My birthday is the day after Halloween. As a child, that’s how I situated the first of November in my head. There was nothing more exciting to me than waking up in the morning after Halloween, opening presents, and then ripping into my trick-or-treat bucket with my brothers to gorge on Parma Violets, Maoam bars, and Drumsticks.
Today, my brothers are both in their mid-to-late teens, but one Halloween tradition has survived in our house: we watch the DVD version of Pumpkin Moon annually on Halloween. The film isn’t well-known; our nanny found it in a charity shop when we were little. Based on the 2001 picture book of the same name, the 27-minute animated TV special centers around the magical friendship between a black housecat and a half-rotten pumpkin. The first scene—which opens on a foggy suburban street in autumn—is accompanied by a harp riff and bass chords so loaded with nostalgia that when I hear it now, it still physically transports me back to our old living room in London.
Pumpkin Moon was produced in the UK in 2005, but is set in the American Midwest in the 1950s. When the film’s central family sets out to plant pumpkins in the garden, their black cat steals a seed and plants one herself, too. A montage of the seasons follows. Mice eat the cat’s pumpkin, the pumpkin begins to rot, and the family shovels it onto the compost pile. On Halloween night, the carved pumpkins come to life. Miraculously, so does the rotten pumpkin. When lit with a candle, the rotten pumpkin sparkles with magic, regains its orange color, and flashes a bashful grin at the cat through a mess of haphazard mouse-hole facial features. The end of the film is fantastical: the cat defeats an army of evil witches and ghosts with a rebellious song, the moon turns into a huge pumpkin, and the carved pumpkins fly through it to collect new seeds. It’s just a children’s cartoon, but the memorable folk jazz-inspired soundtrack and beautifully illustrated Halloween scenes can still distract me from nearly anything.
Since my birthday is the day after Halloween, Halloween celebrations have always been inseparable from the awareness of my growing maturity. Every year when my brothers and I watch Pumpkin Moon, it feels like less and less time has passed since the previous Halloween, and I always feel the difference between who I was then and who I am now—a calendar marker of emotion. Over time, though, my brothers and I have noticed more and more of the film’s imperfections. It’s not hard to see where the animators have flipped a shot on its vertical axis and repeated it to save time and effort. And now that I understand more about animation, the DVD’s behind-the-scenes demonstration of the cat’s blink on flip-book paper doesn’t brim with magic like it used to.
Regardless, my brothers and I still get excited to watch our annual 27-minute-long dose of innocence. But I don’t know how much longer this tradition will last now that two out of the three of us have moved away for university. I can’t bring myself to watch Pumpkin Moon without them. The film’s two-dimensional treasures—gold-red leaves, cats curling up on pillows in front of open fires, floating pumpkins overflowing with seeds and the promise of regeneration—would fall flat. I’ll just listen to the soundtrack this year. That’s enough to remind me of home.