It’s also available to buy on DVD, both as a stand-alone DVD and as part of the 11th season DVD set. No Blu-ray version exists; for an HD copy, you’ll need to buy it digitally or use Paramount+.