It’s really not that good.
Nostalgia is a VERY powerful thing. My wife is a huge fan of the Disney Channel Original Movie Halloweentown. She watched it all the time growing up. My oldest daughter is now also a fan (most likely due to attrition). They both can quote the movie at each other. She’s three! (My kid, not my wife).
I don’t see the big deal.
Honestly, it’s probably because I didn’t watch it as a kid. That’s when DCOMs have their most power (outside of High School Musical, because WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER). Every time I watch this movie, I find something else that just doesn’t work right. So, here’s I guess my review? (Also, I’m really sorry, Jo, but I’m going to rip this apart)
Marnie Cromwell is thirteen and her mom has never let her go out on Halloween due to reason she will explain when Marnie is “taller”. Marnie is obviously upset about this because she loves Halloween. First off, Mom, going trick or treating isn’t going to suddenly turn her into the witch you fear. Second, they argue about this every year, come up with a better excuse! Make other plans on Halloween if it bothers you so much, Ma!
Her brother, Dylan, is an egghead who is reading a novel about submarines (???) and Sophie, her sister, gazes longingly out the window at the other kids who get candy instead of lectures on Halloween.
Then Grandma Aggie comes to visit. She shows up with her rolling bag by way of flying bus and drops in for a surprise visit. Aggie is thrilled to see her grandkids and they’re like “Why can’t you stay Grandma?” and she basically just gives them shruggy arms. Suddenly, it’s time for dinner. They talk about Halloween spooky things and they are sent off to bed.
Here’s my first really big issue with this movie. If we are to assume Trick or Treat starts at 5, sundown is at 5:30, and Aggie arrives around 6, that puts dinner at about 6:05. Now, I don’t know how long dinner lasted, of course, I highly doubt over two hours. These kids are going to bed at, what, 6:30? 7:00? Come on, Mom. ALSO, you don’t let your kids stay up late when their grandma is visiting for the FIRST TIME IN AT LEAST A YEAR?! Get outta here, Gwen.
Aggie talks about her life in Halloweentown and Dylan is like “Don’t fill their heads with nonsense, Grandmama, they are just ignorant children” then Aggie’s like “Well it is real, I read it in a book”. She pulls out an OBVIOUS picture book and Dylan WHO READS SUBMARINE NOVELS is like “Okay that checks out”.
After story, Aggie talks with Gwen about the evil that is happening in Halloweentown and asks for her help. Gwen’s like “Nah, that ain’t me” and Aggie points her finger at her and says, I shit you not, “Fine, BURY your head in the sand”. It’s so melodramatic, it’s beautiful. Marnie overhears and decides to follow Aggie onto the bus. Dylan comes along. Somehow Sophie slips onto the bus without them seeing as well, which I really don’t know how that happens.
Once they arrive, they discover Sophie and she’s like “I want to help Gramma fight the bad thing.” Then Calabar/Kalabar, the Mayor of the town, shows up. This Alice Cooper stand-in has a name discrepancy that I can’t get over. In the sequel, it’s Kalabar, in this it is Calabar. If Disney can keep the Star Wars canon straight, this should have been a walk in the park. I guess the lore of Halloweentown was too difficult to follow.
Kalabar summons Benny, a wisecracking skeleton TAXI DRIVER that eats fishbones (???) for lunch. He takes her up to Aggie’s mansion where Cromwells have lived for a thousand years. We learn that she needs to fill up Merlin’s talisman with “Witch’s Brew” to light the giant ass pumpkin in the middle of the town square. This will defeat the bad thing (most likely). We get an exposition dump on how Mortals and Monsters used to live together then Mortals, being Mortals, are like “YER DIFF’RENT GIT OUTTA HERE” so they decide to create their own world. THEY HAVE APPARENTLY GODLIKE POWERS TO CREATE AN ALTERNATE DIMENSION, BUT DON’T DESTROY THE HUMAN RACE. OKAY, CHECKS OUT.
Marnie discovers the brooms and in comes my least favorite part of the movie (although it has the best line). This weird used car salesman ghoul shows up and is like “Yeah the Purple Dragonfly here? It’s awesome. But I prefer. Electric Blue myself.” I put punctuation in there so you get the full effect of the quote. It’s awful, his character makes no sense, he’s vaguely 1950’s and he’s accompanied by a jazzy piano score. Luke, a local boy, shows up and is like “Let me buy you an ice cream, Marty” to which Marnie responds an emphatic no. Luke runs away, heartbroken. Then the ghoul goes “That Luke dude. He turned into such a wiener”. A WIENER. The best.
In the mortal world, Gwen realizes the kids are missing and immediately assumes it was her mom who took them. So she jets off to Halloweentown. Really bold assumption there Gwen. What if it was a burglar? Or Marnie snuck out to do trick or treat? You go to an ALTERNATE DIMENSION on a hunch? Bad move.
