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Creepy Cartoons: Garfield's Halloween Adventure

Every holiday season, I like to look back at a classic cartoon of yesteryear.  Some part of me feels like it's not really the holiday season until I watch a particular movie or cartoon special, and nothing makes me feel like I've gone back to my childhood more than watching a classic cartoon special.  Each year, I write about a holiday television special in a series that I call "A Cartoon Christmas."  

Last year, I covered "A Flintstones Christmas" from 1977, which you can check out HERE

I thought I'd expand that series this year into "Creepy Cartoons" for the Halloween season.  The toons aren't that creepy, but it goes with the Halloween theme, and I like alliteration.  Besides, it's my website, so I make the rules.  

Since I covered Garfield's Thanksgiving a few years back (click HERE for that), perhaps I'll start a "Cartoon Cornucopia" for Thanksgiving?  Well, we'll see.

Back to the holiday currently at hand, there are many incredible Halloween cartoons from the past to choose from.  This year, I've selected one that scared the pants off of me as a little kid when I first saw it, likely at 4 or 5 in 1988 or '89.  

Garfield's Halloween Adventure! 

I've discovered I wasn't alone in being scared silly. has a long article about how the special, specifically the final scenes, was terrifying for most children.  

Originally titled Garfield in Disguise when it debuted on television in 1985, the special was renamed to Garfield's Halloween Adventure the following year.  The Garfield in Disguise title was still used for the book adaptation released simultaneously, although, in later reprints, the name was switched to match the animated special.  

I had several of those books as a kid and always kept the stack of them on the bookshelf built into my bed's headboard because I liked to read all the holiday ones repeatedly.  If you're interested in reading about any other Garfield television specials, you can read the brief synopsis I wrote about my 5 Favorite Specials HERE.  

We're here to talk specifically about Garfield's Halloween Adventure today, so let's get started!

Garfield's Halloween Adventure originally aired on October 30, 1985, on CBS.  It's the 4th of 12 Garfield animated specials aired by CBS between 1982 and 1991.  This special won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program in 1986.

The director of previous Garfield specials, Phil Roman, created his own company named "Film Roman" to begin producing more Garfield specials.  The Halloween edition was the first one produced under that banner.  Roman was given the direction of Garfield creator and writer Jim Davis to "begin on a familiar, safe tone and to go somewhere that would at least scare 4-year-olds."

Well, it worked.

Everyone across America tuned in to watch everyone's favorite fat cat make some wisecracks about lasagna and Halloween candy but were treated to some intentionally disturbing imagery that scared children everywhere.  A wrinkled snarling face of a 110-year-old man, spooky pirate ghosts, and off-putting alternating styles of animation created an unsettling few moments for children. 

Looking back, it sort of illustrates why I only watched this special once or twice as a kid and only returned to it regularly as an adult for nostalgia's sake.  While being frightened is part and parcel with Halloween, this special makes a connection to my experiences with trick-or-treating as a kid.

I've mentioned before on this site that my folks instilled a pretty healthy dose of fear for being outside after dark, and I've always been uncomfortable being outside when the sun goes down.  When you trick-or-treat, there's the excitement of the promise of untold amounts of candy, the happiness of putting together a great costume, the fun of getting together with the other kids in the neighborhood to being your round of trick-or-treating, BUT... there was always that one house that didn't just let you get your treasure but wanted to freak you out completely.  

I was already on edge because it was dark out.  I was even further unsettled when the older kids in the area ran around with scary or blood-covered costumes.  Then there was that one house around the block that always had a chain saw or moving mannequin that would scare the pants off children before they earned their candy.  

Similarly, this special starts out safe and exciting but slowly takes a turn toward the scary side.  Until the two take the boat trip to the haunted island, the program is as tame as any other Garfield special.  It suddenly makes what calls "a left turn into abject terror."  

Interestingly, the book adaptation deviated from the original story in a few ways, namely with a longer scene with Garfield describing the history of Halloween to Odie, claiming the origin was a seventh-century Druid festival.  It also includes an extra sequence in which Garfield takes a gold ring from the pirate's treasure, and the ghosts follow him home until he returns the ring.  The skull and crossbones on Garfield's hat change expressions to match Garfield's throughout the book, which I always thought was funny.  

