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The Halloweentown Series on DVD: Halloweentown & Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge Halloweentown High Return to Halloweentown

Halloweentown & Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge - Double Feature DVD Review

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Director: Duwayne Dunham

Cast: Debbie Reynolds (Aggie Cromwell), Kimberly J. Brown (Marnie Cromwell), Judith Hoag (Gwen Cromwell), Robin Thomas (Kalabar), Joey Zimmerman (Dylan Cromwell), Emily Roeske (Sophie Cromwell), Phillip Van Dyke (Luke)

Original Airdate: October 22, 1998 / Running Time: 84 Minutes / Rating: TV-PG

Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge

Director: Mary Lambert

Cast: Debbie Reynolds (Aggie Cromwell), Kimberly J. Brown (Marnie Cromwell), Daniel Kountz (Kal), Judith Hoag (Gwen Cromwell), Joey Zimmerman (Dylan Cromwell), Emily Roeske (Sophie Cromwell), Phillip Van Dyke (Luke)

Original Airdate: October 12, 2001 / Running Time: 81 Minutes / Rating: TV-PG

DVD Details:
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio),
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (French, Spanish),
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 13, 2005
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99; Black Keepcase

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Review by Aaron Wallace

Adding to a library that already included favorites like Something Wicked This Way Comes, Hocus Pocus, and assorted classic cartoons, Disney landed a hit in 1998 with the premiere of Halloweentown on the Disney Channel, one of the network's most popular and creative original movies to date. Audiences found a certain charm in its festive embrace of the holiday and three years later, their demand for more Halloweentown was met with the premiere of Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge in 2001.
Viewers' fondness for the premise and cast only continued to grow, culminating in the extension of the series into a trilogy with last year's Halloweentown High. With several other popular Disney Channel Original Movies already on DVD and the Halloween season just around the corner, it seems the time is right for the popular trilogy to finally make its digital debut on home video. Accordingly, all three Halloweentown films are released this week, with the first two movies sharing one single-disc release and the final chapter getting its own. The former is the subject of this review.

Halloweentown centers around Marnie Cromwell (Kimberly J. Brown), a young teenager who finds herself oddly fascinated with the mythical, magical, and mysterious. That's a problem, because her mother, Gwen (Judith Hoag), harbors an equally puzzling disdain for the very same things, and most especially Halloween, which just happens to be the day on which the story begins (and ends). Her younger and wittier brother, Dylan (Joey Zimmerman), is even more cynical when it comes to the non-scientific. Sophie (Emily Roeske), the youngest Cromwell, is more like-minded with her older sister, but age is an obstacle in their bonding.

It's Marnie's grandmother, Aggie Cromwell (screen legend Debbie Reynolds), with whom she can readily identify. Much like Marnie herself, the eccentric Aggie doesn't get along with Gwen, and the fact that she visits the family on only one day a year- Halloween- and brings plenty of mischievously festive treats along with her only serves to aggravate their quarrelsome relationship.

The spooky opening shot of "Halloweentown" has always been a favorite of mine. Welcome to Halloweentown.

It just so happens that the year in which the movie takes place is Marnie's thirteenth, with her birthday fast approaching. Unbeknownst to Marnie herself, that makes this visit from her grandmother an especially important one. As the evening passes, she picks up on hints of urgency in her matriarchs' conversations and when she finally decides to sneak out of her room in the late hours and eavesdrop, she makes a startling discovery.

The Cromwell family line, as it turns out, is the most powerful clan of witches in Halloweentown, a world that lies in a different realm and has served as home to the creatures of Halloween since their split from Earth centuries prior. Aggie is the eldest of the family and Gwen, too, is a respected witch- only she rebuked the world she knew as home to marry a mortal and embrace the "normal life." Her decision forged a rift in their relationship, but more importantly to the film, it makes Marnie the next in line. Not only has Gwen kept Marnie's true roots hidden all these years, but she plans to keep it a secret past her thirteenth birthday, at which point she forfeits her powers if she hasn't yet undergone training.

That isn't the only reason for the urgency of Aggie's visit, though... something's wrong in Halloweentown. The ghosts, skeletons, monsters, witches, warlocks, goblins, and other inhabitants of their world are collectively a peaceful people but a mysterious force is at work among them to cast spells on select citizens to aid in a covert attempt to return Halloweentown to the Dark Times, an era in which the magical creatures and humans warred against one another and the Earth holiday of Halloween was created as a form of mockery. Desperate to protect her home and mortals, Aggie needs her family's powers to aid in her attempts at tracking down and thwarting those who would usurp her authority and wreak havoc.

