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SYFY WIRE Halloween

Great Pumpkins and Treehouses of Horror: The best animated Halloween specials, ranked

Time to cuddle up on the couch and revisit the best animated TV Halloween specials.

By Tara Bennett
Cartoon Halloween Specials

Along with the decorating, costumes, and candy-chasing, Halloween has the special distinction of inspiring a host of animated Halloween specials. Going back to the '60s, some of the greatest creators in the animation medium, from Friz Freleng to Rankin/Bass and Bill Melendez, were all crafting original Halloween stories that endure to this day. And in turn, they've inspired decades more specials that all celebrate the season with iconic characters and unusual twists on the seasonal tropes. 

SYFY WIRE has dug into our spooky attic of Halloween treasures and pulled out nine examples of animated specials that premiered in television prime time and still live large in our memories.

9. Halloween Is Grinch Night (1977)

Halloween Is Grinch Night

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) is always the first animated special that comes to mind when the Grinch is mentioned, naturally. But a decade later, Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel) returned to pen this new special, which is a prequel to the Christmas classic. Hans Conried voices the green grump in a story that has him attempting to head to Whoville to terrorize the town on "Grinch Night." But one little Who, Euchariah, goes out to delay the green meanie and has a wild adventure doing the "spook tour" of the forest. Although it's not as charming or memorable as the Christmas installment, Halloween is Grinch Night is still a welcome walk into the world of Dr. Seuss language and absurdism. 

8. Garfield’s Halloween Adventure (1985)

Garfield's Halloween Adventure

The special that birthed the nickname "Gar-Halloween-field" and the line, "Candy, candy, candy!" Directed and written by Garfield creator Jim Davis, Garfield’s Halloween Adventure has Garfield and Odie, The Binky the Clown Show, pirate ghosts, TWO Lou Rawls song and Lorenzo Music voicing Garfield (as it should be). The laconic and cowardly cat is the perfect recipient of scares as he and Odie blunder their way through a evening of creepy ghost stories, abandoned houses and candy excess. 

7. The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special (2017)

The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special

The brainchild of SNL writers/comedians Mikey Day, Bobby Moynihan, and Streeter Seidell, The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special is the bizarro extension of the viral sketch starring Tom Hanks. The Oscar winner returns to voice the suited enigma as the magical savior of a brother and sister's Halloween. It's strange and the wit is dry as a bone, which makes it a cut above the rest of the seasonal specials. Plus, Peter Dinklage narrates it. I swear, I'm not lying. 

6. Toy Story of Terror (2013)

Toy Story of Terror

Back when we didn't think we'd be getting more Toy Story tales, this Pixar animated special reunited Bonnie with all of the beloved toys in a Halloween-themed road trip adventure that puts them at the spooky Sleep Well roadside motel. The entire film voice cast returns including Tom Hanks and Tim Allen as Woody and Buzz, respectively. The special looks movie quality and the story is a worthy seasonal adventure that adds Combat Carl (Carl Weathers) to the ensemble.

5. Scared Shrekless (2010)

Scared Shrekless

An original story set after Shrek Forever After, Scared Shrekless reunites the character, and the theatrical voice cast, to tell scary stories on Halloween night. Split into three separate tales, The Bride of Gingy, Boots Motel and The Shreksorcist, they're all irreverent remixes of familiar stories just with a fairy tale remix. There's even a cameo by Duloc!

4. The Halloween Tree (1972)

The Halloween Tree

A deep cut that turns 50 this year, The Halloween Tree is a Hanna-Barbera special based on Ray Bradbury's short story of the same name. It also features the vocal work of Bradbury and the great Leonard Nimoy. Via a group of trick-or-treating friends, we are swept into their adventure as they get swept into the past to learn about the origins of Halloween as a holiday. It's weirdly educational but also creepy. Well worth the YouTube watch.

3. The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror (Ongoing)

Simpsons Treehouse of Horror

Ok, this is sort of cheating because The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes technically live within every season of the series, so they aren't specials in the same way the others in the list are. However, they are standalone episodes created every year especially for Halloween and because of that, we'll bend the rules. Also, because the show's parodies of all things horror have becomes as synonymous with Halloween as asking for candy at stranger's doors. Going on 33 years, every episode is an anthology that tells three individual stories that place The Simpsons and their friends in Springfield into something scary. Or, they just satirize something in horror pop culture that deserves it. The best examples exist within the first decade of the endeavor and remain some of the best horror parodies ever. 

2. Mad Monster Party? (1967)

Mad Monster Party (1967)

Directed by the legendary Jules Bass, who just passed away this week, Mad Monster Party? is a stop-motion animation classic that has Boris Karloff voicing Baron Boris von Frankenstein, who leads the "Worldwide Organization of Monsters." Featuring an array of classic monsters, a fun story and six original tunes, this special doesn't get as much love as other Rankin/Bass specials featuring Rudolph or Frosty the Snowman, but it deserves enduring appreciation.

1. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)


The granddaddy of them all, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown remains a Halloween annual tradition 56 years after its original premiere. Directed by the late, great Bill Melendez and scored by the Incomparable Vince Guaraldi, this special stands out for its charming story of Linus Van Pelt's obsession with the mythical Great Pumpkin who on Halloween rises out of the most sincere pumpkin patch in the land and showers his devoted with candy. It's ridiculous and hilarious with Charles Schultz softly poking fun at the unique oddities of personal beliefs. There's also the fever dream of Snoopy's WWI flying ace escaping behind enemy lines. The multiple stories all sync up for a great payoff that even manages to show off the softer side of Lucy (if that's possible). Plus, that opening credit montage with the owl sticks with you over the years. 

Looking for more horror scares this Halloween? Check out a ton of great films streaming on Peacock.