If you waited for the clock to strike midnight on Oct. 1 and ran around your house screaming, “This is Halloween! This is Halloween!” then a very happy spooky month to you! Halloween, technically celebrated on Oct. 31st, has now spanned into a month-long celebration filled with parties, haunted houses, yard decorations, and of course, horror movies. However, if you’re on the squeamish side or have little ones to entertain, traditional horror movies might be a bit too scary. Luckily, Disney+ specializes in not-so-scary Halloween movies. And each year they add even more new releases to the whopping amount of titles already there.
One of this year’s offerings that’s sure to please kids and their Lego-loving parents is Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales, which follows Poe and BB-8 as they encounter villains from the Star Wars universe. Another is Just Beyond, an anthology series if chilling tales based on the work of Goosebumps author R.L. Stine. Then there’s Under Wraps, a remake of the 1997 film of the name (strangely still missing on Disney+) in which a group of kids accidentally wake up a mummy in their neighbor’s basement.
But perhaps the most delightful thing to arrive on TV this season, maybe all year (if you’re a fan of The Muppets, Disneyland, or both) is Muppets Haunted Mansion. This musical holiday mash-up follows Gonzo and Pepe the King Prawn as they attempt to survive one night in a haunted mansion, which is actually THE Haunted Mansion. The Disney attraction is recreated in details, with some Muppet upgrades. Look for other Muppet cameos like Miss Piggy as Madame Pigota, Fozzie Bear as Gauzey the Hatbox Bear (still telling horrible jokes and getting heckled by Statler and Waldorf from a Doom Buggy instead of their usual balcony box), and the scariest creatures of all: celebrity guest stars, including Will Arnett, Darren Criss, Taraji P. Henson (no relation to Muppets creator Jim Henson), and John Stamos.
If you’d rather go back to some memorable classics, here are some great titles that will get the whole family in the Halloween spirit. And to make things easy for viewers, Disney+ has a new Halloween hub so you can find it all in one place.
This one’s pretty obvious, but it just wouldn’t be Halloween without our favorite trio of fabulous witches! This now iconic classic stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy as a trio of troublemaking witches.
In case you don’t remember the plot, it centers around brother and sister Max (Omri Katz) and his sister Dani (Thora Birch) who have just moved with their family to Salem (where else). To impress his crush Allison (Vinessa Shaw), Max convinces her and Dani to come check out the creepy home of the Sanderson sisters on Halloween night. Rumor has it, they used to suck the life out of children when they lived there back in the 1600s. When Max accidentally lights the black flame candle and brings them back to life, it’s up to stop the evil trio before dawn and save the town.
The three diabolical witches get all the best moments in the film, like when they meet their “Master” (an old man in a devil costume) and crash a Halloween costume party with their mystical rendition of “I Put a Spell On You.” Midler, Parker, and Najimy all seem to be having a blast, which makes them lots of fun to watch. Midler has even said this her favorite film she’s ever made.
Fun fact: Hocus Pocus was released in the summer rather than October to avoid competition with our next recommendation: The Nightmare Before Christmas.
You can debate whether this is a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie (it’s actually both), but why limit it to either one? There’s no wrong time to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas. The film—directed by Henry Selick though it’s commonly attributed to Tim Burton due to his above-the-title credit—is a marvel of modern claymation. The sheer amount of detail that went into every set and movement of the characters is nothing short of remarkable.
The film follows Jack Skellington (voiced by the film’s composer Danny Elfman when he sings and Chris Sarandon the rest of the time) the “Pumpkin King” of Halloweentown, whose residents are responsible for making each Halloween a success. But, as he laments through a song aptly titled “Jack’s Lament,” he’s “grown so tired of the same old thing.” Wandering through the forest, he stumbles upon a new and wonderful world—Christmastown—and immediately decides he can improve upon it. The monsters of Halloweentown try their best, but all they can come up with is a scary, creepy Christmas. The only one who might be able to talk some sense into Jack before it’s too late is his friend Sally (voiced by (Catherine O’Hara), a sewn-together doll with a knack for escaping from her creator. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a charming musical that reminds us to revel in being yourself.
