September 9, 2019: The Unlikely Fall Duo of Mountain Dew and Rankin/Bass

We had no plans at all this evening, but fortunately we were out of diapers for the infant. Never have I said something like that before. However, because it’s the Halloween Season, we can turn just about anything into a Halloween outing. That’s right. Fall-o-ween turns green boughs gold, gives faces to fruit, turns children into ghouls, and transforms errand shopping into an Indiana Jones adventure. Wait. Halloween Season. Indiana Bones.

And that’s how we found ourselves at Wal-Mart. Ha. Didn’t find much, though. The store was in transition, as they say. Just a few bins of Halloween candy fighting against the back-to-school shelves full of notebooks and pencils. However, we did find the new Mountain Dew VooDEW that seems to be the seasonal comestible that every Halloween head is talking about this year. So we grabbed a few bottles, the diapers, bought some subs, and took them home to pair with something spooky to watch with the kids.

On the way home, we fell behind an ice cream truck prowling through our neighborhood like some saboteur sent from those fiends in Summer Town. Which is a real danger because it's a great excuse for my kids to lose their minds over the idea of ice cream from a van and turn the night into a summer social. But no way were we going to let him damper our dark. So we turned the radio up loud to cover up the jingle and pretended it was an ambulance in front of us.

Once home, we twisted the heads off the VooDEW soda. It’s packaging art is fantastic and manages to harness the mania of Mountain Dew art in general. It's color palate is like 15 colors, but it somehow still looks spooky and still draws the attention to the orange grim reaper whose cowl is outlined by a question mark and filled with the name of the soda, the two O’s in VooDEW looking like creepy eyes.

And that question mark is a reference to the gimmick, the classic “mystery flavor” that junk food likes to do because sometimes those food scientists go a little too mad with their unholy chemicals and don’t know what they’ve created, so they test it out on all of us.

Well, this guinea pig let his nine-year-old daughter drink the ghost-colored soda first. “What does it taste like?” I asked. Her immediate response: “Skittles!” And, since she didn’t turn green or lose a limb, I tried it myself and overwhelmingly concurred. I mean, as I drank it I could detect notes (listen to me, notes) of possible creamsicle or candy corn as I overthought and overdrank it, but zero chance we weren’t tasting the rainbow.

The special we watched was one I discovered recently while lurking on Dino Drac After Dark: The 1972 Rankin/Bass animated special Jack O’Lantern. That’s right, Rankin/Bass, best known for its stop-motion Christmas specials.

Actually, Jack O’Lantern wasn’t a Halloween special, but an episode from a series they ran called Festival of Family Classics, where each episode was based on some well-known story like Cinderella or Robin Hood. This episode first aired on October 29, 1972. And, man, it feels Rankin/Bass. One of the characters is even voiced by Billie Mae Richards, who we all have imprinted into our ear drums as the voice of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The story involves a leprechaun who inhabits a jack-o-lantern that the kids use to build a scarecrow who protects the family farm from a couple of witches and their horde of ghostly demons. The whole thing is basically a magic battle. Not a bad pitch.

And it’s pretty decent, especially since it’s only 22 minutes long. The imagery is evocative and perfect for the season, and it’s not plotty or cringey. At least, I don’t remember cringing, although I might’ve gotten distracted here and there by the packaging on my VooDEW.

So a simple night, but it kept the fires of Autumn—and myself—stoked.