No! Don’t run away! Where’s your Halloween spirit? Yes, Halloweentown (1998) is a Disney Channel movie, but that in and of itself isn’t a bad thing; if you’re looking to introduce your kids to horror, it’s better to pitch them some underhands than speedy overhands. (I don’t really know baseball.) In a cynical and bitterly crumbling world, it’s nice to know that a bit of low-key innocent charm still exists.
Originally airing Saturday, October 17th, Halloweentown was a big hit for the channel, and spawned three sequels over the ensuing years. If you’re looking for some smiles, good performances and charming effects, Halloweentown is a fun place to visit.
Let’s open up our mouse eared (insert groan here) TV GUIDE and see what’s up:
HALLOWEENTOWN (Saturday, Disney)
An adolescent girl realizes with the help of her grandmother that she’s a witch and is needed to help vanquish evil forces. Debbie Reynolds, Kimberly J. Brown star.
Pity poor Marnie Piper (Brown – Bringing Down the House). Wanting to take her younger brother Dylan (Joey Zimmerman – Very Bad Things) and sister Sophie (Emily Roeske – Halloweentown High) trick or treating, mom Gwen (Judith Hoag – Armageddon) will have none of it; denying the kids costumes and candy outright with no explanation. Then along comes grandma Aggie (Reynolds – Singin’ in the Rain) like a witchy Poppins, floating down upon the house, arriving of course with costumes and candy, much to Gwen’s dismay.
Marnie soon discovers that she is indeed a witch, as is her mother, who hid the family secret so the kids could have a normal upbringing. Aggie, however, wants to train Marnie but Gwen says no; not to worry, soon the kids are on their way to Aggie’s place of residence (don’t make me type it again, please) via flying school bus. Once they arrive, they quickly realize that everyone and everything is Halloween related; cob webbed stores, ghouls, goblins and skeleton cabbies inhabit the festively displayed township much to the kids delight. However, things are none too peachy in the Place I Shall Not Name as the evil wizard Kalabar wishes to release all the Halloween creatures back into the real world. Will Marnie be able to harness her powers in time to save Aggie, her mom, and all the denizens of the town?
My teeth ache just from the plot description, and honestly for adults all the pleasures are surface level; but hey, so are a lot of the more mature efforts we ingest, and at least Halloweentown comes with a complete lack of cynicism and some good cheer. And there are genuinely funny moments and characters; the cabbie, the two headed gas attendant, all inhabiting a world filled with colour, and when appropriate, just a hint of menace for conflict. Are the messages anything new? Of course not, but I think kids should be taught every day that being different is okay, tolerance is essential, believing in yourself is crucial, and that teamwork is vital. That all this is wrapped up in a pleasant tale centered around the greatest time of year should be celebrated.
The cast is certainly willing; your tolerance for wiseacre kidcracks may be tested but its par for the course and the actors can’t be blamed. Brown as Marnie is especially winning, which is good as most of the relatively heavy lifting is on her. But naturally it’s the late Reynolds show, and Aggie is a great addition to a long list of energetic and strong characters the veteran amassed over her career. As for the effects, they’re not too bad actually; some green screen here, some great latex there, and you have enough to engage your optical orbs, if only for 90 minutes.
That’s really what we’re talking about here. Halloweentown is a respite from the madness, where kids can learn that regardless of how different they look or act, there’s always a place in the world (or town) for them. That’s a message as timeless as the spooky burg itself.