What separates this original pic from the usual Halloween fare is that it captures the spirit of a holiday designed for kids. It’s sweet and fun, but too much could definitely give you a stomach ache. Halloween, much like Christmas, has been turned into a marketing gimmick, and each year, TV execs try to cash in on the revelry. However, this story of a 13-year-old girl fascinated with all things witches is really about discovering the power of family, mortal or otherwise.
After a slow start, this family adventure comes to life thanks to the presence of screen legend Debbie Reynolds. Although the film doesn’t come close to capturing Reynolds’ considerable talents, the 66-year-old actress clearly relishes her role as a matriarchal witch who comes home to recruit her granddaughter into the family business.
The story begins with 13-year-old Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) pouting because she’s forbidden to join the neighborhood kids for Trick or Treat.
Her bookworm brother Dylan (Joey Zimmerman) would rather watch a nature show, but 4-year-old Sophie (Emily Roeske) also longs to join in the festivities.
Unbeknown to the kids, Mom (Judith Hoag) is a retired witch who gave up her craft to live as a mortal. Now a widow, she tries to maintain the status quo, shielding her children from her colorful past. The pic literally lights up when Reynolds, as Grandma Aggie Cromwell, makes a surprise visit, bringing costumes and candy to the Halloween-starved kids.
Grandma Aggie warns her daughter that Marnie must begin her witch training or loose all of her powers forever. She also tries to convince her daughter to return home to Halloweentown, to fight off the strange evil force that is turning the happy-go-lucky residents into hateful ghouls.
Halloweentown is no ordinary neighborhood. It’s a haven for monsters, demons, trolls and warlocks who have forsaken the real world to live peacefully and unbothered in a truly enchanted kingdom.
When Marnie discovers her birthright, she and her siblings follow Grandma home to help fight off the evil force that’s destroying the town. Marnie and Sophie embrace this odd world, while Dylan remains constantly skeptical. He writes off the strange inhabitants as animatronic. “Disney World,” he tells Marnie, “is full of that stuff.”
Sharp writing by Jon Cooksey and Ali Matheson doesn’t go unnoticed.
The movie is full of topical humor and whimsical touches, including a microwave with Bubble, Toil and Trouble settings and a demon who fails to impress today’s teenagers with his evil spells because they’ve already seen it all on Jerry Springer.
Reynolds is heavily showcased, but the key to the story is Brown who nails the part of a young girl struggling to find her identity without conjuring up images of an adolescent nightmare. Zimmerman, as Dylan, plays the straight man perfectly and gets all of the best lines, while Roeske is simply charming as young Sophie.
Hoag is the killjoy mom who inexplicably would rather clean house and cook than use her magical powers. The only personality she shows is when she runs into her old boyfriend-turned-evil-warlock, played with flair by Robin Thomas.
Although generally good-natured fun prevails, there are enough scary images in Halloweentown to frighten the wee ones, but not enough action to entice those over 15. The tech credits are adequate, but are clearly not the draw here.