[This is a continuation of a longer post. Click here for the full thing.]
“The Old Grist Mill” (Episode 1)
The first episode doesn’t have much to do with the old cards, but I think it’s odd how similar Wirt’s hat is to this card that’s always bugged me. Plus, with the whole anthropomorphized black cat thing with Enoch…who knows?
Otherwise, I feel the first episode pretty much has its own vibe.
“Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee” (Episode 2)
McHale says that this is one of the first episodes that they produced, despite airing second, so it makes sense that it probably owes most to the postcards for its mood.
First, many of the older Halloween cards (and often the Thanksgiving ones) try to create a nostalgic sense of early rural American autumn. The cornfield, the barn, and even the empty field where Wirt has to dig at the end all have a generally similar feel to the mood that many of the cards are going for.
But the strongest connection is of course the pumpkin people of Pottsfield. And Nick Cross says that many of them were straight from the cards:
Enoch’s pumpkin is definitely a “painted-on” pumpkin instead of a carved jack-o-lantern, and the citizens are a mix of paint and carved. But the one guy that just smacks me in the face as so close to one of the cards is this one:
For the others, “pumpkin people” were all over the Halloween cards. The thing that makes the connection to the Pottsfield people closer than just a pumpkin head, though, are the arms and legs that seem sometimes like wrapped limbs of hay.
There’s also this fun similarity with the pumpkin/cat dance:
There’s also a moment that goes by so fast, it easy to miss: two pumpkins are peeling apples, and then they throw the peels over their shoulders. But they’re not just throwing the peels on the ground. There was an old Halloween party game where you could find out the identity of your future lover by peeling apples and throwing them on the ground. It was a big theme of many of the old cards, and I wrote about it here. But these two pumpkin-lovers are obviously playing this game with each other:
Enoch in his full costume also looks a bit like a few cards that put a pumpkin head on top of big stalk of, I assume, corn:
On top of that, there are just a bunch of old, weird cards out there that seem Pottsfield-esque.
“Schooltown Follies” (Episode 3)
According to Art of…, “Schooltown Follies” draws inspiration from a lot of different sources: “There was a lot of talk about Our Gang, Anne of Green Gables, and Shirley Temple while making this episode” (101). McHale also mentions Dogville Comedies, old shorts made with real dogs in human clothes. And Richard Scarry’s childrens’ books are also pretty clear analogues.
That said, there are still a few old cards that show similar things:
I would love to find a card with potatoes and molasses on it, tho…
“Songs of the Dark Lantern” (Episode 4)
This episode is another that’s doing something quite different from the vibe of most of the old cards. But I did come across one thing that I couldn’t help but compare the Highwayman.
“Mad Love” (Episode 5)
On this one, I have to admit that I’ve come up blank. McHale says that it began as a dream he’d had, and I’ll leave it at that.
“Lullaby in Frogland” (Episode 6)
McHale mentions an odd stop-motion video called Frogland as one of the main inspirations for this episode. But anthropomorphic frogs were a huge part of the old postcards, something I’ve talked about before. I also know that he posted an image from the McLoughlin Brothers company on his twitter awhile back, saying that their style was a big influence on this episode.
But there are so many cards showing frogs in fancy dress and/or playing instruments that it can’t hurt to share a few here.
“The Ringing of the Bell” (Episode 7)
But there are a couple of cards that just seem like Auntie to me, whether or not they had anything to do with her.
There are also a few “hearth” cards that seem a bit like Whispers’ house.
If only I could find old cards with small, black turtles…
“Babes in the Wood” (Episode 8)
Most of this episode was a nod to an old sentimental opera about children lost in the woods. It came back in animation as Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy and the Silly Symphony short Wynken, Blynken and Nod.
But one small detail is straight from the old postcards: the disembodied angel heads.
And there are indeed a ton of cherubs that are depicted on these cards as completely disembodied heads with wings.
“Into the Unknown” (Episode 9)
Since this episode is a flashback to the “real” world, there’s not much nostalgia for early Americana going on (or at least pre-70s/80s). However, on the DVD commentary, McHale says that they modeled a bunch of the kids’ Halloween costumes on images of old costumes they found online (and I’ve posted my share here). He mentions the egg girl’s costume in particular, and I’m pretty sure this is the one he means:
“The Unknown” (Episode 10)
Dare I say it? I don’t have anything for this one. This episode is its own beast…
Were the postcards’ influence necessary to the mood of the show? As much as I’d love to say yes, I don’t think so. The throwback nods are even more about old cartoons and animation styles, but the mood and oddities in the cards were certainly part of the atmosphere that McHale was trying to create from the beginning. Personally, I was thrilled to find two things that grab me match up so well. And, one day, if McHale or Cross ever read this, I’d love to know if they still have those cards and which ones they actually looked at during production.
Until then, though, if anyone else finds something simliar, please let me know. Comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.