Studio: Walt Disney
US Rating: Rated G - General Audiences.
Film Length: 97 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.75:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Language Track
Subtitles: French and Spanish
Review Date: March 15, 2009
The Film - out of
Just in time for their third feature film incarnation of the Witch Mountain adventure, born from Alexander Key’s successful novel, Walt Disney brings to DVD in a ‘Family Classic’ edition, 1975’s much loved live action film, Escape to Witch Mountain. Remade in 1995 and again this year (Starring Dwayne Johnson), this classic, Disney’s most successful live action film to date upon its release, still has real charm.
The film begins by introducing us to two young orphans, a brother and a sister, with special abilities. In addition to being able to communicate telepathically with each other, young Tony Malone and Tia can control objects with their thoughts alone (telekinesis) and Tia can sense the future. Tia experiences discombobulated flashbacks, sporadic memories that are keys to who they really are – though they have forgotten. They are lost without their recently deceased adopted parents and suffer the annoyance of a bully at school. But one day, they uncover a map hidden in Tia’s ‘Star Case’. At the same time, a stranger learns of their powers, a man called Lucas Deranian who shares this information with his evil billionaire boss, Aristotle Bolt. The mean Bolt fakes papers to have Deranian adopt them so that he can exploit the children for their power. Sensing his malice, they escape, encountering a cantankerous (but kind) old man traveling across country in his Winnebago by the name of Jason O’Day who joins with them in their race to get to Witch Mountain.
Escape to Witch Mountain has aged and it feels dated and against the glitzy high powered modern productions (including the CGI heavy remake). But that doesn’t mean that this isn’t still a great fun family film. It does well that which Disney has ruled over for decades, creating a world where children can allow their imaginations to take form onscreen; to come alive in a place where they are special, magical and important. This is a children’s adventure where they are heroes, chased unendingly by evil forces who treat them poorly and who seek to imprison, punish and penalize them for being extraordinary.
What works nicely about this adventure is the innocence of the adventure and the notion that kids are special and powerful beyond reality. Exactly what kids happily bite into and chew giddily upon for an hour and a half. The possibility of being something extraordinary – far beyond the ordinary of everyday boys and girls is the stuff that makes movies like this so much fun.
Robert Malcolm Young adapts Key’s novel and John Hough directs this tale proficiently. Several changes are noticeable in the film compared to the novel – most obviously is the evil Bolt character and the changing of the O’Day character from priest to traveler, and the age of the children (they are much younger here) but the core of the story remains intact. Hough, handles the chase action sequences solidly, allowing them to unfold with limit cuts and play out for quite some time giving them energy and excitement.
This isn’t a well polished film, it doesn’t compare that well to the modern production values that are far glitzier, employ more slick flash and the faster pace that either accommodates or breeds today’s audiences’ shorter attention spans, but it is still a good, solid family film. Every moment feels like the decade in which it was made, through wardrobe, sets and automobiles and the dated effects. The optical effects especially haven’t; held up too well, particularly the upside-down flying helicopter for example. But if you can see past this, the film remains fun.
The kids do fine as the out of this world special beings. Iake Eissinmann playing Tony and Kim Richards playing Tia are innocent and cute enough to carry the roles off. Donald Pleasance as Bolt’s employee Deranian is stiff and mostly expressionless – not unlike his other performances. Ray Milland as the evil Aristotle Bolt seems to enjoy the cranky and mean billionaire and finally, Eddie Albert as O’Day is grandfatherly enough to work well in the role.
A nice family film with good spirit, a sense of adventure and a positive sense about it.
Walt Disney presents Escape to Witch Mountain in 1.75:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen televisions. This film looks good, clean throughout and with rich colors. It isn’t perfect since some scenes appear a little too smooth – a little waxy. The night scenes, poorly lit, suffer here also appearing murky with indistinct elements onscreen that become hard to decipher at times. Director Hough explains that shooting with children at night isn’t easy to be able to do, so much of it is day-for-night, but that still leaves the scenes too dark. Finally, the clarity of DVD allows us to peer behind the magic curtain and see some of the strings that provided the floating effects. But generally, this is a good transfer with nice (though still muted 70’s) colors and is bright during the daytime scenes.
Escape to Witch Mountain comes with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio track (along with a French and Spanish language track). The surrounds offer barely a flutter as this is almost entirely a center channel carried track. The score creeps into the surrounds from time to time and that also gives the bass a stretch for a moment or two, but this really isn’t an active or engaging surround sound at all. It is also quieter than other audio tracks so you will find yourself turning the volume up higher than normal.
The only new special feature here from the 'Special Edition' release is the Pop-Up Trivia Track.
Audio Commentary – Slow paced commentary from director John Hough mixed with commentary by Iake Eissinmann and Kim Richards who are quite a bit more lively. Hough shares the technical and production based details, such as how scenes were shot and lit (a lot of day for night) while Eissinmann and Richards share more of the response the film received and some anecdotes from shooting – not the most engaging commentary from the actors, however.
All-New Pop-Up Facts – Better than some other trivia tracks found on films recently, but still not much of an incentive to pick up this new edition if you purchased the special edition version released a few years ago.
Making the Escape – (26:46) – Featuring interviews with the cast and director John Hough, this covers their appreciation of the experience making the film, working with (or being) child actors and working together with kind and generous actors and more.
Conversations with John Hough – (6:53) – John Hough discusses his career, passion and how he got started as a director.
Disney Sci-Fi – (2:45) – A rather odd music video featuring clips from several science-fiction themed Disney films.
”Pluto’s Dream House – (7:52) – A fun cartoon short featuring Mickey’s and his dog Pluto as they work to build Pluto a perfect abode that contains a questionable stereotype voice from the genie lamp.
Disney Effects – Something Special – (11:03) – Harrison Ellenshore shares an interesting retrospective look at Disney’s accomplishments with Special Effect, using miniatures, optical effects, matte paintings and other developed process to achieve magical ends.
1975 Disney Studio Album – (3:30) – A look at what Disney’s delivered to the world in 1975.