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Twitches: Betwitched Edition DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Director: Stuart Gillard / Writers: Melissa Gould, Dan Berendsen (teleplay); H.B. Gilmour, Randi Reisfeld (book)

Cast: Tia Mowry (Alex Fielding), Tamera Mowry (Camryn Barnes), Kristen Wilson (Miranda), Patrick Fabian (Thantos), Jennifer Robertson (Ileana), Pat Kelly (Karsh), Jessica Greco (Lucinda), Jackie Rosenbaum (Beth Fish), Arnold Pinnock (David Barnes), Karen Holness (Emily Barnes), Jessica Feliz (Nicole), David Ingram (Aron)

Original Air Date: October 14, 2005 / Running Time: 86 Minutes / Rating: TV-PG

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: September 5, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Reduced from $19.99)
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps

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By Aaron Wallace

Over the years, Disney has built a respectable collection of family films for the Halloween season. Theatrical outings like Hocus Pocus and the Witch Mountain movies are perhaps the most memorable, but the bulk of them emerge from the world of television.
You wouldn't know it from its total absence on home video, but 1986's Mr. Boogedy remains one of the studio's most-requested televised titles and a personal favorite. The Disney Channel adds to the Halloween library each year with a new original movie, producing titles such as Don't Look Under the Bed, Mom's Got a Date with a Vampire, and the ever-expanding Halloweentown saga. It is from this latter class that the subject of this review -- and 2006's primary Halloween-themed Disney DVD -- emerges.

Despite its title, Twitches is not a tale of Tourette's Syndrome. Rather, it is the story of twin witches (i.e. "twitches") who are separated when rushed to the human world as infants in order to protect them from an evil predator in their native realm. Fate kicks in on their 21st birthday (which just happens to be Halloween) and the two are reunited. Together, they discover their magical abilities and the grave danger that comes with them.

As the movie progresses, the story of their pasts is incrementally revealed. As the sisters work to uncover their childhoods and piece together a mission to defeat the aggressor that seeks to destroy them, they also learn to accept one another as family. Helping them along are a pair of magical guardians who function primarily as comic relief.

No, Roger didn't just ask them on a date -- the twins just discovered each other for the first time. The discovery of a mystic realm inside Camryn's closet confuses the twins.

The narrative is wisely structured with suspense in mind, investing viewers in the back-story and paying off at the resolution. The relationship between the sisters and their internal struggles are compelling too. The long-lost twins story is far from original but nonetheless effective as a simple premise atop which a more interesting story unfolds. In the tradition of most Halloween family films, it's a bit far-fetched (even for fantasy) but not insufferably so. As far as festivity is concerned, it's only somewhat holiday-centric and not at all spooky, but mindful enough of the setting to be celebratory.

The twitches are portrayed by real-life twin sisters, Tia and Tamera Mowry. Six seasons of "Sister, Sister" proved that the two weren't born with a knack for acting but also that they had enough natural charm to attract an audience regardless. I'm happy to report that things have changed. Whether they took a few classes, spent a lot of time in practice, or simply learned a thing or two from a "Sister, Sister" marathon, in the half-decade since their hit series ended, the Sisters Mowry apparently learned to act. They won't be up for an Oscar nom anytime soon, mind you, but they pull off their roles in Twitches capably, rarely breaking character to channel their real-life selves or imitate one another on screen.

Pat Kelly and Jennifer Robertson, who play guardians Karsh and Ileana respectively, get the most screen-time after the sibling stars. They waver back and forth from funny to annoying throughout. They certainly amuse and are to the movie's benefit overall, but are over the top in the silliness department from time to time. The rest of the supporting cast is a mixed bag of ability but even the worst aren't on screen long enough to terribly detract.

Ileana (Jennifer Robertson) and Karsh (Pat Kelly) celebrate the twitches' birthday. The Kingdom of Coventry, where underwhelming CGI wreaks havoc.

