Disney’s Best Halloween Movies, TV Specials, and Shorts

| October 19, 2013 | 9 Replies

Headless Horseman copy

Halloween is a special holiday to many.  It kicks off the holiday season by introducing pumpkin-flavored everything, but for many adults it also takes us back to our time growing up. There are many different traditions surrounding Halloween like trick-or-treating, picking out a pumpkin at the pumpkin patch, and visiting haunted houses.

Halloween is also a very unique time at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. You can celebrate by attending Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom, taking a ride on Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland, or seeing if you’re brave enough to ride Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Disney California Adventure. Disney fans can also celebrate from their own homes by watching some of Disney’s Halloween-themed movies, TV specials, and cartoons. Here are the top 10 (in no particular order) Disney specials to watch this Halloween.

NOTE: A lot of the movies, TV shows, and shorts listed below can be hard to find/may be unavailable. There is no guarantee that they will be broadcasted this Halloween.

1.    Disney Animated Shorts

There was a time when you could turn on Disney Channel and still see some of Walt Disney’s classic cartoons. Now, there is hardly any way to watch old Disney Animated Shorts, but a lot can be found on YouTube, the Walt Disney Treasures DVD Collection, and other Disney DVDs. The sad part about it is that there are actually a lot of Disney shorts that are Halloween related.

The Skeleton Dance  (1929) was the first Silly Symphony and Disney’s first spooky cartoon. Mickey Mouse had his first experience with the macabre in The Haunted House (1929), which borrowed some of the skeleton animation from The Skeleton Dance. In The Mad Doctor (1933), Mickey dreams that a mad scientist who performs evil experiments on his subjects captures Pluto.  Pluto’s Judgement Day (1935) is one of the scarier Disney shorts in which Pluto has a dream that he is put on trial and found guilty of chasing too many cats.

In Lonesome Ghosts (1937), Mickey, Goofy, and Donald get a call to inspect a haunted house by some ghosts looking to have a bit of fun with them. Huey, Dewey, and Louie dress up as a gorilla that escaped the zoo in Donald and the Gorilla (1944), but to their surprise the real gorilla pays them a visit. Huey, Dewey, and Louie return to play tricks on Donald with Witch Hazel on Halloween night in Trick or Treat (1952). In the latest spooky Disney short, Ghoul Friend (2013), Mickey’s car breaks down and a zombie-like Goofy appears to lend a hand.

2.    Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia (1940)

Night on Bald Mountain is the second-to-last segment in the 1940 masterpiece Fantasia and is only followed by Ave Maria, which is the counter-balance to the somewhat disturbing segment before it. Chernabog, god of night and evil, rises from Bald Mountain and summons his ghosts and demons so he can throw them into the fiery pit of the mountain. It is without a doubt one of the scariest pieces of animation that Disney animators have drawn and deserves to be, considering the plot deals with a character who represents pure evil.

3.    The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949)

Released as part of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Bing Crosby narrates this animated tale that tells the story of Ichabod Crane and his meeting with the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. If it wasn’t for this classic short, the Headless Horseman’s ride through Frontierland, Liberty Square, and down Main Street U.S.A. as the start of Mickey’s “Boo to You” Halloween Parade would most likely not exist.

4.    Hocus Pocus (1993)

This Halloween classic didn’t receive the most glowing reviews when it was released in theaters, but since then it has gained a cult following, especially with Disney fans, and has been shown every October. Hocus Pocus, tells the story of a boy who brings three witches, the Sanderson Sisters – Winifred, Mary, and Sarah (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker, respectively) – back from the grave on Halloween night and must work with his sister, friend, and an immortal cat to send them back to where they came from.

5.    The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Originally a poem written in 1982 by Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas (directed by Henry Selick, not Burton) has become a holiday staple for many. Part of the allure of the film is that it works as a Halloween and Christmas movie and can be viewed anywhere in between September and December. Upon its release, it was a mild success, but due to a cult following, The Nightmare Before Christmas has spawned tons of merchandise as well as an overlay to The Haunted Mansion in Disneyland every year.  The Nightmare Before Christmas tells the story of Jack Skellington of Halloween Town who stumbles upon Christmas Town and devises a plan to take over Christmas.

6.    Boo to You Too! Winnie the Pooh (1996)

From 1988 to 1991, The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh aired on Disney Channel/ABC and eventually spawned holiday specials in the mid ‘90s. The series had a couple Halloween-themed segments, most notably “Frankenpooh”, but in Boo to You TOO! Winnie the Pooh the Hundred Acre Wood friends finally got the chance to go trick-or-treating and help Piglet overcome his fear of Halloween.

