Directed by: David Jackson

Written by: Max Enscoe, Annie DeYoung, Juliet Giglio, Keith Giglio

Starring: Sara Paxton, Joey Zimmerman, Judith Hoag, Lucas Grabeel, Keone Young

Rating: [1.5/5]

Returning to beloved characters presents an opportunity to recapture the magic of the past and present a new story that challenges them in a different way. A promise a film like Return to Halloweentown wants to present but does so in the most asinine way and lacking all of the charm of the preceding films. 

Now ready to go off to college, Marnie Piper (Sara Paxton) gets the opportunity to attend Witch University in Halloweentown and continue the success of the Cromwell women. However, when she arrives she learns of the strict rules in place at the school as well as the more sinister machinations operating underneath the surface of what appears to be an institution for higher learning. 

Replacing Kimberly J. Brown with another actor certainly raised some eyebrows when the fourth film of the Halloweentown films landed on Disney Channel. This decision has received some explanation in more recent years but it put the film in the position of having to recapture the essence of a character audience members loved in the previous films and formed an attachment with. Brown very much represented and embodied Marnie Piper, leaving Sara Paxton in an unenviable position in trying to take on the role, capturing the essence, and also making it her own. Unfortunately, whether due to her acting or the content she receives, everything about this performance causes aches and pains in its lack of quality. A delivery of cheesy lines that never necessarily lands the way they should. This causes the worst scenario the filmmakers could have wished for, which was Marnie being a hindrance to her own film. 

This should not all land on Paxton seeing as the plot has a bevy of issues to dive into and while Disney Channel original movies certainly do not have aspirations of embodying high art, certain standards need to exist when talking of any film. Yes, the dialogue would have always been cheesy and horrible considering how they need to spell things out for a younger audience but the strange convoluted plot that falls apart when you think about it for more than one second. 

Much of it starts with the introduction of Witch University and how Marnie’s opening of the portal in the last film allowed other beings to attend the university. That means witches and warlocks can no longer use magic on school premises with the risk of expulsion sitting over their heads. Certainly a choice for a series of films about witches and harnessing their powers, but the decision makes little to no sense considering it’s called Witch University in a place called Halloweentown where magic gets used very frequently. It certainly also does not help that the characters who choose to use magic face no consequences throughout the feature to the point where it gets absolutely absurd. This primarily becomes evident with Scarlett Sinister (Kristy Wu) who obviously uses magic in a school where the professors should theoretically be vigilant against magic use in the school. Reasons get supplied as to why it occurs but they need to sell it a bit better than how it does in this feature. 

The film then digs into the past and some magical necklace requiring retrieval by this evil group of individuals that manage to go off the rails in an inelegant way. Pure evil sits right at the surface of this story where these characters begin to look stupid for not piecing this together any sooner. It sets arbitrary rules and ideas that never make sense and then you have the addition of Marnie’s brother who seemingly can also attend college with her even if he’s younger and she’s a first-year student. Even a basic understanding of how college works do not exist where Marnie’s resident assistant, who are never first-year students takes the exact same classes as her and very much just lives as a first-year student. Okay, that may be a nitpick but this film opens itself up for this criticism. None of it comes with any real thought and it shows in what we receive. 

Return to Halloweentown disappoints heavily not because it follows terrific films preceding it as they certainly had their flaws, but they had a charm to them and their cheesiness. This film has much more cheese and absolutely no charm to accompany it. All we get as a result is a complete step down for these films and something we can all pretend does not exist and all collectively state it all ended with Halloweentown High. Yes, let’s do that.

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