For me, the highlight of Disneyland at Halloween is Frontierland. Between the Dia de los Muertos decor near Rancho del Zocalo and The Halloween Tree near Golden Horseshoe, there’s a lot of actual meaning behind the decorations in Frontierland. It’s not simply decorating for the sake of decorating. Disneyland fans are probably fairly familiar with The Halloween Tree, but for those of you who are not, this post offers a bit of historical information about it, and the man to whom it pays tribute, Ray Bradbury.
Most Americans probably know literary heavy-weight Ray Bradbury for Fahrenheit 451. This has been a curriculum mainstay for countless grade schools around the United States; I fondly recall reading it as a child during “Banned Book Week.” It was one of the first “significant” (save for the seminal Monster Blood title from R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series) books that really captivated me, thanks to its edgy substance and controversial reputation.
Bradbury wrote countless novels, short stories, and other works over the course of a career that spanned decades. One of these was his 1972 novel, titled The Halloween Tree. This is a story about eight boys who set out on a Halloween night to meet their friend, Pipkin, at a haunted house. Like all good Disney stories, “something goes terribly wrong,” and then instead end up encountering a mysterious character named Moundshroud next to a tree filled with jack-o-lanterns (hence the name of the story).
This dude leads the boys through time and space making their way through various death-related scenes–witnessing a funeral procession in ancient Egypt, cavemen discovering fire, Druid rites, the persecution of witches in the Dark Ages, and the gargoyles of Notre Dame–as they try to chase after Pipkin. They finally catch up with their friend and make a sacrifice to save his life. In the story, the Halloween Tree serves as a metaphor representing cultural Halloween traditions.
Interested in knowing a bit more about the plot but cannot be bothered to read such a voluminous novella because you have important Disney blogs to read? You’re in luck, because the internet is full of summary sites that spare students from such burdens. It’s really an engaging story, and it’s sort of unfortunate it has never been made into a movie or television special for Halloween to reach a wider audience.
The Halloween Tree was introduced to Disneyland in 2007 with Ray Bradbury on-hand for its dedication. It was modeled after the illustration of the tree by Joseph Mugnaini, a frequent collaborator with Bradbury, that appeared on the original cover printing of the novella. (See the second image on this site.)
You might be asking yourself, “why would Disney honor Ray Bradbury for this short story? Warwick Davis did more for Halloween with his work in the classic Leprechaun films!” Well, it’s probably because Ray Bradbury was a big advocate of Walt Disney and his theme parks. (Although I wholly agree with you that Pirates of the Caribbean should receive a Halloween Leprechaun overlay a la Haunted Mansion Holiday.)
Ray Bradbury’s relationship to the Disney parks is well-documented, and dates all the way back to 1958 when he wrote a letter to the editor of The Nation magazine, defending Disneyland after he read an unflattering article titled “Disneyland and Las Vegas” in the magazine. Bradbury wrote other spirited defenses of Disneyland, considering it worthy of intellectuals and proclaiming that, “Disneyland liberates men to their better selves.”
Bradbury’s writings on the significance of Disney theme parks gave them an air of legitimacy to otherwise dismissive critics, early on, and his role in changing the perception of theme parks was great. I could go on and on with what Ray Bradbury did for Disney theme parks, but others have covered what he did for Disney better and in more depth.
In short, Ray Bradbury is definitely deserving of this tribute, and I hope it continues on for decades to come. I realize that most of this has little-to-nothing to do with The Halloween Tree itself, but I think it’s all pretty interesting and sort of related to why the tree is in Disneyland. Plus, I could come up with 1,000 words about a tree filled with pumpkins that have been drawn on with Sharpies, so I need something to fill the paragraphs between my photos!
If you’re visiting Disneyland during the fall, make sure to read our Halloween Time at Disneyland Guide for information about all of the current Halloween offerings, and what we recommend seeing, doing, and eating.