People who grew up in the 1980s tend to think Mr. Boogedy, Disney's mid-80s made-for-TV movie, was awesome, but Halloweentown, their 1998 TV offering, sucked. Judging by the comments online, "children of the 90s" think Halloweentown was awesome, but that the movies the Disney channel is making nowadays suck. See how this works? It's part of how we deal with becoming culturally irrelevant as we grow up.
When I started this site, I myself wanted to avoid watching Halloweentown at all cost. I'd only seen it once, back in high school, and I thought it was awful. But now that the movie has become THE Disney Channel Halloween Special for a generation, I decided I had to give it another shot.  Watching it now, I realize that I was just doing the same thing everybody does: instinctively hating stuff that was meant for the next generation of kids after my own. If you first saw it as a teenager, it wasn't meant for you. It's not as good as a Pixar movie (or of any movie that's meant to entertain both kids AND adults and succeeds), but Halloweentown is every bit as good as Mr. Boogedy or The Worst Witch. Like those, it's not very scary (to an adult) and the jokes aren't always funny, but it's perfectly entertaining, and people who watched it as little kids will get all nostalgic watching it again as teenagers or adults, which is about as much value as we can really ask for out of most of these things. Was marketing nostalgia to teenagers always viable, or has our fast-paced internet era sped things up?

I feel like the family in this movie is a bit less realistic than the novelty-shop owning Davis family in Mr. Boogedy who seemed like they might have really been my neighbors in the 80s - but maybe it's just because the Davis kids were kids in the same era I was, and the Cromwells are just as realistic in their way. But, then again, the Cromwells are a family of witches, so realism probably wasn't a real goal for the producers; I feel like it was more of a common thing to go for realism in kid movies in the 80s - no movie ever portrayed a family quite as realisitically as E.T. (a movie that film snobs don't seem to have rediscovered), and it was fairly common for kids in movies in the 70s and 80s to swear (see The Goonies and The Bad News Bears). The Cromwells seem more like, well...the kind of family you always see in Disney Channel movies. They have problems, but no...grit.

But that's no real crime, and 13 year old Marnie Cromwell, the girl who is the hero of the story, is a cool character - she's weird (but not TOO weird), smart (but not TOO smart), and probably very relatable to regular girls everywhere. Her little sister is adorable and her brother is an annoying little git (girls who are heroes in movies and books aimed at Halloweentown's target audience almost ALWAYS have annoying little brothers, don't they? This one reminds me of Kenny, the little brother in Judy Blume's Blubber).

As the movie begins, Halloween has come and Marnie, a "weird stuff" enthusiast, is not allowed to go trick or treating for reasons her mother won't discuss. The truth is that she was born to be a witch, but her mother has given up magic and wants to raise her daughters and son to be "normal." And she would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for that meddling grandma.

Grandma arrives on Halloween and amuses the kids with tales of Halloweentown, a place where witches, monsters, and ghosts are real. After going to bed, Marnie overhears mom and grandma talking and learns the truth - she's a witch. She also hears that Halloweentown is real, and something strange is going on there. People have been disappearing. With her adorable sister and annoying brother in tow, she stows away on the bus to Halloweentown.

Halloweentown is populated by some of the least convincing-looking monsters ever put to film; most of the monsters look for all the world like people wearing Halloween costumes from K-Mart. The special effects here are a step above the ones we got in our '80s specials, naturally, but the costumes leave a bit to be desired. It might have been less noticeable if they'd kept them all in low light, surrounded by fog, but Halloweentown is a surprisingly sunny place.
The first scene in Halloweentown is probably all most people my age need to see before passing judgement on this one; most specials that didn't have the budget for costumes would focus more energy on art direction and just not have as many people NEED costumes. But that was impossible for a script like this, which required a whole town full of monsters in an age when mixing CGI characters with real ones hadn't quite come into its own (having Jar Jar in The Phantom Menace mix with human characters a year after this came out was a huge novelty at the time - remember?)

Halloweentown is in trouble because Kalabar, the mayor, is secretly determined to turn Halloweentown residents into some sort of unholy army to help him take over the mortal world. When he's not dressed as the mayor, he wears a hooded robe and has a face that kinda makes him look like Skeletor wearing a potato sack mask. Actually, in a way, he ALMOST looks like a sandwich. Oh, how I wanted this guy to start yelling "Boogedy boogedy boo!" But, alas, the light he shoots out of his hands is blue, not green.
The movie is, as I said, better than most people of my age would like to think. Cheesy? Sure, but no more so than your average halloween special, and it doesn't seem like they're trying to stretch a 10 minute story into a 90 minute time slot, which is a pretty common problem in these things. It DOES lack the spookiness and atmosphere that the best specials tend to have (all you really have to do is show some brown leaves and people wearing jackets, ya know. Did they really not have the budget for a fog machine?), but it's got some degree of action, comedy, suspense, and romance, and it might make you wish YOUR Grandma would show up and tell you YOU'RE a witch. Not as much as Harry Potter did, of course - Halloweentown is no Hogwards - but still. I can see why kids would love it. And Marnie, who is a smart aleck when necessary, doesn't dress like a hooker (even on Halloween), and can identify heiroglyphics from the Book of the Dead on sight, seems like a pretty good role model. My biggest gripe is simply the general lack of an autumnal, Halloweenish atmosphere that I find so important to these things.

As was their habit in the early-to-mid 00s, Disney made several sequels. For a while there, Disney was a regular sequel factory, cranking out sequel after sequel to every movie they made, including whatever they could find from their back catalog.

And, partly because the sequels keep interest alive, Disney still airs this movie about 10 times a year. I would rather have them air this one 9 times some year and fill the extra couple of hours by re-airing some of the classics from their vault that they completely ignore. I mean, I'm fine with letting the generation after mine have specials of their own, but can't WE have digital quality copies our beloved old specials, instead of blurry vhs rips made from 20 year old tapes?

This movie teaches that magic is just wanting something bad enough, then letting yourself have it. If we want it bad enough, maybe Disney WILL crack open the vaults some year.

Or, we can just use youtube.


StevenMcFlyJr said...

man, there are like FOUR of these bad-boys & only the first 2 are ok. the NEWEST one totally sucks. LOL.

Keep the same actors people!

Chris 'Frog Queen' Davis said...

Wow, thanks for the trip down memory lane. I had forgotten about this one. Very fun.


Anonymous said...

LOVE this movie...ever since the first time I watched it...and still love it well into my 20's!

Online Game Lounge said...

They just aired it on again(October 4th 8:00 PM) I never got the Disney Channel in the 80's so Mr. Boogety I've didn't grow up with.:(!

I guess you can say what Twitches is to the Triple Aughts(2000's) Halloweentown was to the 90's...Well sorta.

Now I wonder what the teens(2010's) will offer?

Jamie Ghione said...

I rented the first two in 2007 and the last two in 2008, from Netflix

Anonymous said...

halloween town rules,how can you say it different?

C-Man said...

Happy Halloween!!!!


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