The Halloween Tree is a 1993 animatedfantasy–dramatelevision film produced by Hanna-Barbera and based on Ray Bradbury‘s 1972 fantasynovel of the same name. The film tells the story of a group of trick-or-treating children who learn about the origins and influences of Halloween when one of their friends is spirited away by mysterious forces. Bradbury serves as the narrator of the film, which also stars Leonard Nimoy as the children’s guide, Mr. Moundshroud. Bradbury also wrote the film’s Emmy Award winning screenplay. The animation of the film was produced overseas for Hanna-Barbera by Fil-Cartoons in the Philippines. The film premiered on ABC on October 2, 1993.
The movie is often featured on Cartoon Network during the Halloween season. The film changes the novel’s group of night travelers from eight boys to three boys and a girl. A longer limited edition “author’s preferred text” of the novel was published in 2005, which included the screenplay.
The narrator (Ray Bradbury) describes one small American town’s preparations for Halloween night. Four friends are shown at their respective homes donning costumes excitedly: Jenny Smith as a witch, Ralph Bengstrum as a mummy, Wally Babb as a monster and Tom Skelton as a skeleton. They plan to meet up with their best friend, Joe “Pip” Pipkin, but he doesn’t appear. They go to Pip’s house and see him being loaded into an ambulance with his parents riding along with him. He has written them a note explaining that he is going to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy and that they should celebrate without him. They feel they cannot start Halloween without him, so they follow the ambulance to visit him at the hospital. Tom suggests a shortcut through the spooky woods: the dark and eerie ravine. They see what looks like a translucent Pip running along the ravine trail, and Tom leads them on, convinced that Pip has designed an elaborate hoax for them. The group races after Pip, who disappears near a towering and darkened mansion.
A man named Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud greets them inside. Moundshroud expresses disappointment that none of the children know what their costumes symbolize. He reveals that he is after the ghost of Pip. Pip seeks and steals a pumpkin with his face carved into it from Moundshroud’s Halloween Tree of jack-o’-lanterns. Tom begs Moundshroud to let them come with him and help bring back Pip. Moundshroud initially refuses but relents: if they can keep up with him before dawn, then they might be able to retrieve the pumpkin and get Pip back, while also going on a scavenger hunt of sorts to learn about the significance of their costumes and the origins of Halloween. They begin their pursuit of Pip, traveling back in time by ripping down old circus posters from a nearby barn and crafting a giant kite, with the children hanging on as a weighted tail.
First, they travel to Ancient Egypt to learn of the celebration called ‘the Feast of the Ghosts‘. Following Pip’s spirit to a tomb in a pyramid, they learn about the significance of mummification. Ralph finds a weak-spirited Pip and begs him to come back. As the priests began trying to embalm Pip, Ralph scares them away by pretending to be a real mummy, but when Moundshroud confronts him again, Pip uses his pumpkin’s magic to escape him, and the group chases him through time, once more.
Next, arriving at Stonehenge during the Dark Ages in England, they witness rituals carried out by Celticdruids and villagers of the old Celtic world. As Moundshroud teaches them, Pip briefly appears as a black cat. They come across a field of straw being harvested and made into brooms and discover a coven of witches chanting and celebrating the New Year. Moundshroud helps the children escape a mob of anti-witch villagers by making some of the brooms fly, then knocks Pip off his broom in an attempt to snatch away his pumpkin. Jenny catches Pip but is afraid of losing him. He encourages her and then darts away.
They follow him to France and arrive at the unfinished Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, learning of the cathedral’s use of gargoyles and demons. The children use Moundshroud’s magic to finish the cathedral, and Wally climbs to reach a Pip-shaped gargoyle that is holding Pip’s pumpkin. He begs Pip to be strong; Pip flees again and the group follows.
Finally, in Mexico, they learn about the significance of skeletons during “Día de los Muertos” — the Day of the Dead festival. They find a very weak Pip in a catacombs. Tom manages to get to Pip and apologizes to him, admitting he feels guilty for the whole ordeal because he once wished for something bad to happen to Pip so he could lead the group for once. Pip smiles and forgives him, promising to let him lead anytime he wants. Pip’s spirit crumbles into dust and is gone.
Moundshroud tells the children they did not make it in time and Pip is now his property. The children offer him a year from the end of each of their lives in exchange for Pip’s return. He accepts the deal and gives each of them a piece of a sugar candy skull with Pip’s name on it to eat, sealing the bargain. Pip’s spirit then revives, and he snatches his pumpkin back from Moundshroud and flies out. The group is then immediately transported home to America in the present day, having completed the four-thousand-year journey. The children go to Pip’s house to see if the experience was real, and are delighted to see him back from the hospital. At the mansion, Moundshroud blows out his pumpkin’s candle, turns into smoke and disappears; the Halloween Tree is assaulted by strong winds, blowing all the pumpkins away — all except for Pip’s “pumpkin”, which the children rescued by their sacrifice.