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

Halloweentown High DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Director: Mark A.Z. Dippé

Cast: Kimberly J. Brown (Marnie), Judith Hoag (Gwen), Joey Zimmerman (Dylan), Emily Roeske (Sophie), Clifton Davis (Principal Phil Flanagan), Finn Wittrock (Cody), Michael Flynn (Dalloway), Eliana Reyes (Cassie), Lucas Grabeel (Ethan Dalloway), Olesya Rulin (Natalie), Debbie Reynolds (Aggie Cromwell)

Original Air Date: October 8, 2004 / Running Time: 82 Minutes / Rating: TV-G

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

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Review by Aaron Wallace

In 1998, Disney introduced viewers to a Halloweentown different from the one they already knew from the studio's popular 1993 film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Packaged in a self-titled movie all its own, this Halloweentown was a world created for and by magical creatures after a falling out with humanity centuries earlier. This world served as home to the Cromwell witches, not least among them, teenager Marnie, torn between her newfound witchood and the life she'd always known as a mortal. With the help of her family, she had to face down ancient threats against Halloweentown and take new strides as a sorcerer in the process.
The concept apparently resonated with viewers, as it became a Disney Channel hit and struck gold again three years later with the premiere of Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge. Never one to pass up a popular franchise, Disney called the cast back again for yet another (and presumably final) reprisal and so, in 2004, the series became a trilogy with Halloweentown High, which now makes its DVD debut alongside the concurrently-released Double Feature of parts one and two.

The third installment is a departure from the first two; there's no threat to Halloweentown, and in fact, there's no Halloweentown at all... at least, the cast never goes there. With a permanent portal to the other realm now open for use any day of the year, Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) sees an opportunity to bridge her two worlds together. The Halloweentown Council is hesitant to honor her request for a small group of exchange students to attend her high school in the human world until Marnie inadvertently puts the Cromwell magic on the line, an offer the Council can't refuse.

The arrival of the students, all disguised as everyday human teens, garners little attention from the rest of the student body, who are more concerned with their new science teacher: Aggie Cromwell (Debbie Reynolds). Her grandmother's eccentricity and accidental magical slips frustrate Marnie, not to mention Principal Flanagan (Clifton Davis), who has taken a romantic interest in the eldest Cromwell. The group, cleverly disguised as participants in a Canadian exchange program, soon realize that they have more to fear than their schoolmates' gossip and stares, though, as a far direr threat opposes them.

Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) finds a new boy to distract her from her duties as ambassador to Halloweentown students. Oooooohhh... shiny boots and clanky armor...

It turns out that among Halloweentown's most ancient foes is a group of knights who have sworn to seek out and destroy any instances of magic on Earth. Despite not having been heard from in ages, a series of threats bearing the knights' legendary signature invokes fear among the other-worldly students. Despite this new concern, the group takes on the task of running a fantasy-friendly haunted house at the school's upcoming fall festival, while Marnie faces increased pressure from the Halloweentown Council to return their children safely. The plot builds up to the festival, at which the enemy moves in and Marnie, along with friends and family, find themselves protecting the entire school even as it turns against them and the fate of their powers hangs in the balance.

Halloweentown High is easily the most technically polished of the three, but its story falters when seen as part of a larger whole.
Disney Movie Club (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
Don't get me wrong -- it stands on its own as en enjoyably diverting story. However, the idea that these previously unmentioned knights are now to be seen as so perilous is a little hard to swallow. The mystery surrounding the knights is shallower than that of the first two films' villains, and their significance is underplayed. Oh, and the ending's a tad convoluted too.

Fortunately, the acting is still solid. Debbie Reynolds is brilliant as always and Brown is at her best yet. The same is true for Joey Zimmerman, who plays younger brother Dylan, an awkward teen who finally finds a date in the third movie. Unfortunately, the youngest sibling, Sophie (Emily Roeske) is diminished to only a bit part with a few lines. An even greater loss is the complete absence of Luke (Phillip Van Dyke) from the first two films. Other than that, the return of the original cast is more than welcome and a rare treat in the world of made-for-TV sequels.

The exchange group can relax in their natural form inside a bewitched locker. Marnie goes up against the Halloweentown Council.

VIDEO and AUDIO

As with its sister disc, Halloweentown High comes to DVD with superb audio/video treatment. The 1.33:1 aspect ratio matches that of its original television broadcast and is presumably the way in which it was filmed. With a little effort, one might notice occasional edge enhancement and picture that looks typically 'TV', but for the most part, there are no complaints.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio track is more dynamic than expected for a television movie and a pleasing inclusion. Only the bass channel remains largely inactive, but that doesn't come as a surprise. The audio itself sounds more than satisfactory and consumers aren't likely to find any fault.

This main menu is a little fancier than the ones used on the "Halloweentown" Double Feature DVD. Part of "Halloweentown Hijinks." The idea? Each person adds a new word to a list until someone can't remember all the words!!!

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN

In keeping with Halloweentown High's pattern of falling short of the first two films, its DVD is a bigger disappointment in the bonus feature department than the double feature release. Only one "DCOM Special Feature" is accessible in your DVD player: a game called "Halloweentown High-Jinks" that requires things you supposedly have just sitting around the house... like spare balloons. You'll need a pencil, paper, spoons, markers, and teamed partners as well. Unfortunately, the series of games that await aren't worth the trouble and time (which ends up being more than you might think, courtesy of lengthy narration) they take.
Chances are that even children have come across most of these games on road trips or at birthday parties, and they won't need this DVD to guide them.

The DVD-ROM party planner, accessible only through your computer (required software included), is a bit more inspired. Halloween parties are more common than, say, Cadet Kelly parties, so where this kind of feature was fun on that Disney Channel Original Movie DVD, it's even more useful here. It's doubtful that you'll want to follow this to a T, but there are actually a few good ideas to be found.

The 16x9 main menu screen exhibits some spooky animation and presents the standard options. The disc opens with previews for the Cinderella Platinum Edition, Kronk's New Groove, Kermit the Frog's four 50th Anniversary DVD editions, 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, recent DVD releases of "That's So Raven" and "Phil of the Future," 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 can be found inside the black keepcase.

This haunted house may look ominous, but inside, it's anything but scary. Don't talk in Aggie Cromwell's class!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

All of the Halloweentown movies have a few weaknesses. Previously, it was a few too-hokey moments that detracted, while here, it's that the story feels just a little too forced. The first two Halloweentowns also won out as highly recommended, fun, festive movies, however, and the same can be said for Halloweentown High. If the first two movies have already won you over, there's little chance that you'll dislike this one. The bonus features section puts a strain on the meaning of "bonus," but the DVD presentation is otherwise thrilling. It doesn't hurt that the entire trilogy can be ordered on Amazon for just over $25, and with free shipping to boot. While I'm not able to praise this release quite as much as I did its partner, I still urge any fan of Halloweentown -- or even just Halloween, really -- to check it out.

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Related Reviews:
Halloweentown (1998) & Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge (2001) - Double Feature • 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)
High School Musical (2006) • Cow Belles (2006) • Leroy & Stitch (2006)
The Parent Trap & The Parent Trap II: 2-Movie Collection (1961, 1986) • Disney Channel Holiday

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Reviewed September 22, 2005.