Fun fact: It’s hard to believe now if you’ve ever been inside a Hot Topic store but when The Nightmare Before Christmas first came out, Disney didn’t create any merchandise for the film because they didn’t think it was going to be a hit.
Bonus watch: Fans should also make time this season to check out the Nightmare Before Christmas episode of the Netflix series The Holiday Movies That Made Us, which tells the fascinating behind-the-scenes story of how this groundbreaking film got made.
What might arguably be the best Disney Channel Original film, Halloweentown has now become a Halloween staple. Spanning a total of four films (does the fourth film really count though?) the series is set in a town where witches, vampires, werewolves, mummies, skeletons, and more spooky creatures live side by side. It follows Marnie Piper (Kimberly J. Brown) and her family of witches, including her grandmother Aggie (lovingly played by screen legend Debbie Reynolds), as they adventures with—and protect—the various citizens.
Halloweentown itself is a party every day. The citizens dress up in costume, constantly eat candy, and are as friendly as most Canadians. As the series goes on, Marine learns more about her own witchy skills and even brings some of the Halloweentownies into our world.
Fun fact: The real-life town where the Halloweentown films were shot—St. Helens, Oregon—hosts a month-long Halloweentown event in October where parts of the set are recreated for fans.
The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror”
Now the longest running TV show of all time, The Simpsons have given us new words (“D’oh!” a perfectly cromulent word if you ask me), songs, Butterfinger ads, and animated versions of celebrities we didn’t know we needed. They have also gifted us with their annual “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, 31 of which are available on Disney+ (“XXXII” and “XXXIII” were broadcast on Fox, but have yet to make it to the platform).
Each episode is self-contained anthology of short, horror-themed vignettes that aren’t bound by the continuity of the show (characters might die horribly or be vampires or get abducted by aliens without any resolution). The quality of animation and humor is top-notch, and it always seems like the creative team puts in special effort to make these episodes fun and memorable. The inspirations range from literary parodies like “The Monkey’s Paw” to TV shows like The Twilight Zone to films like The Shining (that segment in particular still gets referenced to this day), King Kong, and The Hunger Games. There are usually also original tales, often featuring aliens Kang and Kodos. In one of their best appearances they replace Dole and Clinton as presidential candidates, which no one seems to notice.
The “Treehouse of Horror” episodes are often some of the most complex to produce as well, especially “Homer Cubed,” which features a computer-animated Homer. This specific segment went on to win numerous animation awards and is one of the most well known moments in Simpsons history.
Fun Fact: Every “Treehouse of Horror” episode has custom end credits in which the cast and crew’s names are changed to special Halloween-themed ones like Bat Groening, James Hell Brooks, or The Invisible Man Castellaneta. The tradition has inspired a trend on Twitter each October, with people changing their user names in similar fashion.
This animated double feature has had an interesting journey on its road to Disney+. It was originally released in theaters in 1949 as a single film divided into two loosely connected segments (the Mr. Toad story and the Ichabod story). Over time, they were separated into two distinct featurettes for broadcast on TV and release on DVD and Blu-ray. But upon its launch in 2019, Disney+ brought them back together so audiences could see the complete product just as it was when it first came out.
The Mr. Toad segment might sound familiar if you’ve ever ridden on the Disneyland attraction Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Based on the novel The Wind in the Willows, it follows the titular amphibian adventurer as he becomes obsessed with automobiles and turns into a menace behind the wheel. The story is surprisingly dark for Disney (it was a different era back then), but at least it has a happier ending than the attraction.
Where you really get the Halloween feels, though, is in the Ichabod chapter. Based on Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” it centers on Ichabod Crane, a very superstitious dandy who arrives in the town of Sleepy Hollow as the new schoolmaster. He quickly falls for wealthy heiress Katrina van Tassel (mostly for her money). This angers Katrina’s other suitor, town rogue Brom Bones, At a Halloween party Brom tries to undermine Ichabod at every turn—he even arranges a dance-off—but his attempts backfire. Until he takes note of Ichabod’s superstitious nature, and gets the idea to regale the party with the musical tale of the legendary Headless Horseman. It works almost too well, and later that night Ichabod has a terrifying encounter with the spirit himself.
