Written by Jonathan Wojcik
Ranking 2016's Halloween CartoonsEvery year, Halloween brings with it a round of seasonally appropriate episodes from every kid's cartoon with good taste, but I usually reserve reviewing any of them for when just one in particular is extra special.
This year, we're going to do something a bit different. Here in the first week of November, 2016's Halloween specials have finished airing, and while I can't imagine why on Earth that would ever be, it does mean I can round them all up and review them from my least to most favorite of the year! Beginning with...
#14: The Loud House
I mentioned I'd be presenting these in reverse order of how much I like them, so this list will be worse before it gets better. I know a show primarily for kids is not supposed to impress a grown-ass adult, but plenty of them do, all the time, and I don't think even child-me would have felt very invested in the exploits of a little boy whose major issue in life is "having lots of sisters." Sisters all defined by singular traits such as "the nerd one" and "the goth one" and "the one that's still a baby." Eh.
The first of two Loud House Halloween segments revolves around Main Boy sneaking into a horror movie, The Harvester, about a deranged farmer, and having nightmares. This is a stock cartoon plot I've seen done to very funny extent before, but we don't even see much of The Harvester or any particularly interesting nightmare sequences, which are usually ripe for cartoon humor.
The second Halloween sequence is about a flu outbreak framed like a zombie story with snot jokes. We've all seen this before, and it doesn't bring much new to the crowded Child-Friendly Zombie Parody Table. Adventure Time set the bar pretty high for those with two episodes worth of undead candy people that balanced a decent amount of comedy and tension.
#13: The Powerpuff Girls: "The Squashening"
Oh boy. A lot has been said about the new, "updated" Powerpuff Girls on Cartoon Network, and not a lot of it has been good. I'm sure a lot of people involved have tried, but I could write an essay on how this series falls flat and how badly some specific episodes have screwed up. We're only here to talk Halloween specials, though, so that's what I'm going to do, and "The Squashening" is their first.
This episode begins with the girls Trick-or-Treating, when Buttercup steals the entire bowl of candy from the porch of an old, spooky house and incites the wrath of its resident, a giant spaghetti squash.
Okay. I can accept that, I guess, though the original series might have given the Squash more of an origin or build-up rather than just making it an everyday resident of the town.
Despite their well-established superpowers, the girls are incapable of fighting back against a large gourd and offer to tell it three scary stories instead, the first of which is Buttercup's "Night of the Living Bread," to speak of overdone zombie parodies.
While cute, the "bread zombies" are a one-note joke they don't do a lot else with. Adventure Time already outdid them with two episodes worth of inventively designed candy zombies, which offered both comedy and some genuine tension.
The one sort-of-funny gag comes when Buttercup tries to introduce Dracula as the true villain, which only infuriates the spaghetti squash for being a "hackneyed twist." He thinks that's bad, he should try watching the rest of the show! Sorry, when a cheap shot is that easy you have to take it.
The second segment is just Frankenstein's Monster retold by Blossom, with a final joke that the monster made her house messy, and since Blossom is a "neat freak" in this series, that's the part she thinks is scary. This is kind of another joke we've seen before in other cartoons with a little better comedic timing.
In the final story, Bubbles misses the point and tells a tale of romance between the squash and a giant, rampaging pumpkin. Moved by this story, the Squash realizes his anger stems more from his insecurity about being a "less popular" gourd for Halloween, and he lets the girls go.
The episode ends with comedic cross-dressing, because all this series really kept intact from the early 2000's were its worst jokes, although the punchline here is apparently that both Mojo Jojo and Blossom dressed as Ada Lovelace and nobody else "gets it." That's a nugget of a funny idea wasted on the third "chimpanzee in drag" gag we've gotten from this franchise.
#12: Spongebob Squarepants: "Whirlybrains"
I probably don't have to introduce Spongebob, do I? He is to the 2000's as Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse have been to generations past...but while its characters and countless breakout gags became timeless classics practically overnight, its overall quality took a notorious dive after Hillenburg's break from the crew, and I'm afraid Whirlybrains offers more of the same mediocrity.
Though Nickelodeon decided to bill this one as a Halloween episode, it's unlikely it was ever really intended as such, and not even the Flying Dutchman shows up to celebrate.
Instead, we get an utter nonsense plot in which converting your own brain into an aerial drone is Bikini Bottom's latest toy craze, and even as a major advocate of disembodied brains and eyeballs, this episode got barely a smirk from me. On paper, the idea seems ripe for the kind of twisted fun as Graveyard Shift or Nasty Patty, but it only leads to a series of bland antics that never really go anywhere. There's a glimmer of a story hook when Squidward mistakes the brains for martian invaders, but it never amounts to more than a throwaway gag.
