Saturday, October 8, 2016


After a movie like ThanksKilling, this is something of a palette cleanser.

Halloweentown (1998) arrived on the Disney Channel just over a year after the first Harry Potter book was released, and the two stories have some noteworthy parallels. The main characters discover they come from a family of witches/wizards, a secret that until now has been vigorously kept by their guardians, and so, they set off to discover and learn more about magic. All the while, a dark force threatens the human world and the magic realm.

Compared to Harry Potter, Halloweentown plays like the low-rent, lower-budget version of the plot, but as far as straight-to-TV, family-friendly flicks go, it's amicable enough for those looking for more lighthearted and cheerful fare with just enough inspiration and entertainment to sustain it. Kids will love it, and adults will find it better than expected. It's slight but cute.

Our hero is Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown). She's 13 and wants to go out on Halloween, but her mom Gwen (Judith Hoag) won't let or her younger siblings - Dylan (Joey Zimmerman) and Sophie (Emily Roeske) - have anything to do with the holiday, saying there's much about Halloween Marnie just doesn't understand. Apparently, Gwen's never heard of the Streisand Effect because this attempt to stifle Halloween has only made it Marnie's favorite holiday.

Fortunately for Marnie, her grandmother Aggie Cromwell (Debbie Reynolds) has arrived to liven things up, and she's more into the costumes, candy, ghouls, monsters, and witches than Gwen. After overhearing an argument between Gwen and Aggie, Marnie learns the truth: they're from a family of witches. Before you know it, the kids sneak after Grandma and follow her to Halloweentown, a magical place filled with all sorts of wondrous and strange creatures.

Halloweentown is filled with ghosts, werewolves, vampires, zombies, witches, pumpkinheads, skeletons, and other monsters, but they're kid friendly. As Aggie helpfully explains, they aren't evil, but when they lived among humans, humans tried to destroy them, and in turn, the creatures tried to make humans' lives miserable. Since that wasn't in their nature, they decided to leave the human world and create their own world where they wouldn't be persecuted.

These are cuddly monsters and filled with cute variations of them trying to live "normal" lives. There's a werewolf hairdresser, a zombie who sells broomsticks like a used car salesman, a vampire going to the dentist for a toothache, goblins going to aerobics class, a skeleton taxi driver, etc. A friend tells Aggie she baked bread for the poor souls down at the headless shelter, forgetting of course they can't eat it.

The makeup and special effects aren't exactly top tier, but that's part of the charm. They're about as convincing as what you'd see at a theme park. Halloweentown is a bright, colorful place that looks like the most immersive children's Halloween party.

The movie has a couple of dark moments that might scare younger viewers. There's a dark force threatening Halloweentown and the mortal world and a surprise villain, but hey, it all leads to family coming together and finding faith in yourself and your loved ones. It's nothing the kids can't handle.

The MVP of the movie, without a doubt, is Debbie Reynolds, the embodiment of the cool granny. Nothing fazes her, and she's got a mischievous streak and a twinkle in her eye. It might be chaotic when she shows up, but you know it's going to be fun.

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