by Kevin Carr
MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
Directed by: Duwayne Dunham
HALLOWEENTOWN II: KALABAR'S REVENGE
MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Directed by: Mary Lambert
MOVIE: *1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Directed by: Mark A.Z. Dippé
DVD EXPERIENCE: *1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Kimberly J. Brown as MARNIE PIPER
Debbie Reynolds as AGGIE CROMWELL
Judith Hoag as GWEN PIPER
Joey Zimmerman as DYLAN PIPER
Emily Roeske as SOPHIE PIPER
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In this day and age of Harry Potter. you might think that that the “Halloweentown” Disney Channel original movies are nothing more than a cheap grab to cash in on the wizard franchise. And I don’t doubt that it became that after “Harry Potter” swept the nation, but at least it started out in the late 90s as just a television movie for kids.
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Originally aired in 1998, “Halloweentown” told the story of Marnie Piper (Kimberly J. Brown), a normal suburbanite girl who always thought she was a little bit different. Turns out, she’s absolutely right. Her mother Gwen (Judith Hoag) is a witch who, after marrying a mortal husband who ended up passing away, has left her magic behind to live a normal life.
Marnie’s grandmother Aggie Cromwell (Debbie Reynolds) visits every now and then from a magical place called Halloweentown, where all the creatures of magic live to keep safe from the real world. On her 13th birthday, Marnie learns the truth about Halloweentown and follows her grandmother home. While in town, she learns that a mysterious villain is trying to take over the realm with his hopes set on returning all the creatures to the real world. It’s up to Marnie and her younger siblings to save her new magical home.
“Halloweentown” spawned two Disney Channel original movie sequels - “Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge” and “Halloweentown High.” The first sequel, helmed by Madonna music video and “Pet Sematary” director Mary Lambert, sends Marnie back to Halloweentown to save it from another mysterious villain. In the most recent movie, Marnie has brought back several magical creatures as exchange students to spend some time in a typical American high school.
The first two films are available as a double feature on one DVD. Of the two films, I found the second one to actually be better than the first. There was a stronger threat, and magic was used more effectively to actually defeat the threat. The first “Halloweentown” was a little too sweet at times, taking most (if not all) of the thrills and chills out of typical Halloween archetypes.
“Halloweentown High” is the weakest of the three, trying to retread the stock characters into less-than-perfect situations. For example, in order to keep Debbie Reynolds in the franchise, they made her a teacher at the high school, and she was constantly in danger of revealing her magical abilities to the kids.
“Halloweentown High” suffers from trying to keep the friendly version of Halloween (with vegetarian werewolves and other nice “scary” creatures). Intelligence of the characters is often pitched to the side in order to have a funny sight gag or unnecessary plot point. Ultimately, the attempt to integrate Halloween creatures into typical American life seems forced at the script level, and the characters just seem lost. It makes you realize there’s a reason why the Harry Potter stories have the witches and wizards spend most of their time at Hogwarts.
These discs come with limited special features. The “Halloweentown”/”Halloweentown II” disc has a very general behind-the-scenes look at all three movies, as well as a heavy-handed promo of the new Disney Channel original movie “Twitches” about twin teenage witches.
On the “Halloweentown High” disc, there’s a “Halloweentown High Jinks” game. This tests your knowledge of the “Halloweentown” movies and has other on-screen activities. It’s actually pretty fun to play with younger kids. There’s also a Halloween party planner for the CD-ROM. This includes activity suggestions, recipes, magic trick, invitations and other neat stuff to help plan for a holiday party.
The “Halloweentown” movies have the feel of a children’s book series-turned-TV movie, only without the original source materials. It’s a fair effort by the Disney Channel to put together a TV movie franchise, and I’m surprised they never turned it into a series itself. Still, it would really only work if they stayed in Halloweentown and followed the standard Disney Channel pre-teen format. Think “Lizzie McGuire” with fangs.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Fullscreen (1.33:1). English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.