Written by: Paul Bernbaum, Jon Cooksey, Ali Matheson
Starring: Debbie Reynolds, Judith Hoag, Kimberly J. Brown, Joey Zimmerman, Emily Roeske
All family lines pass down specific characteristics through the genetic tree one must reckon with and either they accept or deny it. These genetic and traditional factors remain flowing in the bloodline and Halloweentown looks at what this idea can be around witches with being given the choice to possibly be normal. Incredibly cute with how it presents everything and just seeking to be a fun time for children, this feature brings just enough quality to get it over the line.
Every Halloween, Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) notices her mother does not let her and her siblings partake in the holiday’s activities. When her grandmother, Aggie (Debbie Reynolds) visits, Marnie overhears an argument where she learns she’s actually a witch. With this knowledge, she sneaks on the grandmother’s bus back to where she lives, Halloweentown.
Coming into any Disney Channel Original Movie, you must accept the acting will be pretty bad and we’ll be lucky to get a coherent story. However, Halloweentown helps itself by creating a fun little world and manages to have a decent message about accepting one’s familial traits passed down through centuries. This gets felt with the lead, Marnie, but it flows with all of the women in the story and how they deal with the particular responsibility of being a witch.
As explained through the narrative, Marnie comes from a witch mother and human father, who both collectively agreed it would be best for all the children to be raised human and suppress any powers that may arise. A decision made by the mother but faces strong disagreements from Aggie, who believes the line of witches should continue on. While Marnie’s mother gives a reason as to why she decided to raise the children as normal individuals, the justification really does not hold much water, especially with the alternatives that could have fit the themes much better. However, these are the stakes and we go on with this story.
The most appealing aspect of this narrative comes from the creation of Halloweentown as a whole other world where the scary creatures we see at night live together in harmony. The production design of this world comes as a mixed bag where they tried their best based on the budget they received and still looked endearing. The funniest aspect, by far, comes from the creation of the inhabitants of this town. On many occasions, it was just a person wearing a mask and still being able to see their human arms. Yes, this does explain the budgetary restrictions but they could have tried a bit harder. The creation of this town adds to the charm of the movie as it mostly operates as our world does, with taxi drivers and even mayors. They just all happen to be scary monsters like trolls, skeletons, and beings of magical powers much like the Cromwells. At the center of it all is a giant Jack-o-Lantern and you can bet it makes for an important plot point later down the line.
Watching this feature as a kid had me grow an appreciation for them, but my young mind and his lack of knowledge in film made me not know Aggie is portrayed by none other than Debbie Reynolds. An absolute starlet and shining light in one of my favorite films, Singin’ in the Rain, she brings her typical whimsy and energetic spirit to the character of Aggie. Playing the eccentric grandmother with plenty to teach her grandchildren, she’s truly a step above everyone else in the cast in regard to acting and it shows. She truly acts circles around everyone else with them just trying their best to keep up with the Hollywood legend. A reality one should expect, to be fair, but she stands out as the highlight of this feature as she introduces this world to her grandchildren as well as the audience.
With an almost hilariously simple climax to the movie and a villain who appears in very scary costume work at times, Halloweentown nets positively for me. It had several cute moments shared between the family members and did well enough to introduce a brand new world to the audience. Many of the Halloween jokes laid out make for quite a few chuckles. A Disney Channel Original Movie that does not completely capitulate upon a reexamination as an adult, and I’m glad it’s so.