Today, when most people think of Disney and witches, ghosts and ghouls, they typically think of The Haunted Mansion attraction, The Nightmare Before Christmas film, or Halloweentime at the Disney Parks. But, when you look at the whole haunted history of The Walt Disney Company, you quickly see that Walt dealt with spooky subjects from the very beginning.
Long before Oogie Boogie tried to kill Santa Claus, before lighting struck The Hollywood Tower Hotel, before Disneyland, even before Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney produced a series of silent shorts called the Alice Comedies. They were a series of films in which a live-action girl named Alice–originally played by Virginia Davis–had adventures in animated worlds created by Walt and his brand-new team.
Released on April 1, 1924, Alice’s Spooky Adventure was the third film in the series. When a ball is accidentally knocked through the window of a neighborhood haunted house, Alice is the only one brave enough to go inside to get it back. While there she falls and bumps her head, sending her to a cartoon dreamworld in which she rescues a cat and battles some spirits in a town full of animated ghosts.
On August 22, 1929, Walt launched a new series of shorts aptly named Silly Symphonies. The Silly Symphonies series allowed Walt and his animators to experiment with new techniques and processes that would eventually lead them to making a full-length animated film. The first Silly Symphony was The Skeleton Dance and featured four spooky skeletons dancing in a graveyard.
In 1928, Mickey and Minnie Mouse were introduced to the world, and just a year later, in 1929, Mickey braved The Haunted House. Walt provided Mickey’s voice, and in an effort to save time, some of the animation from The Skeleton Dance was reused to create this creepy cartoon.
In 1933, Mickey appeared with Pluto and Dr. XXX in The Mad Doctor and in 1937 Mickey, Donald and Goofy are the Ajax Ghost Exterminators in Lonesome Ghosts. When a bunch of ghosts get bored because they have no one to haunt, they call the Ajax Ghost Exterminators to come out to their haunted house to taunt them. In the short, Goofy says the line “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!” leading many to believe that this Disney cartoon may just have inspired the Ghostbusters series of films.
In 1952, Trick Or Treat had Huey, Dewey and Louie getting some revenge on their Uncle Donald when he decides to give his nephews tricks instead of treats for Halloween. With a bit of help from Witch Hazel, the trio teach Donald a lesson he’ll never forget.
While Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and its sequel Return from Witch Mountain (1978) sound like they might involve witches, they didn’t. Adapted from Alexander Key’s 1968 science-fiction novel “Escape to Witch Mountain,” both films follow the adventures of two twins, Tony and Tia, who have paranormal abilities.
The twins’s adventures in the first film lead them to their Uncle Bené at Witch Mountain and they find out that they are actually aliens! The first film was one of Disney’s most successful live-action movies at the time, so it was followed up by the 1978 sequel and a 1982 television movie that was going to be a full-fledged series if it was successful. Sadly the television networks weren’t that interested in “Beyond Witch Mountain,” so the TV movie aired once, then materialized on The Disney Channel a few times before it disappeared into the mist just like Tony and Tia’s UFO. And yes, that is Tracey Gold from “Growing Pains.”
In 1983, Disney released Something Wicked This Way Comes. The film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s 1962 novel was written by Bradbury himself and starred Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce and Diane Ladd. Bradbury thought the film about Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival was one of the best screen adaptations of any of his works.
In 1993, Walt Disney Pictures released Hocus Pocus. The film stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson Sisters, a trio of Salem witches, who are brought back from the dead by an unsuspecting teenager in modern Massachusetts on Halloween night. The coven attempts to suck out the souls of all the neighborhood children before dawn to ensure their return is permanent, but with the help of a talking black cat, the group of kids are able to save the modern world from the evil witches.
The film has achieved cult status over the years through home video releases, the Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular at Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom, and Bette Midler even dressed up as Winifred Sanderson and performed during her Divine Intervention Tour.