The cartoon itself opens up with beautiful painted background typical of Garfield cartoons that are reminiscent of the gorgeous Bill Melendez watercolor paintings from the Peanuts specials.  The scenery is one of the reasons I enjoy the Garfield Christmas special so much.  That and the little car.

Garfield is asleep in front of the television test pattern when a countdown begins to the morning startup.  See kids, before the mid-80s, television stations usually signed off after the network feed ended around midnight or 1am.  Then, around 5am, they would "turn back on" and launch a countdown, and often, the national anthem, to start their broadcasting day.  

Occasionally, networks would air some obscure content during those late-night hours but often found it not cost-effective, given the small audience during those hours.  When VCRs became readily available towards the end of the 1980s, and people began recording those late-night movies, networks began changing how they operated and slowly switched to 24 hours of content.  Ted Turner is often credited with being one of the pioneers of the 24-hour station with his UHF channel out of Atlanta (which would eventually become the TBS SuperStation.)

Back to the special, Binky the clown interrupts Garfield's slumber with his annoyingly high-pitched voice.  I found him annoying even as a kid, which was obviously the point.  While this was the first animated appearance of Binky The Clown, Binky first appeared in the Garfield universe in the newspaper comic strip in 1985.  He became a regular on Garfield and Friends Saturday morning cartoon that ran from 1988 to 1994.  Binky has not made any appearances in any recent Garfield productions, and there was an in-story mention on an episode of The Garfield Show (Cartoon Network 2008-2016) that Garfield's contract forbade the appearance of Binky the Clown, seemingly putting an end to the character.  The voice actor for Binky was Thom Huge, who also lent his voice to Garfield's "owner," Jon Arbuckle.  As a kid, I always thought of Binky as a figment of Garfield's imagination while he was dreaming, hence the similar voice to Jon.  

Anywho, Binky reminds everyone that tonight is the night you can get a lot of... CANDY!  Garfield is beyond ecstatic, and one of several Lou Rawls-produced musical numbers begins as Garfield celebrates Halloween.  He wakes up later from another nap and finds Jon in the kitchen scooping the guts out of a pumpkin.  Putting his blanket over his head, Garfield scares Jon, who winds up with the pumpkin on his head.  As Garfield scoops up his breakfast of a sweet roll, bacon, croissant, an apple, and coffee to hold himself over until the candy he'll get later, somehow, the pumpkin winds up on Odie's head.  

Garfield performs a few one-liners in the vein of Henny Youngman and stumbles upon the idea of taking Odie trick-or-treating to get not one but TWO sacks full of candy.  He tells Odie that Halloween is the night that dogs are required to help cats get candy.  At first, Odie seems suspicious, so Garfield tells him that the rules also state that if he's a really good boy... he gets one piece of candy as his own.  That convinces Odie, and the two head to the attic to try on costumes.

Another pleasant musical number begins as Garfield and Odie try on the costumes, discovering they can be anything they want!  Garfield tries on a king outfit and quickly shakes it off before trying out a "scary vampire" costume that turns into a bat.  This two-second clip of Garfield in the vampire outfit is frequently used in memes and gifs with the "young crowd."  See, I'm still hip?  Right, fellow kids?  

A black cat, an astronaut, a robot, a hobo, a clown, and an alien in a tuxedo round out the costumes.

Garfield settles on pirate outfits, and the two find Jon in the kitchen eating lasagna.  Garfield calls himself Orange-Beard the Pirate Captain and introduces his first mate as Odie the Stupid.  Jon laughs and hands them two pillowcases, and sends them out trick-or-treating.

Odie begins to get frightened as he sees the scary costumes of other kids out trick-or-treating.  I found it funny that Garfield calls them "the other kids like us."  

One of the kids is wearing a ghost costume, and Garfield lifts the sheet only to discover the feet of a hairy sasquatch.  The two go running down the street, and run into someone who looks a lot like Gargamel from The Smurfs.  Another ghost appears, and when Garfield pulls the sheet off its head, there's nothing inside.  The two are both spooked and run away in fear.