Everything culminates in a mass disappearance of the flying brains, and I was fully expecting Plankton to be the one responsible. This whole "flying your own brain" technology is just the sort of deranged scheme he might have come up with in past appearances, especially since he would have to know, just as we do, that Spongebob is exactly foolish enough to be one of its first suckers. For that matter, Spongebob is the only one in town whose established biology should even make this possible, which might have also made for a stronger story pitch.
Alas, the brains have only been stolen by a mean old man angry that the brains are "in his air space," which is resolved in no time when he gets to join in on the fun.
#11: Uncle Grandpa: "Costume Crisis"
Featuring a seemingly omnipotent old man who is, simultaneously, the uncle and grandfather of everybody in the world, Uncle Grandpa is a series that most older cartoon nerds either aggressively ignore or aggressively detest, though most of the time, barring some socially cringe-worthy gags in its first couple of episodes, it's been harmlessly silly fare that the younger demographic at least gets a kick out of.
I'm going to have to give this episode a bit of a pass, though. By Uncle Grandpa's own standards, it could have been a lot more outlandish.
I do appreciate how angry Uncle Grandpa gets at the half-assery of one child's costume, and the solution he settles on is ridiculous enough to work, running through a series of magical transformations before settling on a giant, living candy bar, which is just as bad an idea on Halloween as you expect.
This kind of thing is usually a stronger point for this show; the hideous ways Uncle Grandpa's reality-warping magic and well-meaning ignorance can go terribly awry. From what I've seen, however, it often feels like they're not pushing it quite far enough, and this episode in particular ends up feeling far too "normal." The fact that the child is actually, literally a chocolate monstrosity doesn't really factor much into its jokes, and I swear I've seen this story done before with a child simply trapped in a candy costume, which would be interchangeable with how "costume crisis" plays out.
Uncle Grandpa isn't as bad as people say it is, but this is an episode that could have easily been better.
#10: Regular Show:
"Terror Tales of the Park VI"
Regular Show is fairly popular with us Millenials, but it's not one I ever got into myself. The dry humor had its moments whenever I gave it a shot, but with an aftertaste of 80's Nostalgia College Bro Comedy that I had my fill of before I even knew how to describe it in those terms. Since I last checked it out, it at least added a cute robot and a couple of actual female characters to the core cast, including a likeable small nerd, though she's apparently supposed to be a mole and that does not look like a mole by any stretch of the imagination. Come on. That's just a funny little person, Regular Show. Where are her gigantic claws? She's the cutest character that isn't also a sheet ghost, but how much cuter would she be with huge, ungainly, taloned flippers and her eyes covered over by skin?
I digress. The "Terror Tales of the Park" series is literally the same thing as the Simpson's "Treehouse of Horror," and maybe I should catch up on it for the sake of Halloween completionism even if I'm not catching up on the rest of the series, but its sixth entry didn't pull me in that much.
The first story is about a "fear planet" that manifests your darkest phobias, a premise that can hand any writing crew limitless opportunity for comedy and horror on a silver platter, but you're seeing the strangest and darkest they're willing to take it here. I know I've seen Regular Show do spookier than this even from what little I have seen before.
The second story is spun by the small woman who is so not a mole, come on, that's not a mole, and ends with everybody turning into vampires. I was going to keep being too lazy to google anyone's name in this show, but her name is Eileen. You're not a mole, Eileen.
The third story has the funniest setup, in which the cast is hunting for a new roommate and ends up with a terrible xenomorph named Shannon who loudly hogs the television, trashes the bathroom and other classic bad roommate shenanigans. That's cute. I would watch a whole series about Shannon.
Where this episode actually takes off and becomes hilarious is ironically in the final moments of its framing device, and it's funny enough that if you watch this show at all, I hope you're skipping my spoiler. See, I neglected to mention that this season apparently takes place in outer space, which is why they have a robot (and a buff Ellen Ripley homage who's also pretty charming), and by the third tale, they're all getting slowly sucked into a black hole.
As the special wraps up, the cast of Regular Show experience literal "spaghettification" as their atoms are stretched to the limit, which they decide isn't really that bad until they find themselves on the end of a fork.
...A fork held by astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, voicing himself for real, who cheerfully explains the principles of spaghettification, singularities and the event horizon as well as the fact that, yes, he is going to eat them because that's just how a black hole works. You get spaghettified and then Neil Degrasse Tyson eats you because he loves spaghetti.
