Trick or treat is a simple concept. You either get tricked, or you get a treat. However, often times the alluring promise of free candy overwhelms the whole “trick” element of Halloween. So, I went looking for a Halloween special whose main focus was a really solid Halloween prank. And oh did I ever find one in Hey Arnold!’s halloween special, simply titled Arnold’s Halloween.
While there’s been many “spooky” episodes of Hey Arnold!, featuring ghost stories and other urban legends and tales, this is the only proper Halloween special that the show seemed to have. And lucky for us it pays homage to one of the greatest pranks ever, Orson Welles’ radio drama War of the Worlds.
For those not in the know, War of the Worlds was a radio drama adaption of a piece written by H.G. Wells, directed and narrated by Orson Welles on October 30th 1938. The drama depicted an alien invasion as told from the perspective of a radio broadcaster. However, many people who missed the beginning of the piece (where it started it was fiction) kinda lost their shit thinking that this was a real alien invasion. People called the media and police, fled their homes, claimed they smelt poison gas and saw the flash of lights from the alien’s mothership. Mass hysteria!
Arnold’s Halloween is a full homage to the classic radio drama and its fallout. After Arnold’s grandfather refuses to let Arnold and Gerald in on the planing for his anual Halloween pranks, the two decide to pull a prank of their own War of the Worlds style, faking a alien invasion broadcast. Even going so far as to have their classmates dress up as aliens. The prank however worked too well, and once the local media picked up on the broadcast, the whole town’s a panic. Again, mass hysteria! The fun is simply watching this good natured prank spiral out of control, having the kids flee for their lives in their alien costumes, and watching the adults totally lose their shit as the city goes into a complete panic. The cherry on the top of this cartoon sundae is voice actor Maurice LaMarche who not only voices one of the show regular antagonists, Big Bob Pataki, but is able to reuse his killer Orson Welles impersonation (that he perfected as The Brain in Pinky and The Brain) as Donald Wells, a report obsessed with alien conspiracies.
The story of the fallout of The War of the Worlds has such natural comedy potential, it’s pretty surprising nobodies used it before. It’s a fun, panic filled story with tons of little moments, like Principle Warts planing to surrender willfully to the supposed invaders. I consider this one to be a hidden gem of animated Halloween specials. If you haven’t seen it before, give it a gander.