Halloweentown (1998)

Sure, this is a Halloween oriented film that isn’t scary, or creepy, or violent, or even remotely menacing and sure it’s a premise we’ve seen trotted out in “Sabrina The Teenage Witch,” “Twitches,” and “Buffy,” but deep down it’s a true Halloween movie and one you can watch be you a child or an adult looking for a good time, and I manage to come back to it every year because it’s such a fun time to be had for all.

“Halloweentown” is one of the more entertaining and festive Halloween movies from the Disney television movie library that focuses on a family of witches and a grandmother witch who lives in the fabled Halloweentown. Halloweentown, you see, is a town where Halloween is never ending and we’re given many looks in to this land with skull taxi drivers, friendly werewolves, soft spoken Frankenstein monsters, and the like, all of which is in jeopardy from a dark and mysterious force if young heroine Marnie doesn’t learn how to be a witch and gain her powers from her grandmother Aggie. While many are quick to write this off as a forgettable Disney film marketing on classic plot devices and clichés, “Halloweentown” is a definite good time and one I indulge in every year if I get the chance mainly because it’s such a fun Halloween film.

Basically it’s like the paper Mache cat you hang on your front door, a film that pays tribute to the holiday without keeping the children awake at night. It’s such a non-threatening and inoffensive bit of Halloween hokum, that it’s almost impossible to nitpick at primarily because it doesn’t seek to break the mold, just bring its world to life. Director Dunham manages to find the perfect balance in tone and atmosphere to where his film is cute but not saccharine, humorous without being cheesy, and family oriented without preaching to its audience. Sort of a take off of “Harry Potter,” Disney’s own installment of a child wizard in a magic oriented family, a hidden town, and a dreaded unspoken evil villain is just as good and will satisfy the Potter buffs looking for an interesting carbon copy with a charming cast.

The immortal Debbie Reynolds is memorable as the wise benevolent grandmother Aggie, while ex-Disney channel regular Kimberly J. Brown possesses the right amount of grace and humility to make Marnie a very likable young heroine who is at first hesitant to embrace her destiny and blossoming in to womanhood, but finds that growing up is inescapable, especially when her grandmother’s life is in danger. Aggie is a woman who appears in the real world every Halloween to pay a visit to her grandchildren who aren’t allowed to go out on Halloween or have any fun by their strict mother.

Aggie of course comes to the house to undermine her rules by telling them stories, giving them gifts, and hinting at Marnie’s thirteenth birthday, the big one. Marnie of course has a prophecy to fulfill as a new witch of the Cromwell bloodline who can carry on their magic and keep evil at bay. When the kids get nosy and follow grandma Aggie home, they discover the town and Marnie must decide if she wants her new role as the head of the Cromwells. Once the villain is introduced as a ghoulish warlock Kalabar, the tension heightens to where it becomes a battle of good and evil, and Brown handles herself well with Reynolds and Judith Hoag once they decide to band together and stop his plan to rule Halloweentown and our world.

“Halloweentown” certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but for the open minded looking for a giggle with their kids and recollection of when Halloween was filled with possibilities, this movie is definitely your best bet as it’s a yearly favorite of mine. If you’re not hung up on sticking to Halloween themed films that rely on gore and bonafide scares, sit down and entertain yourself with wholesome Halloween fun that’s artificially flavored but satisfying for the Halloween nut just the same. Sharp performances, entertaining writing, and a gorgeous sense of whimsy, “Halloweentown” is a great celebration of the holiday. Not surprisingly, this garnered a series of sequels, and after seeing this, I can’t really blame them for wanting more.