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DVD Review: ‘Escape To Witch Mountain’ & ‘Return From Witch Mountain’
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Escape to Witch Mountain & Return From Witch Mountain DVDDisney’sWitch Mountain

Escape to Witch Mountain Special Edition (1975)
Directed by John Hough
Starring Ike Eisenmann, Kim Richards, Donald Pleasence, Ray Milland, Eddie Albert
Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Release Date: March 10, 2009

Return from Witch Mountain Special Edition (1978)
Directed by John Hough
Starring Ike Eisenmann, Kim Richards, Christopher Lee, Bette Davis
Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Release Date: March 10, 2009

After the death of their foster parents, picture perfect blond siblings Tony and Tia Malone (Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards) are sent to a children’s home, where their attempts to fit in become increasingly difficult as their “special powers” become more apparent. Previously, the young siblings had little memory of their lives before they came to live with the Malones, but they always knew they had special powers. But the more they use their powers, the greater the danger to them will be, as the greedy millionaire Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland) and his opportunistic employee Lucas Deranian (Donald Pleasence) scheme to use the children’s abilities to their own advantage.

Luckily, children in Disney movies are as smart and intuitive as Disney movie villains are obvious, because although Bolt and Deranian try enticing the children with their own playroom and all the toys and ice cream they could ever want, the two men are simply up to no good — and the children realize this soon enough. With Tia’s special star case and as-of-yet deciphered map in hand, the siblings, along with their cooperative black cat Winky, go on the run from the bad guys. Along the way, they stowaway in the back of an RV driven by a cranky loner (Eddie Albert), who at first reluctantly helps the children, who think they know a place that will lead them to discover their true destiny — the mysterious Witch Mountain.

To watch Disney’s 1975 live-action movie Escape To Witch Mountain now you wouldn’t think the special effects were all that dazzling. But at that time, some of the techniques used to display the children’s powers were innovative and costly and were painstakingly done by a group of very talented artists. Both children had telekinesis, so without the use of computers, it was more difficult to show items flying in the air, not to mention upside helicopters and UFOs!

But these retro special effects definitely have their charm, especially when you consider that this was not a low-budget movie. Plus, the story of two children seemingly alone in the world who have to defend themselves from the evil that men do by using their wits and their special powers is still highly entertaining after all these years. Eisenmann and Richards were adorable child stars, and their characters were so lovable, you just couldn’t help but cheer them on. You know how Disney loves to teach their child audiences some life lessons and Escape has plenty of them. Just so having these downtrodden orphans reject a lifestyle of luxury and excess because they perceive their new guardians to be immoral is a unique situation and sends a major message to children to look beyond the surface.

Watching Escape To Witch Mountain again after so many years was a great treat for me and brought back from many memories for me, as I was not that much younger than Tony and Tia when this movie was released in 1975. Seeing that children against all odds could be empowered and do the right thing in the face of adversity was a major influence on me at the time. Their grand adventure on the road in an RV with their black cat (and boy did I love — and still do love — black cats) was so much fun to watch, as was seeing them use their special abilities Tony’s telekinesis through music and Tia’s ability to unlock doors and communicate with animals. For it to end with a spaceship was the ultimate for me, as even then I loved me some science fiction.

If you enjoyed this movie I highly recommend viewing the bonus features on this DVD, and watching the movie through with the audio commentary with director John Hough and the now-adult Richards and Eisenmann, especially if you have the same amount of nostalgia for it as I do.

Unfortunately, I can speak as strongly for the movie’s 1978 sequel Return From Witch Mountain. Return starts off with Tony and Tia returning from Witch Mountain in a flying saucer to enjoy a “vacation” in Los Angeles, CA, from their intensive paranormal studies. While the children are older now, they’re apparently far from wiser as it only takes a few minutes for Tony to be ensnared by a mad scientist named Dr. Victor Gannon (Christopher Lee) and his financial backer Letha Wedge (Bette Davis) who plan to — guess what? — use Tony’s powers to their greedy, immoral advantage.

Now I can take Christopher Lee as the mad scientist in his dungeon of experiments with Bette Davis as his wicked partner. Even though it’s a little cheesy, it was actually the best part of the movie. Where it loses it scifi/fantasy edge is when Tia hooks up with what I can only describe as a young gang of wannabe Warriors slash less-intelligent precursor to the Goonies, who try but seem to be of little help to Tia in her search for her brother. Meanwhile, Tony spends most of the movie either unconscious or under Victor’s mind control (the evil doctor uses a handy remote control), which means that the comfortable rapport and banter between the siblings that made the first movie so endearing is practically gone in this sequel. Admittedly, Tia was still a joy to watch, though the one outfit of bright reddish-orange culottes suit was quite the eyesore. (I’m guessing they put her in this hideous ensemble so that she’d stand out amongst illiterate young “warriors.”)

Like with the new DVD release for Escape To Witch Mountain, Return comes with a host of bonus features, including feature-length audio commentary. While the movie wasn’t as good as it could have been and perhaps dragged on a bit much story-wise, I still got a kick out of the bonus features and would recommend them even if you’re only a fan of the first film or if you want some insight into the inner workings of a Disney production in the 1970s.

Both DVDs come with “Making Of” featurettes, feature-length pop-up trivia facts, and montages of other Disney scifi films from the 1970s. Escape also includes feature on director John Houghs and interviews with the now-adult child stars where they talk about their experiences on the film, as well as a feature on the innovative special effects. The DVD also includes the short Pluto’s Dream House.” The extras for Return include featurettes on the gang and about the children’s powers, but more importantly, there’s also a lost interview with Christopher Lee.

If you have any intention of taking the kids this weekend to see Disney’s Race To Witch Mountain, it would probably be fun to share these two original movies with them, especially since Race is supposedly a continuation of the series and even has cameos from Richards and Eisenmann.

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