Even if this isn't the funniest cartoon in our countdown overall, I think this might possibly be the single funniest joke.
#9: Mighty Magiswords: "Flirty Phantom"
Beginning as a series of web shorts, Mighty Magiswords just recently graduated to full-length Cartoon Network television series. I'm definitely happy for creator Kyle Carrozza, whose previous endeavors include the rejected series pilot Moobeard and the long-ish running webcomic Frog Raccoon Strawberry, though Magiswords is another of those series that feels like it's still looking for the right groove.
The Halloween episode at least features a cute-as-hell ghost girl, Penny Plasm, who falls in love with Prohyas, the brother in the show's sibling duo, and attempts to murder him so he, too, can be a ghost. I'm sounding like a broken record when I say "I've seen this before," but this is one cliche I still find pretty funny.
...And, again, that is an absolutely darling ghost. What's the downside here supposed to be, again? A little "dying?"
#8: Atomic Puppet: "Something Chicken"
Atomic Puppet is a highly overlooked Disney Channel series which, while not always exceptionally written or laugh-out-loud funny, has a charmingly off-the-wall premise - a superhero transformed into a child's hand puppet - and fantastic storyboarding. Look at that animation! You know how most cartoons pour extra budget into only the intro sequence? Not Atomic Puppet. The show is filled with sequences every bit this pretty.
This extends to Something Chicken, in which Atomic Puppet re-encounters one of his old enemies, a chicken that grows muchh larger and much more violent under the full moon. There are some amazingly beautiful shots throughout, like this one, and a few funny moments largely involving Atomic Puppet in his button-eyed, hilariously pathetic de-powered form. There's not much else to say, except this is a much more decent show than its minimal attention and miniscule fandom would imply.
#7: Pickle and Peanut: "Trick or Treat"
So here's another Disney entry, and another show I've seen almost nobody talking about. In this case, it's a bit more understandable; Pickle and Peanut has had its moments - such as the entire "90's Adventure Bear" episode I implore you to hunt down - but feels for the most part like it mashes up Regular Show's slacker-hipster tone with the hit-or-miss surrealism of later Spongebob. It's definitely a cartoon people either strongly dislike, or are just kind of alright with.
Trick or Treat has the two 20-something losers embarrassed to be seen gathering candy when they fall for a fairly generic one-off "hot neighbor" who thinks they're dressed up for a party. Scrambling to throw one together at their house, Pickle and Peanut improvise the "scary music" by playing a country record backwards, and of course, it opens a demonic portal.
This special doesn't really find itself until the end, when the demons admit that they, too, only crashed a party to appear cooler and more mature than they really are. Pickle and Peanut convince the demons that none of them are too old for classic childhood fun, and they all set out to trick-or-treat together...in hell.
This is actually the final shot of the episode before we see Pickle and Peanut's graves. "Everyone's in hell now" is a punchline I haven't seen in a kid's show since almost Ren and Stimpy. I now realize how much I've missed it.
#6: Teen Titans Go: "Halloween vs. Christmas"
What was that I was saying about shows that could be better, but still get more hate than they really warrant? Teen Titans Go may be one of the most reviled children's cartoons I've seen in my modest lifetime, and sure, I understand where it's coming from. The series teases the same characters and the same voice cast as the more dramatic, higher-budget Teen Titans that aired from 2003 to 2006 and ended on a highly emotional cliffhanger. It's unavoidable that dusting off its cast for an irreverent joke-a-minute comedy is going to make a whole lot of nerds feel almost personally attacked.
I'll admit, Go has had some aspects I can criticize myself, from some insensitive jokes to some episodes that felt almost disturbing in a strange, strange way, but most episodes aren't really hurting anybody - and some of them are outright hilarious.
"Halloween vs. Christmas" is sort of in the middle road of this show's quality. It's not up there with the funniest or most creative episodes, but it does offer above-average Halloween spirit, which is, after all, just what you're here for. While he doesn't get to go hog-wild with his damn near jaw-dropping skills, you can still see the influence of storyboarder Zach Bellissimo, someone whose talents are screaming for a show of their own and have certainly taken a shot at it.
In this episode, a Santa Claus possibly still bitter over the whole Jack Skellington ordeal makes an attempt to conquer and eradicate Halloween, jealous that its popularity is beginning to eclipse his own holiday. Through a dark ritual courtesy Raven, the titans unleash the spirit of Halloween himself and team up with a few classic monster to beat the crap out of Saint Nick and his elves.
