DVD Review: Witches Night Out + The Gift of Winter

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Gen Z has no clue what Gen X had to endure in the ’70s when it came to watching TV. Today’s kids can track down any show in a few seconds via a Google search and streaming services. In the rare instance they want to watch something on cable, they can immediately know what the show is by pressing a button on the remote and getting the digital guide. Back in the ’70s, we had no clue what was on a channel if we missed the first few minutes. We’d hope mom didn’t throw out the TV Guide section in the newspaper for identification. Many times, you’d turn on TV and see something that you’d never see again. You’d ask friends if they’d witnessed the same show, and they’d act like you’d imagined it. This was especially true when it came to specials that didn’t pop up next week at the same time and same channel. When the DVD for Witches Night Out + The Gift of Winter arrived, I thought it was all foreign to me. But after a few minutes, I sensed that I’d seen the half hour animated Halloween special. NBC did air it on October 27, 1978. But I had no clue what it was all those decades ago. Now I do.

Small and Tender are excited about Halloween. They each pick out costumes that seem guaranteed to scare people as they trick or treat. However, the neighbors know it’s the kids. The duo makes a major mistake of knowing on the door of the green Malicious (Beetlejuice‘s Catherine O’Hara). The woman offers the children a treat that’s more horrifying than their costumes. They return home disappointed and wishing they could have put fear into the town. They get their wish when a local Fairy Godmother (Gilda Radner) drops by their bedroom. Using her wand, she turns the children and their babysitter into a ghost, werewolf and Frankenstein’s Monster. Which is great until they show up at a party and cause a stampede. The Godmother drops her wand and Malicious finds it. Are the kids doomed to stay in their monstrous form?

This half hour special was perfect for NBC at the time since it featured the voice of Gilda Radner from Saturday Night Live. The Not Ready For Primetime Player was at her prime in the fall of 1978. Having her play the Fairy Godmother was perfect. She also created a new voice for the character instead of just doing one of her sketch character tones. SCTV‘s Catherine O’Hara comes up with a voice even scarier than the Radner. The confusing part is the special aired on a Friday with the two Queens of Saturday Night.

As a bonus, we’re also treated to The Gift of Winter, a Christmas special that aired on Canadian TV in 1974. The half hour short also features Small and Tender as the main characters. They live in a time when there was no snow during winter. The kids have to try to talk Mr. Winter into doing more than just making it cold and dark. This features the voices of Gilda Radner as Nicely, Malicious and the Narrator and Dan Aykroyd as Goodly, Rotten & Maple. This was recorded before they did Saturday Night Live.

What’s inspiring about both of these specials is how rough the animation looks. The Gift of Winter feels like they jumped from the storyboards straight to final animation. Which is great since they don’t look like a slick and boring Disney-wannabe special. There’s a glorious roughness to the imagery and motion. While things are a bit more professional drawn for Witch’s Night Out, it doesn’t feel cranked out by an animation factory. Both of these films should an inspiration for any Gen Z kid working on their first webtoon animation. Witches Night Out + The Gift of Winter is a joyful double feature for the holidays and other days when you need a holiday at home. I’m celebrating being able to figure out what I saw back in 1978.

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The Video is 1.33:1 full frame. This is what your TV screen looked like in the ’70s.

Partners In Crime (5:35) recounts how Jimmy Cross tracked down Jonathan Rogers (Leach). Cross was a major fan of Witch’s Night Out when the special originally aired. He was able to find the elements of the two films. He’s working with Rogers to bring the characters into the 21st Century with a new project.

A Moment In Time (18:33) unites Jonathan Rogers (Leach) and Jean Rankin to talk about making the two specials. Jean hadn’t seen the film in years. She was charmed by the film after being frustrated by the animation decades ago. She felt the characters looked cute. They talk about the work on the film and the other animators that took part in the film.

The Development of Winter (3:07) lets Jean Rankin show off the original concept art for the characters. They were done in Magic Marker.

MVDvisual presents Witches Night Out + The Gift of Winter. Directed by John Leach. Screenplay by John Leach & Isobel Jean Rankin. Starring voices of Gilda Radner, Catherine O’Hara, Dan Aykroyd, Valri Bromfield, Bob Church, John Leach, Naomi Leach. Tony Molesworth & Fiona Reid. Running Time: 52 minutes. Rating: Unrated. Release Date: June 11, 2024.

Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.