All through October (okay, maybe earlier than that), millennials like me start posting about fall and Halloween on social media. For many of us, this season is the best for nostalgia. We share our childhood memories of the pumpkin patch, trick-or-treating, eating candy, and most importantly, watching Disney Channel’s classic Halloween lineup.
Programming for Halloween has taken many shapes throughout the channel’s history. In decades past, we’ve seen the Monster Bash, Fresh Fright-Dayz, Hauntoberfest, Week of Witches, Monstober, Wiz-tober, and other spooky titles for marathons and themed blocks. When I posted some stills from old Disney Channel Halloween commercials, my Instagram friends responded quickly.
“I miss these days !!!” “the best time of the year!!” “oh how i want to go back in time,” a few commenters wrote. Another said their favorite memory from Disney Channel Halloween was: “Watching Halloweentown and thinking the marshmallow spiders in the cocoa were the coolest thing ever.”
Even before the years of Halloweentown — aka Best Halloween Movie Franchise Ever — people loved the Disney Channel’s autumnal slate. Some remember Mickey Mouse cartoons and Disney’s Halloween Treat airing in the 1980s and early ’90s.
Why do we love Disney Channel Halloween so much? What is it about this programming season that has swept us up into such a nostalgic reverie? I have a theory about this, and it might resonate with you, too.
I believe the Disney Channel’s spooky episodes and movies have done something powerful: 1. They’ve installed themselves in our brains because they are memorable! We can visualize distinct scenes or lines, or even the commercials we saw all the time advertising our favorite television events. 2. We pair those DCOMs and special episodes with our surroundings. Perhaps we can still imagine we’re in our childhood homes, parked in front of the TV, a few fall decorations in the background. We might associate our youthful television schedules with other seasonal events. Did you watch The Suite Life of Zack & Cody’s “The Ghost in Suite 613” before going to a Halloween party? Did you see Even Stevens’ “A Very Scary Story” or Lizzie McGuire’s “Night of the Day of the Dead” after an evening of trick-or-treating in your neighborhood? Maybe you went to a fall festival, like I did for many years, and then settled in for an airing of “Don’t Have a Cow” (That’s So Raven) or a classic Halloweentown marathon.
Disney knows we still care. Why do you think they curate an entire Halloween page for us on Disney+? Streaming allows us to dive into a treasure trove of memories (so long as movies don’t disappear from our services…but that’s a tale for another day). We must watch Marnie learn she’s a witch, discover TRAPA, and host Halloweentown exchange students — it’s tradition! Whether you’re on The Scream Team or you’re ready to be terrified by Don’t Look Under the Bed, there’s no denying the Halloween DCOM dynasty. And let’s not forget that the Disney Channel introduced most of us to Hocus Pocus and a pre-Lizzie Hilary Duff in Casper Meets Wendy, even though neither of those films debuted on the channel (the former was theatrical, the latter was straight-to-video).
Let’s take a look at the Disney+ Halloween section for 2021. While many of the films listed are clearly related to Halloween, there are also non-Halloween DCOMs with spooky vibes: the Descendants franchise, the Zombies franchise, Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie, and Upside-Down Magic, for example. Though these movies aren’t commemorative of October 31st, they evoke the Disney Channel Halloween spirit with magic and fantasy. But get this: there are entire series recommended for Halloween viewing, with Secrets of Sulfur Springs being the most recent selection. Deadline describes this show’s genre as “time-travel mystery-adventure.” Another is The Evermoor Chronicles, a mystery series that came out of Disney Channel UK in the 2010s. Backing up a few years, Wizards of Waverly Place is also lined up as a “Halloween” program, right next to its DCOM. Makes sense…wizards, werewolves, and vampires all graced the Waverly Sub Station. Animated offerings are sprinkled in there, such as Gravity Falls, The Owl House, The Ghost and Molly McGee, and Disney Jr.’s Vampirina (obviously those last two would make the cut for streaming “scaries”).
One more puzzle piece I’d like to highlight from this D+ perusal: So Weird. Admittedly, my kid memories of So Weird are fuzzy — but don’t fault me; I wasn’t even five years old when it first aired. As an adult, I’ve approached this one like a chilly swimming pool. I’d dip my toes in here and there until finally taking the plunge. Now, I’m committed to this fascinating show. In case you’ve never seen it, So Weird is a sci-fi half-hour filled with paranormal activity, helmed by Cara DeLizia as Fi for the first two seasons. With the show’s titular website, Fi is an Internet pioneer who investigates her otherworldly experiences while on tour with her musician mom. In 2012, Cameron White wrote about the series on the website “This Was Television.” He astutely said, “Supernatural-themed shows like Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and So Weird tend to do well by mining plenty of humor out of the fact that, for the characters on those shows, every day is Halloween.”
I love that idea. Even when it’s not Halloween, the Disney Channel has a corner on the spooky/supernatural/magical market of kids’ programming. It was in once the subtle edges of So Weird, the psychic visions on That’s So Raven, then the wizards, zombies, villains, aliens, time travelers, legends, and heroes. But back to the autumn wonders of the Disney Channel.
Frankly, I am passionate about this season because I crave the comfort that it brings. Fall alone is so satisfying to me, and my Disney Channel memories make it even better. I’m no psychologist, but there’s something cozy about grabbing your blanket and eating your candy and getting just a little scared of what’s on the screen. Even once I was past the age of trick-or-treating, I would still tune into “scary” movies and shows, whether it be the Halloweentown franchise, Phantom of the Megaplex, Twitches, or any number of episodes that I still love. The whole spectacle is the perfect dose of suspense and enchantment that I look forward to every year.
As I continue with my Disney Channel research, I think about the behind-the-scenes side of programming. I’ve been able to thank some of the writers, directors, and executives that made our annual Halloween marathons so special. It’s not one individual episode or movie that we remember; it’s a kaleidoscope of familiar stories that we revisit for decades.
I’m glad nostalgic creators are exchanging memories and snapshots from childhood — especially with that Halloween glow. We remember. There are times when we rewatch these programs and see things through childlike eyes. I think that’s beautiful. I think it’s something to celebrate anytime, year after year.