Gwen finds the kids and grounds Marnie. This part is great. Gwen goes “Not another word, Marnie, you are GROUNDED!” and the whole audience is shocked like she slapped Marnie or something (I’m siding with Gwen here as she definitely SHOULD be grounded for sneaking off to AN ALTERNATE DIMENSION). She talks about how she didn’t want her kids to grow up here like she did and storms off. The bus is broken down so they can’t leave. Dylan says “Mummy, the mayor of this quaint village seems like a stand-up chap. We should ask him for help post haste!”
Kalabar is the mayor and it turns out Gwen was his girlfriend for a time in high school! Scandalous. Kalabar is called away and they are left alone.
Luke, who we find out is a crony for the bad thing, follows Aggie. We sense some tension between them that one can only assume is romantic. He tells her to go to the old movie theatre where the bad thing is waiting for her. She goes and there is a ghoul with billowing robes cackling. Somehow the kids and Gwen show up where Gwen tries to STRAIGHT UP MURDER Luke, but accidentally covers him in flowers (how silly!). Aggie and Gwen are shot with a freezing spell by the bad thing. This leads to a beautifully passive aggressive line from Aggie to the kids: “Go! It’s just a magic spell that freezes us! GO!” The “just” makes it so passive aggressive, I love it.
Now it is up to the kids to get the ingredients for the witch’s brew. First, hair of a werewolf. Well, good thing they happen to know that the local hair dresser is a werewolf (??) and Dylan shaves the back of his head. The werewolf also acts like Austin Powers, complete with a “Yeah, baby”. Next, sweat of a ghost. They go to the local gym to find one. So, this ghost walks into a sweatbox and Sophie is like “Wow, a real ghost!” and Marnie responds “Wow! A real SWEATBOX!” Look, you just discovered something that can change the course of history and you’re excited about a SWEATBOX? Get it together.
The ghost is a rather bulbous man with a high pitched voice. Marnie locks him in the sweatbox and turns the heat up until he sweats. The ghost says “Hades was NOTHING compared to this” which also proves the existence of the underworld. I have many many thoughts on that line specifically, but this is already way too long. Finally, they have to get a vampire fang. Marnie impersonates a dental assistant to the Tooth Fairy (who is terrifying). Luckily, there is a vampiric tooth extraction happening that day. The fang is plucked and you can see that the actress’ real tooth was just colored black. It’s amazing.
After they make the potion, Marnie puts it in the talisman and they head to the town square. Luke, after facing how close he was to sloughing his mortal coil, becomes a good guy and warns Marnie that it is a trap. What is “it”? Well, it’s Marnie going to install the talisman in the pumpkin. How did the bad thing know? SHRUGGING INTENSIFIES
The bad thing shows up and is like “Yo, let’s go kill the humans” and there are a bunch of people in the square going “Wow what a great idea strange shadow creature!” He then morphs into his true form, KALABAR! The kids are awestruck. Marnie climbs the pumpkin to install the talisman, even though she could have just reached inside and put it in, but whatever. Kalabar shoots fireballs from his hands and hits Marnie a few times. She passes out. Then she wakes up. It’s that quick. She just drops the talisman and, for the first time the entire movie, uses magic to guide it in. Sidebar, Sophie was the one who was using magic the entire movie. She’s a natural, possibly the most powerful witch. She floated a cookie, turned a lock into a frog (????), and remembered Aggie’s complex spell for the talisman. Hail Sophie, Queen of Halloweentown.
The lights of the pumpkin turn on, Kalabar slinks away, and all the people in the theatre are unfrozen. There’s a big reunion and the Cromwells are happy. BUT WAIT! Kalabar stands. Marnie just walks up and yells “WHY KALABAR?” He explains that he wanted to take over the mortal world because GWEN MARRIED A HUMAN. That’s it. Dude, get over it.
In the end, Kalabar steals the talisman, but the Cromwells hum him to death. I’m not joking. They hold hands and hum. He explodes into light. Big celebrations happen and Luke turns back into his goblin-like form. Aggie tells Luke that she has a “special job” for him (wink). Turns out, it was driving the bus between the worlds. What? What happened to the other driver? Why isn’t he doing it?
Gwen invites Aggie to live with them in the Mortal world and Aggie accepts, most likely to get away from all of the townspeople who apparently are okay with the mass genocide of humans. Gwen says she wants to complete Marnie’s training. They fly off on the bus. Credits.
So, I have more feelings about this movie than I thought. This is just the general outline of the movie and I have so much more to say about individual pieces, but I think it’s time to let it rest.
Honestly, I’m critiquing a family movie that was made in the late 90’s. It’s low hanging fruit. It’s a fun, cheaply-made, goofy movie. It’s for kids! It’s supposed to be dumb.
However, that doesn’t account for the second one… Maybe next year.
Header image from MickeyBlog.com