Trick or Treat With Donald Duck

by Wade Sampson, staff writer
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Trick or Treat With Donald Duck

For Halloween, there are so many Disney related topics in animation, comic books and theme parks that it is difficult to chose one or even a handful to discuss. However, as I was doing my research one little catchy tune by Paul Smith sung by the Mellomen kept dancing in my brain:

"Trick or Treat. Trick or Treat. Trick or Treat for Halloween. Better give a treat that's good to eat if you want to keep life serene.

"Trick or Treat. Trick or Treat. Trick or Treat the whole night through. Little scalawags with fiendish gags can make it tough on you.

"So when ghosts and goblins by the score ring the bell on your front door, better not be stingy or your nightmares will come true."

You can hear the song at this link, but be warned that it is just as hard to get out of your head as the theme song to "it's a small world."

Growing up watching the various Disney television programs over the years, it was always likely that the short cartoon "Trick or Treat" would be shown around Halloween.

Released Oct. 10, 1952 and directed by Jack Hannah from a story by Ralph Wright, it was nominated for but did not win an Academy Award. Animation was provided by Bill Justice, Volus Jones, Don Lusk and George Kreisl; effects animation by Dan MacManus; layout and background by Yale Gracey.

A very mean Donald Duck plays tricks on his nephews, the trick-or-treating Huey, Dewey and Louie, instead of giving them treats. The boys are befriended by a real witch named Witch Hazel (voice by June Foray) who uses some special spells to pry the treats from a reluctant Donald. She finally enchants his feet with a magic spray so that Donald is involuntarily used as a battering ram to smack into the locked closet of goodies. Witch Hazel flies off as the night comes to a close and the kids enjoy their treats.

"I enjoyed directing 'Trick or Treat' because I got a chance to work with a different personality. June Foray, who did such a great job as the voice of the witch, still mentions the film to me whenever I see her," said Jack Hannah in an interview reprinted in the first volume of "Walt's People." "The short got a very high ARI rating when the Studio watched it in the sweatbox. Walt said he couldn't understand some of the words; that the dialog was too fast. I heard that Carl Barks later adapted the cartoon into a comic book story, but I never saw it."

Two years later, Warner Brothers released a short titled "Bewtiched Bunny" directed by Chuck Jones featuring a witch called Witch Hazel also voiced by June Foray. In this cartoon, Bugs Bunny must rescue Hansel and Gretel from a rather more naughty witch.

"I did Witch Hazel as a short at Disney. She was a very funny character that I created the voice for. Chuck Jones loved it so much that he called me over to Warner Brothers to do her again. I went over there and they said, 'You're going to do Witch Hazel.' And I thought, 'how in hell are they going to do that?' Disney owns it and they're so litigious. But we did it. Chuck just went ahead and did it! So I asked him, just a couple of years ago, 'How the heck did you ever do that and get away with it, taking a character out from Disney's nose?' And he said, "Because it was an alcohol rub! He didn't own the name!" So Disney couldn't capitalize on that or stop Chuck because it was already a copyrighted name," Foray said in a December 1995 interview in Animation magazine.

Jones was probably referring to a North American shrub and the herbal medicine derived from it, witch hazel. This is probably the reason that John Stanley was also able to use a Witch Hazel character in his Little Lulu comic book stories.

Disney's Witch Hazel has a broom named Beelzebub that acts as both her servant and her method of flying transportation just like a traditional witch. She is, essentially, a good witch, although quite a crackpot, and has been used fairly frequently in Italian comic books where she struggles to convince Goofy, not Donald, that witches are indeed real.

There was also a Little Golden Book titled "Donald and the Witch." The nephews think they saw a witch but Donald doesn't believe them. After some supernatural hi-jinks, Donald becomes a believer and he and the boys enjoy a fall harvest feast with Witch Hazel.

For the record, if you want to recreate Witch Hazel's recipe for the magic brew, it consists of eye of needle, tongue of shoe, hand of clock, neck of bottle, tail of pout (a type of fish) and whiskers from a billy goat.

Interestingly, the same time the cartoon was released, Dell comic books produced an adaptation written and drawn by Hannah's old Disney writing partner, Carl Barks.

The story appeared in "Donald Duck" No. 26, November-December 1952 (reprinted by Gemstone in "Donald Duck and Friends" No. 332 and available as a back issue here).

There is an interesting story behind this adaptation.

Western Publishing did a lot of seasonal comic books from special Back To School issues to of course, Christmas specials. So it was not unusual for them to come up with a comic book themed to Halloween.

"I was sent the storyboard stats and told to make the stuff into a feature-length story. I soon found that the material wouldn't fill 32 pages that were then the length of a feature. So I ad-libbed some extra stuff. I didn't see the movie until long afterward," Barks said. (The artwork on the boards that Barks saw was by Ralph Wright.)

Some of Barks' changes were minor, like a nephew carrying a pumpkin on a pole instead of balancing it on his head. Other changes were more major. The Donald Duck of the animated cartoons was limited to what he could say since the audience had difficulty understanding Clarence Nash's "duck speak" clearly. The Donald Duck of Carl Barks' stories was much more eloquent. So this adaptation is atypical of the work that Barks was doing at the time with Donald Duck when it came to dialog.

Barks did borrow some of Witch Hazel's lines from the animated cartoon as well as some of the staging from the storyboards and poses from Witch Hazel's model sheet.

Barks scripting emphasizes the reason for Donald's meanness when it comes to giving out treats. He sees it as an unwelcome violation of his privacy. Barks also reinforces that Witch Hazel's efforts on behalf of the nephews is to remind people that witches do still exist and the nephews belief in witches needs to be rewarded.

Barks included some additions to the story including a short segment with a billy goat and another where Hazel disguises herself as a beautiful blonde duck bombshell to get candy from Donald.

However, not all of Barks' changes and additions were welcomed by the editorial staff at Western. To flesh out the thin story, Barks added an episode with Smorgie the Ogre, a six armed Cyclops wearing a derby hat, who had been conjured up by Hazel, and that sequence ran for several pages. The editor was so angry that those pages deviated so wildly from the original cartoon that they were deleted from the original printing of the story and Barks was refused payment for those additional, unwanted drawings.

To replace those missing pages, Barks wrote and illustrated a nine-page story, "Hobblin' Goblins" to fill out the rest of the comic book. The story recounts how the nephews get a "Goblin Foiler" device from Gyro Gearlose that only makes their lives worse when dealing with their Uncle Donald.

The editors also felt that Barks opening panel of a graveyard in the foreground to Duckburg was too gruesome even though it was based on the opening shot of the cartoon itself and Barks replaced that splash panel with a page and a half more clearly explaining why Donald felt he had to lock up the treats from the nephews because they had already made an attempt to steal the goodies.

The ending to the comic book story version is more uplifting that the final pumpkin "Boo!" scare in the animated cartoon with Donald coming to the realization that he enjoys Halloween and will dress up as a goblin next year.

The complete version, including all the missing pages, were pieced back together and recolored by Marie Severin, and published in the Carl Barks Library.

As a child and later as an adult, this cartoon delights me and when I think of Disney and Halloween, it is the first thing that comes to mind. The second thing that comes to mind is "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and Ichabod Crane with some lovely design work by Mary Blair, some terrific animation by John Sibley and Frank Thomas, a wonderful song sung by Bing Crosby and some interesting stories behind that featurette that almost inspired a dark ride at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. But that little treat of a story is a tale for another time.