If nothing else, I'm glad a Cartoon Network show features Dracula draining Rudolph completely of blood. It was about damn time.
#5: Harvey Beaks: "Technoscare"
There are parts of the internet that would egg my house for saying I'm not big on Harvey Beaks, another cartoon I just feel kind of squanders what it could be. Sheesh. Are we really this close to the end and I'm still talking about disappointments?
I guess I'm only so critical because I love the medium of cartoons so, so much, and I'm even including almost this entire list when I say they've improved significantly over the cartoons I had to pick from when I myself was in the 6-11 demographic. I complain so much, I probably sound like every aging dweeb who claims children's programming has only gone straight downhill. Let me assure you that it absolutely has not.
Harvey Beaks is a cute as heck show. I'm glad it's around for the kids who seem to love it. I'm just so much more intrigued by its magical world than it ever bothers to explore.
The special Halloween intro even shows us more of these rotten log ghosts. In the world of Harvey Beaks there are rotten log ghosts and they have their own rotten log ghost town. They get maybe one episode of focus and appear as only background dressing in a few other episodes. TELL ME MORE.
I sure am digressing hardcore today. Let's talk about this actual episode, which is just a Halloween-flavored "Christmas Carol" with a kid named Technobear, because he's a bear that loves techno music and apparently woodland animals have techno music.
Like Pickle and Peanut, Technobear thinks he's too old to go Trick-or-Treating, and would rather hit on women at the local club. This very rightfully incites the wrath of the netherworld, particularly a Halloween goblin voiced by the hilarious Dana Snyder.
Much of the episode is sort of predictable from there. The ghosts of Halloween Past, Present and Future try to convince Technobear that Trick or Treating is more fun than clubbing, and each ghost resembles one of the three main characters.
The best joke in the episode is probably when it lampshades the simultaneous existence of these characters as both ghosts and non-ghosts. "So you're ghost Harvey...and that's regular Harvey down there?"..."Yup."
Pretty cute. I always like that sort of thing. I also really like Harvey as a pumpkin-headed ghost.
Another funny moment - and one of its "Halloweenier" scenes - comes when the Ghost of Halloween Future tries to terrify Technobear with the usual vision of his own grave, but his rotten carcass still just wants to party.
Technobear does, eventually, learn his lesson, or rather, he feels guilty when he discovers that nobody in town wants to give his friends candy without him. Apparently his outgoing personality was the only thing that ever earned the children any treats. That's...sad? I feel like the town's adults clearly need more ghostly visitations than this kid.
#4: The Amazing World of Gumball: "The Scam"
Now there's a cartoon show! The internet has been almost criminally negligent of how creative, funny, and sometimes even touching this little show can be, set in a world populated by wildly varying animals, monsters, robots, vegetables, sentient objects and abstract concepts who seriously aren't just visual nonsense. All of these characters are exactly what they look like, with entire episodes and many, many clever jokes actually exploring the cultural and sometimes disturbingly biological ramifications of a universe where some people are talking fruit and some people are CG dinosaurs. There is actual worldbuilding in this show, and it is, at times, uproarious.
This isn't as true of The Scam as it is for other episodes, but it's still a fun ten minutes. On Halloween day, Gumball and his adopted fish-brother Darwin team up with their schoolmate Carrie Krueger, an actual ghost, to fool the rest of Elmore Junior High into believing it's been haunted by a demonic entity named Gargaroth.
Dressed as ghostbusters, the kids pretend to "exorcise" Gargaroth in exchange for candy, with Darwin agreeing to let Carrie possess his body and share the feast - a gag carried over from another great episode, The Ghost.
Of course it turns out that Gargaroth, a story Carries own ghost-parents used to frighten her with, is completely real.
#3: Counterfeit Cat
Here's a series most people hardly seem to have heard of, which is a shame, because it's every bit as quirky and cute as its opening sequence promises. It follows the day-to-day lives of a lazy, pampered old cat named Max and a tentacled, psychic alien named Gark, who hails from "the copycat planet" and lives as a cat for reasons the creators have hinted are fairly important.
I'm just glad to see it again at all - for Halloween or otherwise - since it burned through a bunch of its episodes within its first few months before a long and unexplained hiatus. As a half-British production, I almost suspected it as a financial casuality of the Brexit. What even is 2016.
In the first of two Halloween stories, Max becomes weary of his cushy lifestyle and goes looking for an even cushier one, only to follow Gark through a mysterious portal into an obviously haunted Hotel.
