This movie is the ultimate tribute to Halloween and a fun family story combined into one.
Marnie Piper (Kimberly J. Brown) is a 13-year-old who is obsessed with the occult despite the fact that her mother, Gwen (Judith Hoag), has banned Halloween in their house. Marnie’s younger brother, Dylan (Joey Zimmerman), tends to side with their mother, while her younger sister, Sophie (Emily Roeske), tends to side with Marnie. On Halloween, Marnie’s grandmother, Agatha Cromwell (Debbie “Singing in the Rain” Reynolds), visits. Marnie spies on her mother and grandmother talking and finds out that her grandmother is actually a witch from another world called “Halloweentown” which is populated by all of the monsters we associate with the holiday. Something evil is attacking the town and Agatha needs another witch to help her. Gwen refuses, so Marnie and her siblings follow their grandmother to Halloweentown. They quickly meet some of the residents, including warlock Mayor Kalabar (Robin Thomas), skeleton cabbie Benny (Rino Romano), and local bad boy Luke (Phillip Van Dyke). Together, the Cromwell/Pipers have to figure out who is trying to take over Halloweentown and stop them.
If you’re in my age range, you probably remember this movie from when it first came out. It was one of the better Disney Channel original movies from the window in the mid-90s to mid-00s when those were a big deal. It’s just the right level of campy-scary for a Disney film. It’s never going to have anyone crying or shaking, particularly since there aren’t any jump scares and the soundtrack is consistently playful and upbeat, but it does have some dark moments involving the villain when they finally reveal themselves. Despite the fact that the world of Halloweentown is filled with monsters, they all intentionally look like cheap holiday masks, so they’re never much more than colorful characters. It helps that a running gag in the film is that the monsters act almost exactly like normal people, doing things like yoga or bowling or running an ice cream shop, only doing so while having extra eyes or horns.
The performances in the movie are pretty solid for a Disney made-for-TV film. Debbie Reynolds has been charming and funny since the 1950s and having her play a slightly kookie but loving grandmother works out perfectly. It helps that they actually give her some fun stuff to do and say, including things like having a microwave which can duplicate the effects of the Weird Sisters from Macbeth, spitefully putting chicken wings back on the chicken, or having a Mary Poppins-esque a bag of holding. She always comes off as sincere and it helps sell the goofy premise. Both Reynolds and the kids consistently seem to be having fun, which adds to the effect. Also, the kids are a step above the usual level of bad acting that you’d find in a television film, particularly Kimberly J. Brown as Marnie and Joey Zimmerman as Dylan. I think that’s probably why they brought her back for two sequels and him for all three.
Mostly, though, the movie is just fun. It captures the spirit of Halloween that we all love when we’re younger. It’s not about scares as much as it’s just about enjoying the unusual and the unique. It isn’t super complicated or deep, although there is a nice message about not trying to make major decisions for your teenage children without their knowledge or consent.
Overall, it’s just a great film to put on during the holiday.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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