7.    Tower of Terror (1997)

In 1994, the elevator doors opened on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror for the very first time and prompted the question, “What is the full backstory on those five individuals that were on the elevator that plummeted 13 stories and is it possible that someone can put their souls to rest?” This made-for-TV movie tries to answer both of those questions while creating new ones such as, “Why does The Twilight Zone have zero involvement in this film when that is the main storyline in the attraction?” or “Kristen Dunst and Steve Guttenberg starred in it, so it can’t be that bad right?” However, as terrible as it is, the movie shows a lot of the attraction, entertains, and was the first attraction-based film, which eventually led to the Pirates of the Caribbean phenomenon.

8.    The Haunted Mansion (2003)

In 2003, Disney had a huge hit with Pirates of the Caribbean, but they also had a pretty big disaster with The Haunted Mansion. The film, which was critically panned, bombed in the United States, but did better in foreign territories. The main issue with the movie is that it was made and marketed for families. Eddie Murphy plays Jim Evers, an overworked real estate agent who can’t resist the chance to see and potentially sell an old (haunted) mansion, so he drags his family away from their getaway into a strange, ghost-filled weekend. Disney had a chance to turn the picture into a darker tale, but chose to focus on the comedic aspects that are seen throughout the attraction, but do not define it. A Guillermo del Toro reboot has been discussed, but no updates have been made since 2012. Despite the film being a flop, Disney and Mansion fans can appreciate some parts of the film and maybe agree that it is worth a watch every Halloween.

9.    Frankenweenie (1984)/(2012)

Most people are probably unaware of the fact that Tim Burton got his start at Disney as an animator on The Fox and the Hound. While at Disney, he had the chance to make Vincent, a stop-motion film about a boy who dreams about being his hero, Vincent Price. Burton also had the chance to make a live-action short, Frankenweenie, starring Shelly Duvall and Daniel Stern, about a boy who tries to bring his dog back to life after it gets hit by a car. Disney fired Burton after the short was completed and he went onto a successful career. In 1993, Burton came back to Disney (under Touchstone Pictures) to work on The Nightmare Before Christmas and three years later on James and the Giant Peach. Disney then hired Burton to direct 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and part of that deal included the chance for Burton to remake Frankenweenie as a full-length stop motion animated film. The plot remains the same, but the story is more fleshed out in the highly praised remake.

10.    Toy Story of TERROR! (2013)

In Pixar’s first ever television special, Woody, Buzz, and the gang are on a road trip when the car gets a flat tire and they are forced to stop at a roadside motel for the night. The toys start disappearing mysteriously one-by-one and must come together to make it through the night. Toy Story of TERROR!revives the dying breed of half-hour Halloween TV specials and it is not too soon to admit that it will become a yearly tradition for families to watch. One other Toy Story half-hour special will be produced, but Pixar has not released any details about it. If they’ve learned anything from this one, hopefully it is that a Christmas special would be just as great.

One last honorable mention would go to Disney’s Halloween Treat/A Disney Halloween. The Halloween-themed specials aired on ABC and the Disney Channel in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Most of the shorts that were mentioned in this article could be seen in the special as well as “scarier” portions from some Disney Animated films such as The Sword in the Stone, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Lady and the Tramp.

Disney has produced many Halloween-related specials in sitcoms such as Roseanne and Home Improvement. They have even made original movies for Disney Channel like Halloweentown and its sequels. Some of these on the top 10 list of what to watch this Halloween may be your favorites and maybe there are ones missing. Halloween means something different for each person, so what are your favorite things to watch this Halloween?


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Category: Disney, Entertainment, TV / Movies

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About the Author ()

Associate Producer of the DIS Unplugged - I spent most of my life in Butler, Pennsylvania, before moving to Florida. In the past, I have worked for both Walt Disney World (Test Track) and Universal Orlando (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Dragon Challenge). I graduated from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA in 2009.
  • dannydisneyfreak

    Thanks Craig, gotta make sure to watch some of those before Halloween.

    • Craig Williams

      You’re welcome! Hope you like them as much as I do.

  • William Routon II

    Isn’t Prep and Landing a Pixar 1/2 hour Christmas special?

    • Craig Williams

      Yes, Prep and Landing is a Christmas special.

    • http://shaunthompson.net/ Shaun Thompson

      Prep and Landing was made by Walt Disney Animation Studios, not Pixar.

  • Amy D

    What about Mr. Boogedy??

    • Craig Williams

      I’ve never heard of it! I had to look it up, but now I can’t wait to track it down. Same goes with “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.

      • Amy D

        I’ve heard it’s on YouTube, but I’m not sure. Fans have been trying for years to get it re-released in all it’s 80s glory. I hope you’re able to find it! “The Watcher in the Woods” is another great Disney Halloween movie.

  • Sparkels

    I love Hocus Pocus and Boo to You.