I think the reason the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes resonate, whereas other Halloween specials don’t, is that the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes are a different animal than your average Halloween special.
When most cartoons do Halloween specials, they are typically just the characters doing one of their standard episodes while they are dressed in costumes. If they really want to be daring, the writers may inject something “spooky” like cartoon witch who has cast a spell over one of the characters or something along those lines. This is rarely very interesting or memorable because it’s basically just another episode or, even worse, it’s just a fake episode. Moreover, at no point does it really get into the spirit of Halloween except at the very childish trick-or-treat level: “Gee, Scooby, let’s go trick or treating! Oh no, a witch has cursed us and if we can’t get enough candy by midnight then we’ll turn into frogs!” Hmm. Yawn.
Further, these aren’t just parodies in the Scary Movie sense. These are still social commentaries as well and that lifts them above just being a cartoon. For example, in the episode where Lisa wishes for world peace and everyone throws away their guns, Kang and Kodos enslave humanity. Then Mo get angry and attacks them with a plank with a nail in it. Soon Kang and Kodos are on the run, but the story ends with Kang and Kodos prophesizing that: “They’ll make bigger boards and bigger nails, and soon, they will make a board with a nail so big it will destroy them all!”
That’s a pretty laughable idea, but it also touches upon things like the silliness of disarming the good guys, the futility of gun control, and the part of human nature that often gets us ahead of ourselves. And that gives this episode the kind of depth that makes it memorable, both through the combination of the parodying images which remind us of other films we know and love and the addition of the commentary which gives us something to think about and talk about later. An episode about a witch hypnotizing someone who is trick-or-treating just can’t compete with that.
This is why “Treehouse of Horror” episodes are so memorable and so little else is.
Thoughts? What are some of your favorite Halloween episodes?