By Graham "GSM" Matthews
For me, there are only two times during the course of the year that require movie marathons: Halloween and Christmas. I've spent the entire month of October watching all kinds of classic Halloween horror flicks, from "Friday the 13th" to "Nightmare on Elm Street", but my movie marathon wouldn't be complete without "Halloweentown." Growing up on Disney Channel, "Halloweentown" was the one movie I looked forward to watching every October along with "The Phantom of the Megaplex," "Hocus Pocus," and "My Mom's Dating a Vampire." Remember, this was long before the days of DVR, so if you missed it, that was it! My mother would allow me to stay up past my bedtime just to watch the end of "Halloweentown" even if I had already seen it a million times over.
If you didn't grow up on Disney Channel, then you'll probably watch this movie and cringe. Was it the best produced film? No. Did it win any awards? No. But it's a cult classic for the sole reason of it bringing back memories of people's childhood. It clocks in at about an hour and 20 minutes, so if you're one of those people who's always busy and doesn't have time to sit down and watch a movie more often than not (like me), this won't take much time out of your schedule. And if enjoyed watching this movie as a kid as much as I did, it's well worth it!
May I mind you that this movie was made in 1998, so a lot of the acting was cheesy. Can you honestly expect anything less from a Disney Channel Original Movie? I think that's part of what makes it so nostalgic: people remember it for what it is. If nothing else, it's better than anything on that channel nowadays, that much is for sure. Many movies on Disney Channel have such a cliche plot that it's hard to take them seriously more often than not, but not "Halloweentown." It's such a cool, creative and original concept that it makes it fun to watch. I mean, who wouldn't want to visit an alternate universe where it was Halloween every day? It's every kid's dream, especially for someone like me who enjoys Halloween more than any other day of the year.
Debbie Reynolds (Aggie Cromwell) is easily the best star in the entire film. She's so dedicated to her role and she plays the part of "loving grandmother but also a witch on the side" so well. Kimberly J. Brown (Marnie Piper) was also perfectly cast in that it seems like she'd really want to be teenage witch. None of the other actors are bad, of course, but they pale in comparison to these two in my opinion. As for the plot, there isn't much to say. It's cookie-cutter stuff for the most part, but the most of the film's fun comes in exploring the different parts of Halloweentown. The scene was beautifully made and it's a true spectacle for any kid who watches it for the first time.
I don't know why, but I've always liked the Calabar (Kalabar?) character. Then again, I'm big on movie villains, but I felt like they could have done more to establish Calabar as a bad guy. He isn't revealed to be the bad guy until the very end, but viewers don't know much about him aside from him being an "old flame" of Gwen Piper's. Sure, his reveal as the villain came as a shock, but viewers would've had more of a reason to care about his "death" if they had a connection with him beforehand. I wanted to see Calabar make an appearance in the sequel, but alas, he didn't with exception to a few mentions.
While on the topic of the sequels, I enjoyed the second a lot (I watched it along with the first one earlier this month as I have both of them on a double feature DVD). Of the four Halloweentown movies made, the second one might be my favorite. It's quite darker than the first, which is why I'm probably drawn to it more, but it also ties into the first one nicely. Cal (Kal?) is an excellent villain, and unlike Calabar, he was revealed as the bad guy early enough in the film so that his ultimate annihilation meant something. There was a storyline consistency between the first two films unlike the subsequent two.
There wasn't anything necessarily wrong with "Halloweentown High," but it was mostly forgettable. Most of the original cast reprised their roles, and the idea was interesting with the monsters of Halloweentown trying to make it through high school, but the title of that movie was somewhat misleading. They are never once in Halloweentown for the entire movie, which was a little disappointing. They return to Halloweentown for the fourth installment, but the only original cast members in that movie are Aggie (Reynolds) and Dylan Piper (Joey Zimmerman). The move to not bring back Brown as Marnie was asinine. I originally believed it was because Brown was busy with other projects, but Brown has since shot that rumor down, so I have no idea why they decided to go in a "different direction" with the film.
One thing that always bothered me about "Halloweentown 2" was how the death of Cal was never really explained. From the looks of it, he's destroyed at the end, but Luke is quick to point out that "he'll be back" before Aggie notes that "they'll be ready." Why bother including that if Cal would never return in any of the subsequent movies? What was the significance? I had my hopes up for him popping up in the third and fourth installments, but no such luck. This has led to much fan speculation that a fifth film will/should be made in order to tie up this loose end, but it never came to fruition, sadly.
As a longtime fan of the "Halloweentown" franchise, I would love to see a fifth film be made. I full realize Brown is way too old to be cast as Marnie at this point, but maybe that's the point. Perhaps she's all grown-up and wants to bring her own kids to Halloweentown. It's an idea, right? It's the most notable series of films ever produced by Disney Channel, hence why so many were made. It wouldn't hurt, right? Sara Paxton was fine and all in "Return to Halloweentown," but it wasn't the same without Brown. Again, it's highly unlikely that even on the off-chance a fifth film is made that they'll even bother mentioning Cal (it's been too long), but it's an idea worth entertaining..
All and all, though, "Halloweentown" is a must for any Disney Channel fanatics every Halloween season. It's cheesy and all, but it's fun for all ages. The sequel was also quite good as previously mentioned, but don't bother going out of your way to watch the last two installments. They weren't terrible, but rather forgettable at best. The first two "Halloweentown" movies are cult classics for their incredible imaginative nature and eccentric cast of characters.
Should you watch this movie? Yes.