Garfield is successful at his first house and gets a sack full of loot.  Sometime later in the evening, the two wind up on a dock in the river with two full bags of candy.  Garfield convinces Odie to help him cross the river because there is a whole bunch of houses on the other side that will also have candy for him!

Orange-Beard commandeers a random boat at the dock, and the two quickly get caught up in the river's current.  Odie accidentally tosses the oars overboard, and Garfield begins to wallow in self-pity as they float downriver.  They eventually beach themselves in front of a spooky house, complete with perfectly timed lightning.  

Garfield sees light in the window and assumes someone must be home.  They peek in the window and a fire is burning in the fireplace.  The two enter and go to warm themselves by the fire.  Turning around, they see a scary-looking old man.  Here is where the animation flips back and forth between the cartoonish bold lines and colors of Garfield and Odie to the detailed imagery of the elderly man.  

The old man warns them that they picked the worst night to show up there and starts to tell them a story that he's never told another living soul.  Oddly, in one shot, the old man begins drooling while he speaks, and he nonchalantly wipes it away.  I never noticed it until this viewing.

The story goes this way:  the island they are on has a deep dark secret.  A ruthless band of pirates, 100 years ago that very night, had holed up in this house after being chased by the government.  Due to the enormous amount of stolen treasure, the pirates could run no further.  So, they buried the treasure at the house before they could make their escape.  Before they left the island, they vowed, in blood, to return for the treasure 100 years from Halloween night, at the stroke of midnight, to reclaim their treasure.  Even if it meant returning from the grave!

The old man says the pirates had a 10 year old cabin boy with them... and that he was that cabin boy.  A cabin boy is a boy who runs errands for the Captain and other officers on a ship.  It's not necessarily a boy in terms of age but an inexperienced sailor who could sometimes be a grown man.  He's been waiting for them, and they already know that Garfield and Odie are there and aren't happy.  Lightning flashes again, and the old man disappears.  Pretty spry for a 110 year old man!  

Garfield and Odie run outside and discover the boat, and his trick-or-treat candy, missing!  They don't specify, but they allude they were stolen by the old man.  The clock then strikes midnight, which I consider awfully late for a young cat and dog to be out alone.  The two run inside but don't find any ghost pirates.

Suddenly, lightning strikes again and the two look out the window.  They see a ghost ship and pirates emerge from the water and run for a place to hide.  The two end up in a kitchen cabinet, but Odie sneezes, blowing ht door open.  The ghosts all turn around and begin chasing Garfield and Odie out of the house.  The two wind up at the end of the dock and jump into the river.  Garfield remembers he can't swim and sinks to the bottom, but Odie saves him.  The two end up on shore again, back on the other side of the river.   

The pair begin walking home as Garfield decides it was indeed the worst night of his life.  That all changes when they come across their boat with two full bags of candy.  We're led to believe the old man left the boat there, but the book adaptation alludes that he didn't steal it but floated away on its own.  The name on the back of the boat read "Carolyn," which was writer Jim Davis' first wife's name.

Grateful to be home, Garfield gives Odie half of the candy rather than the one piece he promised him earlier.  

Garfield feels too excited to sleep, so he turns on the TV.  The old man from the haunted house is on television in a pirate hat!  He welcomes Garfield to the all-night pirate movie festival and laughs.  Suddenly feeling "tired," Garfield quickly turns the TV off and hides under the covers as the show comes to an end!

You can watch the entire special below, courtesy of the official Garfield youtube page.

While the Halloween one may not be my favorite of the Garfield specials, likely because I was so scared the first time, I'd never turn down the opportunity to watch it (or any Garfield special).  Mom would rent us the tapes from time to time, and they'd get pretty played out before it was time to return them.  

If, for some reason, you've never seen it, with a week or so to go before Halloween, please go out of your way to watch it.  You don't even have to go that far out of your way, seeing how the video is just a few lines above this one!    

It's a quick 24-minute look into Halloween goodness from 1985!  

Enjoy it, and Happy Halloween!