It’s finally here, the time that we (or maybe just me) have been waiting for: Halloween! Naturally, I had to celebrate the momentous occasion with another horror film review. I had a difficult time choosing the right film to close out the spooky season. Do I discuss the problematic themes in one of the first slasher films: Psycho? Should I continue my exploration of the anti-Christ with one of my favorite horror films of all time: Rosemary’s Baby? Or would it make sense to end with gore-y horror like Saw?
Then something occurred to me while I shamelessly had a Halloweentown marathon by myself while sitting in the basement next to plastic Jack-O-Lanterns. Maybe I should end with a curveball: a Disney Channel original movie.
The 1998 classic Halloweentown stars the award-winning actress Debbie Reynolds as Agatha Cromwell and has become a Halloween classic. It’s a movie I’ve watched every year without fail and one of the best Disney Channel original movies (in my humble opinion).
In the off chance you’ve never seen Halloweentown, the film is fairly straightforward. (There will be spoilers.)
It starts off with a young girl, Sophie (Emily Roeske), announcing to her family that somebody is coming as she stares out the window on Halloween night. She and her older siblings Dylan (Joey Zimmerman) and Marnie (Kimberly Brown) are forced to stay home due to their mother’s fervent concerns regarding the holiday. Dylan and Sophie are fairly unbothered by missing out on the Halloween festivities; their sister Marnie, however, is disappointed she can’t spend time with her friends.
Marnie and her mother Gwen (Judith Hoag) get into an argument about the possible dangers of Halloween, something Gwen refuses to elaborate on. Marnie argues that at the old age of thirteen she is essentially an adult and should be able to enjoy Halloween, a holiday that just so happens to connect to her interest in monsters and witches.
As Gwen tries to convince her daughter that she just doesn’t understand Halloween, she is thrown for a loop by the visit of her mother Agatha. The children, however, are delighted at Agatha’s presence and happily embrace the Halloween-themed presents she brings.
Throughout the evening, Agatha begins to hint there is something very special about the Cromwell family, but each time Gwen steps in, scolding her mother. As Agatha is about to leave, the children ask her to read them a story before they go to bed, so naturally, she pulls out a book called Halloweentown. The book describes a magical town where monsters, witches, and ghosts live together in harmony and includes an illustration of a young girl with long brunette hair flying on a broomstick. The children respond in shock, noting that it looks like Marnie! (As someone who has watched this film an absurd number of times, it could look like just about any young, white girl with brunette hair I swear).
Marnie secretly follows her grandmother downstairs and overhears a conversation that reveals Marnie is a witch and Halloweentown is real! Not only is she a witch, but if she does not begin her witch training tonight, on her thirteenth Halloween, she will lose her magical powers forever. Agatha also reveals that Halloweentown is being plagued by some sort of evil force and that she needs the help of another Cromwell witch. Marnie sneaks out after her grandmother to begin her witch training and follows Agatha onto a bus, with Dylan following close behind. (Little do they know that seven-year-old Sophie has also secretly followed them.)
After a wild ride with a bunch of monsters through some kind of inter-dimensional portal, the siblings arrive in Halloweentown. Just like in the book, there is a large Jack-O-Lantern in the town square and monsters everywhere. Though the Jack-O-Lantern is not lit like in the book, the monsters all walk about in their bright and colorful clothes.
After finding Sophie, the siblings have a casual meeting with Kalabar, the charming mayor, and find themselves going to their grandmother’s house in a cab driven by a skeleton named Benny. Though he only plays a small part in the movie, Benny is by far one of my favorite characters. His ridiculous antics and humor always bring a laugh, and they allow the viewer to gain further insight into the creatures that make up Halloweentown.
Though Agatha is shocked by their presence, she welcomes the potential for Marnie to help save Halloweentown from the evil forces that are turning good monsters into evil creatures. Before they can ward off the evil, they go back to the town square to get potion ingredients (and take an impromptu spin on a broomstick), where they are caught by Gwen, who suspected that the children may have followed their grandmother. As they wait for the next bus back to the mortal world, Agatha and Gwen are attacked by the evil creature attacking Halloweentown and are left frozen in a movie theater.
The siblings realize that they must save the town and all of its residents. They go all throughout Halloweentown to make the potion to light Merlin’s talisman (the only thing that can defeat the evil) and relight the darkened Jack-O-Lantern in the town square.
Once they finally obtain the werewolf hair and vampire’s fang to complete the potion and bring the talisman to the town square (saving their mother and grandmother), they face the evil creature. He removes his mask and we see that it is Kalabar, the mayor. He explains his anger with the mortals’ world and attempts to rally the monsters to help him take over the human world. He is thwarted by the powerful Cromwell magic of Gwen, Agatha, Marnie, Sophie, and ever-skeptical Dylan. Agatha decides to come back to the human world with the rest of her family and help Gwen begin Marnie’s training.
Halloweentown is a wholesome Halloween flick that gives you a happy ending (contradictory to most films made for the spooky season) and is an incredibly fun watch. The bright and outrageous costumes make the movie visually appealing as well as entertaining.
In the midst of everything that is happening in the world, these cute and creative early Disney Channel Original Movies can allow us to take a look back. As a child, I often felt weird and out of place. Seeing characters who felt similarly, like Marnie Cromwell, helped me imagine that one day I would also find my place. Now as I watch these movies, I am reminded of how important they were to me and understanding my feelings of not belonging anywhere. Perhaps that is why I always come back to these movies when Halloween comes around.
My biggest critique of the film is the plot holes, and even then they don’t deduct many points from the movie overall. I still am confused why Gwen doesn’t let her kids trick-or -treat. Is it because it’s offensive to Halloweentown? Is she worried about their safety? After years of watching this movie I still don’t understand why they can’t go get some candy or go to a Halloween party. Despite my neverending confusion, these plot holes almost make the viewing of this nonsensical Halloween fantasy world even better.
Though at times frustrating, Marnie is a fun and likeable main character. She is creative, compassionate, and intelligent, allowing the viewer to root for her and her siblings. I do wish, however, that her siblings got more character development and personality.
One of the film’s highlights is Debbie Reynolds as Agatha Cromwell. Reynolds brings the role to life, highlighting Agatha’s bubbly personality and outlandish antics. She is the quirky and loving grandmother, while also being a powerful and clever witch.
There are only a few films I would say warrant yearly Halloween viewing, and Halloweentown is one of them. It’s a movie great for any audience and is the perfect way to celebrate Halloween. On a scale of 1-10 cab-driving skeletons, I give this movie 10 cab-driving skeletons.
Stay spooky and I hope you had a great Halloween!