Although the stories are very different, they work well together due to their similar artistic styles. Both films are a reminder of how breathtaking Disney animation was for its time and are especially fun for younger kids, who may not be as accustomed to 2D animation.
Fun fact: As an added bonus, Disney+ also has the shorts “Trick or Treat” and “Lonesome Ghosts,” which feature Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Donald’s nephews getting into some Halloween mischief.
Basically an expanded 3D stop-motion remake of Tim Burton’s short film of the same title (also available on Disney+), Frankenweenie is Burton’s take on the classic Frankenstein tale. Filmed in moody black and white, it follows a young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan), whose beloved dog Sparky is sadly run over and dies. After learning about the effect of electricity on dead bugs, Victor goes about creating a makeshift laboratory and brings Sparky back to life. Once Victor’s classmates find out he can reanimate the dead, they decide to try to bring back their own pets, with disastrous results. Frankenweenie is dark, quirky, and adorable, basically everything you hope for in a Tim Burton film. Listen for the voices of frequent Burton collaborators like Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau, and Martin Short.
Fun fact: Frankenweenie is a bull terrier, and now bull terriers are often affectionately referred to as “Frankenweenie dogs.”
Starring real-life twins Tia and Tamera Mowrey of Sister, Sister fame, Twitches is another Disney Channel Original Film that will make you nostalgic for early 2000s fashion. It’s based on the middle-grade book series Twitches, a combination of the words—you guessed it—twin witches. The two young witches in question are Apolla (the sun twin) and Artemis (the moon twin), who were separated at birth and raised without knowledge of their real family or magical heritage. On their birthday, which also happens to be Halloween, they discover each other at the local mall, because they’ve got to buy more bandanas. As you do. Despite being twins, these two have very different outlooks on life with magical powers, but they ultimately come together to defeat an evil entity known as The Darkness once and for all.
Fun fact: There’s also a sequel (Twitches too), in which the pair discover boys.
If you were grounded, instead of using a rope ladder to climb out your window, why not set your mom up on a date with a vampire? That’s the premise behind this early 2000s Disney Channel Original movie, starring Caroline Rhea (Aunt Hilda on Sabrina the Teenage Witch). Adam (Matt O’Leary) and his sister Chelsea (Laura Vandervoot) get grounded (Chelsea calls her brother a dweeb, which in Disney speak is worse than most swears) so they decide to set their mom up on a date with a local vampire (Charles Shaughnessy), who, in all fairness, they do not know is a vampire until it’s too late. When their younger brother Taylor points out that this guy is clearly from Transylvania, they enlist the help of local vampire hunter Malachi Van Helsing (Robert Carradine) to help save their mom. It’s never clear why the kids didn’t just set their mom up with Van Helsing in the first place, as surely she would have become a vampire slayer and they would have been free to break all the rules come nighttime. But who are we to argue with DCOM logic?
Fun fact: In October of 2000, the same month this movie premiered on Disney Channel, Shaughnessy also guest starred in an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch opposite Rhea.
There are so many Halloween movies and shows on Disney that it would be impossible to list them all, so here are a few more worth checking out:
A teenager working at a movie theater has to deal with a local phantom who makes his life hell the night of a big Hollywood premiere. Honestly, smelling like popcorn all the time isn’t enough punishment?
A teenage girl is framed for a number of pranks by a local boogeyman. In this film’s mythology, boogeymen are created when kids stop believing in their imaginary friends too soon. It’s as if Bing Bong from Inside Out decided to enact some serious revenge for being forgotten. This one’s considerably scarier than the average DCOM; it was only the second one to earn a PG-13 rating.
We simply can’t overlook this beautiful and emotional Pixar feature inspired by the Mexican festival Dia de Los Muertos, which is often associated with Halloween due to its proximity and similar iconography. Be prepared to ugly cry: the Oscar-winning song “Remember Me” will give you all the feels.