Halloweentown (1998)

halloweentown

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A teen learns she is more than what she has experienced in the first of one of Disney Channel’s great film sagas.

Marnie Piper has had enough. A seemingly normal thirteen-year old, the one holiday she is not allowed to celebrate is Halloween. Her mother Gwen has had her reasons to not celebrate the holiday, much to the chagrin of little sister Sophie, although middle child Dylan doesn’t mind at all. However, when Grandma Aggie comes to make her yearly visit to the house, Marnie’s life begins to change as she learns the shocking truth about her family.

Marnie overhears a conversation and learns that Gwen and Aggie are actually witches. Marnie is half-witch, half-mortal. When Aggie leaves to return home in Halloweentown, Marnie convinces Dylan to stowaway on the bus across the portal. Upon their arrival, the siblings learn Sophie has followed them and they are about to experience a world they never have been to, where monsters are treated the same ways mortals are treated on Earth. Aggie reluctantly decides to train Marnie in the ways of becoming a witch but someone has been causing trouble in town and it is up to Aggie and Marnie to find out who and why.

The start of Disney Channel’s four-film saga, the film would serve as a major resurgence for one of Hollywood’s legendary actors and singers, the late great Debbie Reynolds. Here, Reynolds plays Aggie Cromwell, the witch who trains her eldest granddaughter Marnie, who has the typical teen issues only amped up when she learns she is half-witch. Kimberly J. Brown definitely carries the film as Marnie while Joey Zimmerman attempts his best to be the conscience of the film as smarty pants brother Dylan.

The film also makes good use of Judith Hoag as matriarch Gwen, who would rather keep the witch side of things to virtual nonexistence and it is all for a certain reason and it comes with the territory of being a mother. However, knowing Marnie is now a teen, she knows she’s going to have to somewhat let go in some capacity. This is perhaps Hoag’s most well-known role after playing the first live-action April O’Neil in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in 1990. Like Reynolds and Zimmerman, she would appear in the entire film saga with Brown and co-star Emily Roeske coming in at second with three films.

The villain comes in the form of the very charismatic Kalabar, played by Robin Thomas. His intentions are clear and that is to take over Halloweentown and he uses a goblin named Luke, played by Phillip Van Dyke, by making him more handsome in order to trap Marnie and the Cromwell family. Plus, Kalabar seems to have a bit of a recurring thing for someone and you can obviously guess who. Luke is quite an interesting character as he may seem like a cronie, but he’s one who has a heart and does what he does for the simple sake of vanity. As mentioned, this would just be the beginning of one of the Disney Channel fun family film sagas.

Halloweentown is a fun ride into a world where we see equality among monsters and witches, with a welcome return for Debbie Reynolds and the rest of the cast doing a great job in the first of this film series.

WFG RATING: B+

A Disney Channel production. Director: Duwayne Dunham. Producers: Ron Mitchell and Brian Pogue. Writers: Paul Bernbaum, Jon Cooksey, and Ali Marie Matheson. Cinematography: Michael Slovis. Editing: Martin Nicholson.

Cast: Debbie Reynolds, Kimberly J. Brown, Judith Hoag, Joey Zimmerman, Phillip Van Dyke, Emily Roeske, Robin Thomas, Shannon Day, James W. Crawford, Nurmi Husa, Vincent Gambino.

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