The movie's biggest faults are spotty dialogue and a heavy reliance on amateurish computer graphics. "The Darkness," a kind of brooding cloud that serves as the villain, never looks as menacing as it should thanks to its poor graphic rendering. Shots of castles, both inside and out, suffer similarly. Aside from that, it's a Disney Channel Original Movie that comes nowhere near perfection but succeeds in entertaining. It comes to DVD as a Betwitched Edition, but collectors needn't worry. This is its first (and likely only) DVD release.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Twitches is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen, which matches the aspect ratio of its original broadcast. However, Disney Channel Original Movies these days tend to be framed for both fullscreen and widescreen with only the former making it to DVD. The widescreen version is usually confirmed by excerpts from it in the movie's bonus features, which is not the case here (fullscreen clips turn up in the making-of featurette). Still, it's likely that both versions are available
and therefore frustrating that both are not made available on the DVD when there's room enough to do so. As it is, the fullscreen version is arguably as legitimate as the widescreen one in this case and therefore not deserving of too much complaint.

In terms of quality, the video excels. Keeping in mind that it was produced on a tele-film's budget without the highest production values, it's hard to muster a complaint. I didn't notice any major flaws in the transfer itself and was quite pleased with the picture.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound track is even better. It's the only one made available but is highly commendable, especially for something that originated on TV. Dialogue is anchored in the center channel while music and effects are spread out in the sound field appropriately. There are times when bass could be heavier but its presence can be felt nonetheless. The audio presentation is one of the best in the "DCOM" line.

Stuart Gillard, the movie's director, gives an interview on the set of "Twitches." Hey look at, TV spots on a Disney DVD! Alright! The DVD shows off its powers of telepathy in this virtual game.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN

The first of several bonus features is "The Magic Behind Coventry" (6:00). This brief making-of featurette shows viewers how the magical realm of Coventry was created (largely with computers, it turns out, as if there was any doubt).
It doesn't stop there, though. In its short run-time, the surprisingly comprehensive piece manages to hit on acting, story, the Mowry twins' real-life sisterhood, and technical aspects of production.

There's also an alternate ending (1:40), which is always a nice inclusion. It's less preferable to the movie's actual ending but opens the door wider for a potential sequel, which will excite fans.

It's not advertised on the packaging, but there's also an interesting bonus titled "DCOM Extras" (4:04). This is a reel of TV spots from The Disney Channel. They aren't the ones that promoted the movie itself, but rather the DVD release and its supplements. As such, there is some overlap with the making-of featurette. Still, it's nice to see Disney finally including TV spots on a release. They're already produced, easy to include, and pleasing for buyers, so their infrequent appearance is puzzling. Having the spots for the movie would have been nice too but Disney adding any of these onto the DVD is a step in the right direction.

Finally, there's a game called "Twitches' Crystal Ball Predictions." In it, viewers answer a few select personality questions while at the same time following a mathematical formula that starts with a secret number picked by the viewer. At the end, the viewer will find him or herself betwitched by the eery accuracy of this magical game. It's simple and short but creative, which puts it up there with Disney's best.

An audio commentary from Tia and Tamera would have been a valuable addition, but the DVD is otherwise well-endowed with bonus features for a DCOM. There are, of course, sneak peeks as well. The disc opens with previews for The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition, Cars, "Hannah Montana": Livin' the Rock Star Life, Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior, and Meet the Robinsons. Additional sneak peeks can be found from the main menu, including The Wild, The Fox and the Hound: 25th Anniversary Edition, Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, "That's So Raven" on the Disney Channel, and some odd new music compilation entitled Girl Next.

The DVD is packaged in a standard black keepcase with a chapter index card and a few Disney ads inside. The 16x9 main menu scores points for being both animated and thematic.

The twitches return to Coventry for the first time since infancy. Alex and Camryn betwitch a rowdy crew of construction workers.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A new Disney Halloween movie is always exciting based on the studio's reputation in the genre, even if it comes from the Disney Channel. Twitches doesn't disappoint. It can't be called the best; there are a few notable flaws but some decent storytelling and a pleasant surprise in the stars' acting ability enable it to succeed. Though it lacks a widescreen viewing alternative, the fullscreen presentation is acceptable and the picture quality pleases. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is entirely satisfactory as well. Add to that a few inspired bonus features, and you have a pretty impressive "DCOM" package. If Halloween movies are your thing, be sure you check out Twitches.

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Reviewed September 27, 2006.