I have to say it: we let Disney Channel get away with far too much cringiness in the name of childhood nostalgia. Yet somehow, I’m okay with that.
I’ll be the first to say how much I love revisiting old Disney Channel classics like “High School Musical” and “The Cheetah Girls,” especially with the easy access to them that Disney+ now offers us. There’s nothing quite like spending an hour and 30 minutes glued to a DCOM on a random evening, enduring all of its corniness in an effort to return to the “good old days.”
With Halloween season in full swing, Disney Channel’s 1998 hit “Halloweentown” is no exception to that nostalgic bliss.
“Halloweentown” follows the story of 13-year-old Marnie Piper (Kimberly J. Brown) as she uncovers the supernatural secrets of her eccentric family.
Marnie’s mother, Gwen (Judith Hoag), is far from keen on Marnie and her siblings, 12-year-old Dylan (Joey Zimmerman) and 7-year-old Sophie (Emily Roeske), celebrating Halloween. However, things begin to change when their grandmother Aggie Cromwell, portrayed by the late Debbie Reynolds, shows up at the Piper household for her annual Halloween visit and encourages her grandchildren to celebrate the holiday.
Viewers learn that Aggie and Gwen are witches, making Marnie a witch as well. Gwen is insistent that Aggie is not to help Marnie grow in her powers, and the 13-year-old will be raised as a mortal.
When Marnie overhears the argument between her mother grandmother and learns that the citizens of Halloweentown may be in danger, she decides to secretly follow Aggie back to Halloweentown, with Dylan and Sophie joining in the trip.
Together, the Cromwell family must work to save the citizens of Halloweentown from an evil force freezing them in time.
Let’s get this out of the way: “Halloweentown” is exactly what one would expect from a Halloween-centric 1990’s Disney Channel movie. It’s full of gimmicky humor, questionable acting performances, laughable special effects and a predictable plot.
Yet, Halloweentown is full of the right amount of heart to make it a whimsical, innocent Halloween classic that’s easy to revisit year after year.
The great Debbie Reynolds undoubtedly steals the show as Aggie, giving life to the film in the role of a nurturing, eccentric grandmother. However, Brown’s performance as Marnie is what makes the film truly special. Viewers of all ages can find countless reasons to root for the courageous teenage protagonist as she discovers who she is truly meant to become.
The movie’s message carries themes that, albeit presented in a childish manner, are heart-warming and uplifting: themes of family bonds, courage and self-discovery.
Viewers that never watched “Halloweentown” pre-adulthood may find it hard to connect with the movie and may instead roll their eyes and wonder how this Disney Channel film has achieved an undying popularity that doesn’t seem to be fading anytime soon.
If you grew up on “Halloweentown,” though, it’s one you just can’t help but rewatch annually…along with its wealth of sequels.*
*(Except for “Return to Halloweentown.” They really thought they could replace Brown as Marnie and get away with it. Not on my watch, Disney. Not on my watch.)
Filmnetic Grade: C