Being Normal Is Vastly Overrated: Halloweentown (1998)

I promised to give a vast study of horror films in my themed month for October and certainly intend to deliver on that promise, which helps to explain the next film on my tour, the 1998 Disney television movie Halloweentown, a pick by my girlfriend for the list and probably the biggest genre stretch on my list.  However, to say that it is a stretch is not an attempt to undermine the work in the slightest, there are moments in this film that I recall from my younger days as being genuinely scary and ones that could still be frightful to the right group of youngsters.  It was fun to revisit this film, as I only had fleeting memories of the plot and had no idea the film included the consummate Debbie Reynolds.  Of course the plot is a bit fractured, but one can expect such occurrences when, firstly the film is made for television and secondly it is directed towards a youth audience.  Many of the characters exist a plot devices and manage to have a very cursory place in the brief movie, only clocking in at a bit over eighty minutes.  The plot it does possess though is well-executed and contains some moments of comedic brilliance as well as a few genuine scares, all culminating in a great commentary on embracing ones uniqueness and accepting even against stalwart reasoning that some things are, in fact, magic.  Finally, the make-up and costuming in this film are stellar, particularly the various beasts and creatures shown throughout the film and one scene of exceptionally good stop motion animation.  It is probably going to be the only family friendly movie blogged about this month, and one of the few I have blogged about to date, but it is certainly a movie for persons of many age groups as its humor ranges from simple slapstick, to some clearly adult oriented humor.

The story in Halloweentown begins on Halloween, as should be little surprise as three kids look longingly at the festivities from inside their house.  The children include a young girl named Sophie (Emily Roeske), an incorrigible nerd named Dylan (Joey Zimmerman) and the oldest daughter and eccentric Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown).  Despite their constant pleas to partake in trick or treating, their mother Gwen, played by Judith Hoag (who is likely better known as April O'Neil in the live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film), denies their request.  She feels adamantly that they will be somehow ruined by the events of such a day.  Viewers are uncertain as to her concerns, until it is realized with the entrance of their grandmother Aggie (Debbie Reynolds), that they are related to an ancient family of witches.  Despite Aggie's less than subtle hints at their unique nature, Gwen denies them the right to explore this alternative life, instead wishing for them to have a "normal" life, despite being without a father figure.  Upon overhearing her mother and grandmother argue about her right to be a witch, Marnie follows her grandmother to Halloweentown via a flying bus to another world, only to be joined by Dylan and Sophie who share an equal curiosity.  Upon landing the group attempts to find their grandmother, but not before running into Calabar (Robin Thomas) Halloweentown's mayor.  He aids them in transportation to their grandmother's house via a taxi ride from a wise cracking skeleton named Benny, voiced by Rino Romano.  It is at this point that the children discover that trouble is afoot in Halloweentown and their grandmother is attempting to stop its occurrence.  Followed hot on the tail by an irate Gwen, the children and grandmother end up in a theater where it is revealed that Calabar is behind the evil in the town, freezing all who disobey him.  In the process of confronting Calabar, Gwen and Aggie are frozen by a spell and the children are left to complete Aggie's spell, which requires obtaining ingredients such as the hair of a werewolf and the sweat of a ghost.  They succeed in doing so and finally get the means to confront Calabar, and with a little help from a town local the group beats him and everything is returned to normal, with a suggestion that the three children, despite their mother's original denial, will indeed be trained in the dark arts.

The movies commentary is rather simple, as it should be considering that it is essentially directed at children.  However, the lesson taught is a very important one, especially for young adults and children. Instead of simply being a horror/comedy family film, Halloweentown posits something much greater in its suggestion that one should embrace uniqueness even if certain groups in society claim it to be, in this case, demonic.  Gwen represents a troubled single mother who holds falsely onto an idea that somehow by denying her heritage and identity that her children will exist in a better world, when it is clear that her disconnect and denial are only bringing more questions up within her children and arguably raising them to be social outcasts, as an early reaction with some of Marnie's friends suggests.  Aggie, in a maternal, and somewhat ancestral sense, claims this heritage and struggles desperately to keep her grandchildren practicing long after her passing.  The film also embraces a feminist ideology in that many of the spells require a group of women to unite together to make it more powerful, made all the more pertinent in that these women are of different ages.  The brief film also tackles notions of beauty and friendship, as occurs between Marnie and Luke (Phillip Van Dyke) a "dashing" young boy in Halloweentown who takes a liking to Marine, only to betray her, in what viewers come to discover was a Devil's bargain with Calaber to make him look better.  Essentially, Halloweentown contains a series of life lessons for young viewers and even a few reminders to parents on embracing their familial identity and heritage, even if it is not the mainstream idea of normal.  If anything the film denies denial.

Key Scene:  The obtaining of ingredients montage is quite fun and probably the funniest moment in the film.

I want to tell everybody to go out and buy this film, but I know it is for only a select few, not to mention that it is unusually expensive for what it is and, furthermore, it seems to sell out quickly after being stocked, at least that is what happened repeatedly at the Target near my house.

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