It's like "Bewitched," except that Aggie isn't mean, and Samantha never completely rejected her powers... okay, maybe it's not like "Bewitched." Good ole' Mayor Kalabar, played by Rob(in) Thomas.

Furious at her mother's secrecy and thrilled at the prospect of being a witch from another world, Marnie rushes to gather a few belongings and follow her grandmother out of the house and through the realm-to-realm portal that leads to Halloweentown, her siblings tagging alongside. Upon arriving, the three meet a host of wondrous creatures but soon note a few unsavory characters,
like the shady teenaged Luke (Phillip Van Dyke), who takes an unwelcome interest in Marnie, and begin to discover that Halloweentown isn't quite what they thought it to be. With the help of those around her, Marnie must put her powers to the test to help her grandmother save Halloweentown and her family.

Halloweentown exhibits a number of flaws, primarily those that are common among made-for-Disney Channel movies. There's enough corn here to make a Brady blush, particularly in the excessively childish trading of insults between Marnie and Dylan. Costumes and make-up for less prominent characters leave much to be desired and a few of the sound effects and digital effects quickly wear thin. On the other hand, however, the acting is always at least tolerable (and in Reynolds' case, a delight), the main characters' appearances are well-crafted, the pacing works well, the score is effective, and there's even a thoroughly enjoyable story-line. In spite of its flaws, the movie is a fun and charming one that is easy to enjoy and a treat to finally have on DVD.


Though it premiered three years later, Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge takes place only two Halloweens after Marnie learned of her roots and made use of them to help save the day. An unfortunate side-effect of both films being released side-by-side is that the title of the sequel spoils a bit of the original's plot for those who haven't seen it. This review might do a bit of that from this point on as well, but I'll try to keep it to a minimum.

This is the rare sequel that surpasses its original in quality. The premise holds true to the previous story and builds upon it, thickening a plot in the way one would expect a chapter in a trilogy to. Gwen has warmed up to her children's powers, but she still chooses a life of relative normalcy for herself, which only escalates familial tension now that Aggie lives in the house with them (her room is magically concealed, of course).

This year, the Cromwells have managed to overcome disagreements and actually hold a neighborhood Halloween party in their home. Dylan tries to find a date for a Halloween dance being held later the same evening, but to no avail. His sister has better luck. A new father-and-son family have moved into the neighborhood and make their introductory appearance at the party. The father finds himself smitten with Gwen -- a mutual attraction -- and the same can be said for his son Kal (Daniel Kountz) and Marnie.

Dylan... what a difference three years makes, and that goes for all the child actors. Kal doesn't seem to be up to much good.

The shindig goes well but Aggie is put off by a sudden disruption in her communication with Halloweentown from Earth. To find out what's happened, she and Marnie head to Halloweentown for a quick check-in with the understanding that they'll be back before the midnight curfew for realm-to-realm travel and Marnie's dance date with Kal. When they get there, though, they quickly realize that they won't be returning anytime soon. All of Halloweentown has turned gray, literally. The giant jack-o-lantern that serves as the realm's source of life has disappeared and all the townspeople look more like humans than fantastical creatures. In their attempts to understand what has transpired in their absence, they learn the truth about Kal, his past, and his intentions with the citizens of Halloweentown and the mortal world.
The two find themselves once again waging their powers against those of their enemy to save both their worlds from a similar but all-together grander peril than they faced two years prior.

The child actors have each aged considerably since the first Halloweentown and the maturation is evident in their performances. Dylan and Sophie play smaller but still important roles to the story, while the now-central character of Luke is present for almost the entire course of the movie as he joins the Cromwells in their heroics.

Halloweentown II is an improvement in almost every other way too. Gone are the embarrassing quips and weak jokes, and though the occasionally "teenaged romantic comedy" flaw takes their place, it makes for a more solid script. The effects, too, have improved, and as there are fewer creatures in this movie, the costumes aren't overly plastic either. Only the initial wonderment experienced upon first discovering Halloweentown and Debbie Reynold's ever-so-slightly larger role in the original are missed here. If one looks for the first movie's formula here, they'll find some semblance of it, but it's only loosely implemented and is usually appropriate when it is. With clever pacing and daring and extensive experiments with time travel sequences, Halloweentown is actually rather suspenseful at times and is every bit as good a fit for the fall season as its predecessor.

"Sin City"was such a rip-off. This Luke is not to be confused with our beloved site administrator.

