Directed by David Jackson
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 88 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Release Date: August 28, 2007
Review Date: August 28, 2007
If you haven’t been to the Disney Channel lately, you might be surprised to find that it’s not awash in the adventures of Mickey Mouse or Herbie the Love Bug or an endless series of repeats of old Disney live action comedies like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes or Follow Me Boys. No, the Disney Channel is now inhabited by the likes of Hannah Montana, Zach and Cody, Raven, and Derek. And add Marnie Piper to the list. The teenaged witch has been featured in three made-for-TV films about the magical world of Halloweentown. The new Return to Halloweentown marks the character’s fourth excursion to this fantastical world.
This time out, however, a new actress is playing Marnie - Sarah Paxton, and she’s plucky and determined as Marnie decides to defy her mother (the returning Judith Hoag)’s wishes that she attend a local community college and instead enroll at Witch University in Halloweentown. She wants to be all the witch she can be, and she’s not going to learn that at a local community college. Little does she know, however, that sinister (literally and figuratively) forces in Halloweentown intend to use Marnie to consolidate their power so they can control not only the world of witches and warlocks but the human world as well.
It’s light, safe Disney fare, something that younger preteens are going to really enjoy. With its bright, colorful look, typical Disney slapstick (a giant bowl of pudding ends up in someone’s face), menacing, stereotypical villains that never have the upper hand for long, and just a mild dash of romance, it’s a pretty safe Disney formula they patented decades ago and which still seems to work just fine. But make no mistake: any episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch is more amusing, and if you’re a big fan of magical special effects, the Harry Potter films are going to give you more bang for the buck than Return to Halloweentown will.
It’s great to see the cast working so well together and giving newcomer Paxton such strong support. Joey Zimmerman returns to nice effect as Marnie’s nerdy brother Dylan, veteran character actress Millicent Martin is having a blast overacting as Professor Persimmon Periwinkle, Dan Young makes a marvelously stuffy Professor Ichabod Grogg, and the series‘ good luck charm Debbie Reynolds as Marnie’s flighty grandmother pops in for two brief scenes.
This film is a fun little family comedy-adventure that will have some appeal for adults as well as the younger set.
The film’s 1.33:1 Academy aspect ratio is offered in a mostly sparkling DVD presentation. Colors are richly hued and striking, and for the most part, focus is sharp with only an occasional soft moment. There are no video artifacts to spoil the fine looking image. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
Disney has done a very nice sound design with this Dolby Digital 5.1 offering. The film is dialog driven, of course, but the surrounds are used quite often not only for music but for many of the special effects sequences making them quite impressive for a TV-budgeted affair. The rating would have been upped a bit more had there been a stronger use of the LFE channel.
“Behind-the-Scenes Spooktacular” is a too brief 6-minute overview on the making of this TV-movie. Interviews with the director, the stars, and some glimpses into how certain special effects sequences (particularly the broom riding scene) were done are shown. It’s basically a puff piece, but again, the younger set will probably enjoy seeing the mean characters on-screen being so nice and agreeable off-screen.
The DVD offers the usual sneak peeks at other Disney offerings: Enchanted Tales, High School Musical: The Concert, Cory in the House, The Suite Life of Zach and Cody, The Jungle Book, High School Musical 2, and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Return to Halloweentown will delight fans of the character of Marnie Piper (though some may be disappointed that a new actress is playing her) in her latest adventure. I suspect this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of her or Halloweentown.