“Return From Witch Mountain,” sequel to the popular “Escape To Witch Mountain,” 1975 Disney release that has returned more than $8,ooo,ooo in rentals, should do as well as its predecessor, if not better. Pic is loaded with the kind of visual hijinks juve audiences love, and appeal should hold for adults, as well. Playoff looks bright in most situations.
Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann reprise their roles as sister and brother from another world, this time back on Earth for vacation, courtesy of space traveler Uncle Bene (Denver Pyle). Siblings get a quick test of their psychic powers as mad scientist Christopher Lee and accomplice Bette Davis are testing their mind control device on henchman Anthony James – when Eisenmann saves James from falling off a building by anti-gravity display, Lee sees the youngster as his meal ticket to world power.
Film is basically a case caper, as sister Richards tries to find her brother, aided by a junior bunch of Dead End kids – Christian Juttner, Brad Savage, Poindexter and Jeffrey Jacquet. Despite an extrasensory link between the siblings (they communicate via telepathy, and can also make objects move at will), Lee has Eisenmann straitjacketed with his device, so he can use youngster’s “molecular reorganization” powers to his own purposes.
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Davis, however, is in it for the money, and with aid of James, snatches Eisenmann off to a museum displaying a horde of gold bullion. Ensuing scene is one of the film’s highpoints, as Eisenmann creates total chaos with museum displays coming to life, and gold bars floating through the air.
Richards arrives in time to foil that escapade, leading up to a superbattle between the siblings at a nuclear reactor Lee wants Eisenmann to blow up. Stop-motion animation by Joe Hale is flawless, and special effects by Disney stalwarts Eustace Lycett, Art Cruickshank and Danny Lee are superb. One has the feelings the objects and people really are doing the oddball movements, and this suspension of disbelief is crucial to pic’s success. Kudos to director John Hough in that respect.
Eisenmann and Richards have matured considerably since original pic, but they still should attract moppet empathy. Lee makes one of the best Disney villains in years, but Davis doesn’t quite click as his partner in crime.
It seems that Disney villainesses are triumphantly cruel in animation, a quality difficult to duplicate in live-action. For the men, it’s the opposite way around, which should give sociologists something to ponder.
Anthony James is well cast as the heavy, and Jack Soo adds a nice, light touch as a truant officer in pursuit of the youthful gang members, of whom Poindexter, Savage and Jacquet are standouts. Malcolm Marmorstein’s script keeps the emphasis light, although it’s ironic that a Disney pic is one of the first to dwell on nuclear terrorism as a plot angle.
Ron Miller-Jerome Courtland production is rich in visuals, and L.A. locations were chosen to good effect, especially dilapidated Victorian manse located near Union Station.
Ending is ripe for a third pic in the series, and if high standards of first two are any indication, Disney org should push ahead.