The David S. Pumpkins Animated Halloween Special is Fun, but Ruins the Joke Entirely

David S. Pumpkins Animated Halloween Special
Photo Courtesy of NBC

Written by Mark Henley & Melissa Jouben

Melissa: Having actively avoided any details of this special from the moment it was announced, I had no idea what, exactly, we were in for. It was only a few days ago that my sister informed me it was supposed to be a child-friendly origin story for David S. Pumpkins. The entire joke of the original sketch was that David S. Pumpkins is nobody; he’s not an established or beloved Halloween mascot, but he seems to think he is.

This half hour special completely subverts that idea and turns him into some sort of folk legend. In doing so they’ve kind of ruined the joke and what made the character so funny in the first place, but considering the writers went full steam ahead with the idea anyway, I’d say I may be in the minority for feeling that way.

The special is, indeed, pretty child-friendly. It seems the goal is to actually turn Pumpkins into a real Halloween character by making him (somewhat) warm and (kind of) inviting to kids. Pumpkins is an aloof and borderline selfish figure, but he’s also helpful and eager to be a part of the goings on, and even accidentally teaches the story’s protagonist to believe in himself.

It even ends by introducing a new tradition in which children put boxes of raisins in their jack-o-lantern before going to bed on Halloween, and waking up to a piece of candy where the raisins were. David S. Pumpkins’ hatred of raisins is established through a scene in the special that is barely more than a second long and seemed incredibly out of place in the flow of the moment, so this feels sort of forced, but who am I to judge?

Mark: To me, David S. Pumpkins was a parody of friendly Halloween decorations. While one can buy scary ghosts and zombies, one can also, presumably, buy a pumpkin suit and still somehow be on brand. The joke for the original sketch was that they were presenting DSP, the avatar of goofy Halloween, right beside actual scary things.

So, working off of what Melissa said about how she thinks SNL is trying to turn DSP into a genuinely loved Halloween character, I think this is the wrong idea because it is moving directly against the original joke.They should have written this special as if they didn’t realize DSP was a joke. They should present DSP as if he is Freddy Krueger, instead of as a new Cat in the Hat. DSP should be trying to be scary and fierce. The joke would be in how goofy he actually looks and acts and how that makes him fall short. Instead, we got something misguidely earnest.

Melissa: We start on an adult Kevin (Peter Dinklage) introducing the story of David S. Pumpkins, the mythical Halloween figure he met one Halloween who changed his life. It then cuts to a flashback, narrated by adult Kevin, of the events of that Halloween. Kevin and his little sister stop by the pumpkin patch and she picks the ugliest one. It happens to be a magic pumpkin that will bring David S. Pumpkins (Tom Hanks) to the surface via an elevator door that springs out of the ground.

Photo Credit: Rosalind O’Connor/NBC

Pumpkins tells the kids they picked the magic pumpkin and thus he is theirs for the night. He sings a song about his origins which is incredibly vague, giving away no details as to who he is or why he’s there. His two dancing skeletons (Mikey Day and Bobby Moynihan) pop up out of the ground as well, and do their signature dance. Then they take the kids trick-or-treating. They have fun, and in an attempt to impress the girl he likes, he agrees to take his new magical friends with him and save the day after a local legend named “Raincoat Man” steals all the candy from every kid in the neighborhood.

Mark: The show relies heavily on turning the laugh lines from the original sketch into memes that they can drop throughout the show like breadcrumbs. Rather than push out in a new comedic direction, they desperately try to repeat jokes from the original sketch (i.e. we’re part of it) in the hopes that people will recognize those jokes and laugh in appreciation. They want us to feel “in on the joke.” However, we are only “in” because we have already seen the jokes before.

Melissa: The story moves fast and crams a lot into its half hour runtime and there are some comical moments I genuinely enjoyed. When Kevin is approached by the three town bullies who excessively high-five each other after each insult and who chastise each other for ringing their bike bells early on, I thought it was setting the tone for some characterizations. And to their credit, most of the children introduced have a lot of their own personality.

If this was mostly intended for children like I’m told, then I’m sure there is plenty for them to enjoy and that the recycling of dialogue from the original sketch won’t seem too egregious to them. I had an ok time in the world of David S. Pumpkins and while I personally don’t think I’ll revisit it any time soon, if NBC wanted to move this to primetime next Halloween, I’m sure some kids will get a kick out of it.

Melissa’s rating: 6.5 out of 10

Melissa’s Stray Observations:

  • While Kevin is giving an inspirational speech about how he’s going to save everyone’s Halloween candy, there is a kid in the crowd dressed as Kevin Roberts, the Larry David character from SNL who is considered a sort of proto-Pumpkins in terms of popularity
  • Speaking of SNL characters, part of me wishes that Kevin’s costume had been a businessman named Bill Brasky instead
  • During the climax they play an orchestral reimagining of David S. Pumpkins’ signature song, and it’s actually pretty great

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