VIDEO and AUDIO

I'm pleased to report that the video quality for both movies is surprisingly good. As compared to standard television quality, the picture looks crisp, colorful, and lively. Every so often, one can spot very light ringing around some edges and shots are sometimes softer or blurrier than is ideal, which I believe to be the fault of the original production and not the transfer. Each movie is presented in the 1.33:1 "fullscreen" ratio, which is the way they were originally broadcast. I assume that's the way in which they were filmed as well, and though I can't be entirely certain, the framing doesn't seem to suggest otherwise.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio track is an equally pleasing surprise. Truth be told, the track isn't the most dynamic, but given what it had to work with, the use of channels aside from the center surpasses even my expectations, even if the bass isn't too terribly powerful. Everything sounds just fine and a reasonable consumer couldn't ask for more.

The 16x9 main menu prompts you to select one of the movies. Debbie and Kimberly J. Brown talk to one another for a few moments in the sole bonus feature actually related to the movie.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN

Bonus Features is the only department in which fans might be disappointed.
There are only two included here, and both basically amount to commercials. The first, "The Magic of the Halloweentown Movies," is a very brief, glossy look at various backstage departments in the production of all three Halloweentown movies and a little bit of footage from the filming. Its primary focus, of course, is to promote Halloweentown High to its Disney Channel audience.

The other feature is a promo for a similar but unrelated film project, Twitches. Its stars Tia and Tamera Mowry (of "Sister Sister" fame) hold a staged conversation that clues Disney Channel viewers and DVD consumers in on their movie's plot (the gist: they're identical witches). While other information about the movie suggests that it might be interesting, this preview fails to excite.

Both of these are nice to have, and while it isn't reasonable to expect a wealth of supplements for a Disney Channel release, TV spots or the selected scenes commentary that has been found on other "DCOM" (for Disney Channel Original Movie) releases would have been appreciated. I suppose I'll reserve extensive griping, though.

The sparsely-animated 16x9 main menu presents viewers with two options: Halloweentown and Halloweentown II. Selecting either will take you that movie's respective sub-menu. The Play, Scene Selection, and Set-Up menu are, of course, unique to each movie, while selecting Bonus Features or Sneak Peeks from either sub-menu will lead to the same place. Each sub-menu also contains a direct link to the sub-menu for the other movie. This might not be the most simplistic menu design, but it's still easily navigable and allows for a little more ambience.

The disc opens with previews for the Cinderella Platinum Edition, Kronk's New Groove, Kermit the Frog's four 50th Anniversary DVD editions, recent DVD releases of "That's So Raven" and "Phil of the Future," and a Disney Channel "Movie Surfers" look at both The Greatest Game Ever Played and the upcoming The Shaggy Dog remake. The abundant sneak peeks continue with looks at The Parent Trap Double Feature, the recent Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition, and the Radio Disney network, which are accessible from the sub-menus. A standard insert with chapter listings and a coupon/advertisement booklet can be found inside the black keepcase.

The Cromwell clan gather 'round Grandma Aggie's cauldron to see some answers. And they all lived Abba-Dabba Ever After...

CLOSING THOUGHTS

In both Halloweentown movies found on this disc, one finds family-friendly entertainment that celebrates the Halloween season in a fun matter. The films invoke the same mood of mystery and excitement associated with the holiday itself. The intriguing premise makes for a successful diversion in the original and, as the cast and crew polished their skills over a three year hiatus, an involving narrative in the second. Debbie Reynolds' presence is enough to light up the screen, but the other elements come together (for the most part) quite nicely along with her. While they fall short of, say, Hocus Pocus, (which may be the standard for family-friendly Halloween flicks), if you can forgive some of their faults, the two featured movies in this set will likely join your other traditional favorites for October viewing.

The DVD presentation is an added perk, with a more than satisfactory video transfer and 5.1 surround sound audio track. Neither movie has suffered at all from sharing the single, dual-layered disc. The bonus features are skimpy, but are there nonetheless, which may be enough for some. Those who would like to see more still should not be dissuaded from picking this up; it's not likely to be re-released any time soon. Some of our readers have reported difficulty in finding the just-released Halloweentown discs at their local retailers. Given this apparent scarcity, these might be the perfect candidates for an Amazon order...ordering both the Halloweentown Double Feature and Halloweentown High together will even earn free shipping. There's no question that at least the first two movies are worth your consideration, especially if festive films are your thing.

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Related Reviews:
Halloweentown High (2004) Return to Halloweentown (2006) Twitches (2005)
Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie (2005) The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) The Watcher in the Woods (1981)
The Even Stevens Movie (2003) Cadet Kelly (2002)
Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama (2004) Get a Clue (2002)

Reviewed September 17, 2005.