"DISNEY WITCH MOUNTAIN DVDs"
by Kevin Carr
DVD EXPERIENCE: *** (out of 5 stars)
The re-imagining of the classic Disney adventure flicks “Escape to Witch Mountain” and “Return to Witch Mountain” in the theaters, the Mouse House let the original films escape from its vault to return to the DVD shelves. These new DVDs come with new special features in a special edition releases.
Both individually sold DVDs include a new pop-up trivia track that can play along with the movies themselves. They also both have a making-of featurette specific to each film. The films also each come with an audio commentary track along with a Disney Studio Album for 1975 and 1978, the years “Escape to Witch Mountain” and “Return from Witch Mountain” were released.
Even though the new “Race to Witch Mountain” movie is heavier on the special effects and action, these original classic 70s films are still excellent fun to watch with your kids on family movie night.
Based on the original children’s book by Alexander Key, “Escape to Witch Mountain” tells the story of orphans Tia (Kim Richards) and Tony (Ike Eisenmann) as they discover the truth about their past. Tia and Tony arrive at an orphanage with only partial memory of their younger years. They remember a boat crash, where they lost some of their family, but they don’t remember anything more. Moreover, Tony and Tia have the uncanny ability to communicate telepathically, and they exhibit other supernatural talents, like being able to talk to animals and move things telekinetically.
When their powers are revealed to a power-hungry millionaire named Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland), he seeks to capture the children. Soon, they escape and must make a trip to their family with the help of a cynical but kind-hearted old man (Eddie Albert).
I was only a very young child when I saw this film in the theaters with my family, and it quickly became one of my favorite movies of my childhood. Pre-dating “Star Wars” by two years, “Escape to Witch Mountain” rode the science fiction wave of the 70s to become a classic.
With effects that were groundbreaking at the time but seem rudimentary by today’s standards, this movie is a favorite of many kids of the 70s. It provides adventure and excitement that children of all ages can enjoy, but it is not very perilous or violent at all. With young kids in the central roles, it makes a fine addition to a family movie collection.
Additional special features on this disc include several featurettes. “Conversations with John Hough” presents and interview with the director of both “Witch Mountain” films in which he discusses the various aspects of making the pictures. “Disney Sci-Fi” is a montage of the many different science fiction films from the Walt Disney Company. “Disney Effects – Something Special” presents the various ground-breaking special effects that were used to make this film. There’s also a bonus animated short “Pluto’s Dream House.”
Just as I remember seeing “Escape to Witch Mountain” in the theaters as a child, I also remember seeing “Return to Witch Mountain.” In retrospect, I enjoyed the film more as a child, most likely because I was close to the age of the kids in the film. Likewise, when I showed this sequel to my seven-year-old son – who was a huge fan of the first movie – he loved the fact that the plot focused on the kids.
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This sequel sees Tia (Kim Richard) and Tony (Ike Eisenmann) return to the human world after being home with their extraterrestrial family on Witch Mountain. Their Uncle Bené (Denver Pyle) flies them to the Rose Bowl in a flying saucer and lets them off to visit for a few days. However, when Tony uses his telekinetic powers to save a man from falling off a building, the evil Dr. Victor Gannon (Christopher Lee) and the greedy Letha Wedge (Bette Davis) kidnap him and hope to unlock the secret of his powers. Tia must join with a gang of street kids to help save Tony.
While the first film had an exciting feel to it, “Return to Witch Mountain” was a bit of a let-down. It had more of a made-for-TV feel to it, even though it was a hit in the theaters. The introduction of the street kids gave Tia something to do while she was separated from Tony, which wasn’t the greatest decision considering how well the two worked together in the first film, but the gang seemed like a group of guest stars from “Diff’rent Strokes.” This was a sign of the times, I guess.
In addition to having Tony and Tia separated for much of the film, the story suffered with Tony in a mind-control trance for much of the story. The only saving grace in this situation was the appearance of screen legends Bette Davis and Christopher Lee as the villains in the movie. While this wasn’t either of their greatest roles, it was fun to watch them in a children’s movie.
Additional special features on this DVD includes a lost interview with Christopher Lee around the time of the film’s release, a look at “Disney Kids with Powers” and a spotlight on the gang of kids that Tia pals around with. Finally, also included on the DVD is the classic Disney animated short “The Eyes Have It.”