When it turns out that the Hotel is both run by and run for demons, Max demands to be let in on their gig and allows he and his friend to be transformed into hellspawn. That is hilarious. I remember when cartoons couldn't even say the word "demon" on American Television, and now we've seen demons out the wazoo here.
When demonic life actually turns out to entail a lot of boring chores, Max teaches the Hotel's other horrors how to cut loose and party, ransacking the place and getting the boot.
The segment does not, however, end with everything going back to normal. I won't ruin it.
So, in the second half of the episode, Gark runs across a filthy, decrepit, one-legged cat in a nearby alleyway and invites him home...only to find out that he's already an old acquaintance of Max.
Specifically, Max was there when this other cat, Jackson, died. He was also there when Jackson died a second time. And a third time. By the time of this episode, he's "Jackson 5," and he's bent on revenge. I don't want to ruin this one any further either, but it goes to some morbid places even I wasn't expecting these days.
#2: Star vs. the Forces of Evil:
Disney XD's Star is a show that started strong, began to falter a little, and abruptly spiked in quality by its first season finale. I've really enjoyed the threads of character development it's started weaving, and in particular the more sympathetic direction those "forces of evil" have gone. There's a lot more to this show now than a weird little girl beating up "bad" monsters, but I'll let you see it for yourself if you haven't already.
Our Halloween episode is a more standalone story, but as a Halloween episode, it has a beautifully creepy payoff that begins with Marco's dad completely fails to frighten the neighborhood children.
Always eager to help, Star summons a spirit she's heard is pretty good at hauntings, Hungry Larry, only to get a somewhat skeevy, annoying and highly underwhelming sheet ghost.
I won't spoil too much of the rest, but of all the cartoons in this list, this is the one I can see actually giving children a few nightmares.
So, Future Worm here is one more cartoon that's been seeing undeservedly neutral-to-negative amounts of buzz, but this bonkers homage to Doctor Who might be gunning for my favorite out of the series we've looked and brings us easily my favorite of 2016's Halloween specials. The series has drawn many understandable comparisons to Adult Swim's Rick and Morty in tons, content and visual style, but as a more family-friendly show, I find that Future Worm by necessity tries a little harder in the comedy department and finds an easier balance between the deranged and the heartwarming.
Future-Worm's format is a bit different from what you're used to. Every episode includes an 11-minute segment, a 7-minute segment, and finally a 3-4-minute short, which works out great. In any given show, you have to worry about trimming down your bigger ideas and awkwardly padding out your simpler ones, but in Future Worm, the writers can sort their stories into whichever length works best, and you end up with a nice, natural pacing throughout.
The first and longest of its three Halloween tales is the first episode focusing on Robo-Carp, a robotic fish who shows up every episode only to fail and explode as a running gag. Costing his friends one too many robot tournaments, Danny finally agrees to decomission his creation for good...
...Only for a hilarious conga-line of toxic waste, lightning rods, cursed tomes and other celebrated cliches to bring every iteration of Robo-Carp back from the grave.
Though silliness is upheld throughout, a final showdown between an amalgamated Zombie-Mega-Carp and the ultimate, perfected future Robo-Carp-1,000,000 is actually pretty sweet. The kind of sweet that works because it's thrust into the midst of something that otherwise doesn't dare take itself so seriously.
Even spooktaculerer is the 7-minute story, in which Danny's cute scientist mom accidentally brings home a cursed theremin and opens a portal to what is totally not really hell, unleashing knockoff cenobites who feed on human fear.
This especially doesn't bode well for Danny's father nor anyone who has to share the same neighborhood as Danny's father, whose own wife playing the theremin is enough to send him screaming in terror to his special safe spot in the attic. There are a lot of funny characters in this show, but every time they wheel out this guy, his utter horror of the world around him is only more entertaining, and there's plenty more of that along with plenty more demons and monsters before this segment wraps up.
The episode's final short really is the perfect note to end the episode, three fast paced but extremely funny minutes parodying both those Ghost Hunter reality shows and Scooby Doo. Why is there a doctor who's also a dinosaur, you ask? Maybe you just should have been watching Future-Worm to begin with.
So, there you have it. This year's crop of about a dozen children's Halloween specials. Some sure to become classics, some perhaps doomed to obscurity.
So what do you think? Did any of this make you want to watch any of these shows? Were you actually aware of all these shows? Should I make this round-up style cartoon review a yearly tradition? Let me know! Halloween II is just barely getting started!
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