ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN (1975)
Starring Eddie Albert, Ike Eisenmann, Kim Richards, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasance, Walter Barnes, Reta Shaw, Denver Pyle, Alfred Ryder, Lawrence Montaigne, Terry Wilson, George Chandler, Dermott Downs, Shepherd Sanders and Don Brodie.
Screenplay by Robert Malcolm Young.
Directed by John Hough.
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 97 minutes. Rated G.
RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1978)
Starring Bette Davis, Christopher Lee, Ike Eisenmann, Kim Richards, Jack Soo, Anthony James, Dick Bakalyan, Ward Costello, Christian Juttner, Brad Savage, Poindexter, Jeffrey Jacquet, Stu Gilliam, William H. Bassett, Tom Scott and Denver Pyle.
Screenplay by Malcolm Marmorstein.
Directed by John Hough.
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 94 minutes. Rated G.
As a child, Escape to Witch Mountain was one of my favorite films. However, we all grow up and often when we revisit old favorites you are disappointed. Tastes change, styles change, attitudes change, I’ve changed. Will I still love Escape to Witch Mountain?
Now, with a loose remake of the Witch Mountain films due soon on the cinematic horizon (Race to Witch Mountain with Dwayne “Don’t Call Me The Rock Anymore” Johnson) – the original film and its 70s sequel are being rereleased on video, so the time is perfect to take a step back in time to see if Escape to Witch Mountain has held up. Also I was curious about Return from Witch Mountain, which I do vaguely remember existing but never quite took up residence in my head like it’s predecessor. Was this because the film was not as good – or was I just too old even when it came out to appreciate what I had loved just a few years before?
Besides, the series allows you to catch a bunch of aging and now long-gone Hollywood stars such as Eddie Albert, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasance, Bette Davis and Christopher Lee in the final stretch of their legendary careers. Well, Lee is still hanging on, keeping rather busy at acting well into his eighties, but the others are long dead.
Now that I’ve watched them from an adult perspective, the truth is that Escape to Witch Mountain is not as wonderful as I remember it being when I was in Jr. High. Perhaps nothing could be as good as the memory I had. Still, I feel a great love for the film. It brings a different kind of pleasure than it brought to me in the 70s. Now I can recognize it has imperfections – cheesy parts, some awkward dialogue, primitive special effects and various unfortunate clothing choices – and still completely dig it on a nostalgic level.
Escape from Witch Mountain came in the mid-70s, when things like ESP and UFOs were all the rage. Escape touched on both of these manias – making its heroes a couple of orphaned children from outer space who were stranded on the earth (they do not realize they are aliens until well into the film, though.) Tony and Tia were played by young actors Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards. They each had different powers – Tia was able to communicate telepathically with humans and animals, Tony was able to see glimpses of the future and both were able to move things – including themselves – with just their minds.
When a crusty millionaire (Ray Milland) and his henchman (Donald Pleasance) see their powers in action they decide to adopt the children, in hopes of making money off of their talents. Tony and Tia see through them and run away from the huge estate, eventually stowing away on the Winnebago of a crusty-but-loveable widower (Eddie Albert).
Tony and Tia find a map that they need to get back to their home and they drive through the local countryside with their new friend – evading the millionaire’s henchmen and townspeople who are hungry for a huge reward.
Even though it is not nearly as good as I remember, I have to admit for me at least it did hold up. Escape to Witch Mountain’s imperfections somehow add to their nostalgic charm. It is a reminder of a kinder, gentler world that may not have even existed outside of Disney films – but I was glad for the opportunity to go back, even for a little while.
And still, all these years later, their pet Winkie is one of the coolest cats in film history.
Return from Witch Mountain is the contractually-obligated sequel. It hasn’t aged nearly as well as its predecessor, then again it was never nearly as good, so it didn’t have as far to fall.
The film has Tony and Tia flying into Pasadena to take a vacation in back-lot Los Angeles. However, they have barely arrived before Tony gets kidnapped by an evil scientist (Christopher Lee) who has figured out mind control and wants to exploit Tony’s powers. The scientist’s partner in crime is an aging small-time con woman and gambler played by screen legend Bette Davis (with distractingly green teeth – I can’t quite decide if that was make-up put on for the character or just a sign of very bad oral hygiene on the elderly actress’ part).
After she loses her brother, Tia falls in with the most ineffective, dorky street gang in LA history. If these kids ever ran up against the Bloods or the Crips, they’d be toast. Nonetheless, the gang promises to help Tia find her brother after she saves them during a very G-rated rumble with another gang of prepubescent thugs.
This leads to a series of rather strained set pieces – Tony wreaks havoc on a museum! Tia causes the crash of a van! The baddie tries to use the alien’s powers to take over a nuclear facility! It is all light as a feather and believable as a politician’s promise, but in its own silly Disney-fied way it is kinda fun.
That said, with hindsight both of these movies are rather slow-moving for the modern child’s attention span. The trailer to the upcoming Race to Witch Mountain show much more action and many more explosions than either of these more innocent and stately films, where levitation is a pretty fool-proof weapon against the worst of bad guys and a flying RV is the height of cool special effects.
The original Witch Mountain movies have aged – and not overly well. They don’t completely translate into the modern world, but if you grew up loving the movies, Witch Mountain is still a nice place to visit.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 6, 2009.