We here at the Hyperion house love Halloween, and today we’re looking at one of my favorite spooky shorts: Trick or Treat (1952).
Trick or Treat has a great opening. The Donald Duck title cards get a festive makeover, and true to midcentury animation, a fun title song is included in the title sequence.
The film opens with an iris shot focusing on the nighttime cityscape of Donald’s town. The first action of the movie is a familiar sight: a flying witch is silhouetted against the moon. Her cackling laughter clues us in to her plans for Halloween mischief.
The witch flies over town, scaring bats and a black cat, but she finds herself momentarily startled by Huey, Dewey and Louie. She watches the costumed lads intently as they approach Donald Duck’s house to trick or treat.
Donald pretends to give the boys candy, but instead pulls some tricks of his own. The witch thinks that Donald’s antics were cruel, and wants to help the boys get revenge.
It’s then that we’re properly introduced to Witch Hazel. She’s not to be confused with the Looney Tunes character of the same name. Although Disney’s Witch Hazel is nearly as ugly and scary, she also has a friendliness and morality that make her endearing. Sadly, she only appeared in this one short. Chuck Jones later admitted that he got the idea for his more villainous Witch Hazel, who first appeared in Bewitched Bunny in 1954, from this film.
Witch Hazel and the ducklings brew up a spell that serves as a vehicle for most of the animated antics in the short. Our cartoon conventions in this film come largely in the form of anthropomorphism. Witch Hazel’s spell brings jack-o’-lanterns, paint brushes, and other household items to life, all of which frighten and torment Donald.
The one anthropomorphic object that I think steals several scenes is Witch Hazel’s broom. It’s clearly like a pet to her, and acts alternately as a horse and a dog. It also doles out some well-deserved knocks to Donald.
After the objects come to life and break in to Donald’s house to scare him, we see the witch turn on Donald himself. When Witch Hazel demands that Donald open his pantry and give the boys some treats, he at first agrees, then changes his mind.
Donald locks the pantry and then does something that lost of cartoon characters do: he swallows the key. As often happens when keys find themselves inside cartoon characters, this one proves easy to get out again. Witch Hazel uses her potion to bewitch Donald’s feet, and a wonderfully exaggerated squash-and-stretch sequence follows.
Another scene that frequently happens in cartoons — and Disney cartoons specifically — occurs here when Donald gets a little too close to his fireplace. The flames jump out and burn his backside.
Having had enough, Donald finally relents and gives the boys their treats. Witch Hazel, happy knowing that it’s Donald who really got his just deserts, retreats into the night.
Trick of Treat is a must-watch for Halloween. The short is a bonus feature on the DVD for The Black Cauldron. It can also be purchased on The Chronological Donald: Volume 4. Alternately, it’s often easy to find on YouTube.