OK, moms and dads, think back, way back ... Think pre-VCRs, think Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights. Remember the '70s?
Perhaps you even recall the first time you saw Escape to Witch Mountain
Whether you can or cannot is, at this point, immaterial because now you can revisit those times and Witch Mountain, courtesy of two new releases on Walt Disney Family Classics DVD.
Escape to Witch Mountain is the G rated, 1975 Disney film which recounts the story of Tia and Tony Malone (Kim
Richards and Ike Eisenmann, respectively), two very unusual children with a murky past, an indefinite future and remarkable clairvoyant and telekinetic
powers. Powerful, inscrutable millionaire Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland) and his lackey,
Lucas Deranian (played by the wonderful English actor Donald Pleasence), attempt to
exploit the children's powers, but the pair escape with the help of a variety of critters and Jason O'Dea (perfectly cast Eddie Albert)and his trusty Winnebago. (I'm not positive, but I think that film may have something to do with my lifelong fascination with and craving
for one of those gas guzzling motels on wheels).
Part of the beauty of Escape to Witch Mountain is that it is a G-rated family classic that really and truly lives up to both its rating and billing. The heroine and hero are little kids and everything about the movie, from dialogue to problem solving, is absolutely appropriate to their ages, without feeling infantile or banal. This is a film which can absolutely serve for both family movie night and as an
Electronic Babysitter and is worthwhile either to purchase or rent.
The bonus features on this DVD are both plentiful and not particularly time worthy. They include the obligatory "Audio Commentary" and
"Making the Escape" -- both of which left me with the impression that Ike Eisenmann is a bit of a freak, and director John Hough is a blowhard. For the record, Kim Richards came off as someone who'd be fun to hang out with. The "Conversation with John Hough" did nothing to improve my impression of the man. If movie trivia
interests you, I suggest watching the film with "Pop-up Facts."
The "Disney Sci-Fi" and "1975 Disney Album" montage pieces are neither offensive, nor compelling, but "Pluto's Dream House" is worth a watch. A classic Mickey Mouse/Pluto cartoon, "Dream House" is a product of its time -- fun but with a certain amount of vocal/racial stereotyping that feels positively antiquated and a little embarrassing. It is what it is, and it's worth a gander.
Finally, "Disney Effects: Something Special" is, as the title suggests, rather technical, but fairly interesting. During this day and age when most special effects are computer generated it's fun to see how things were done back in the day.
As for 1978's Return From Witch Mountain, I cannot recommend it. Tia and Tony have, as the title states, returned from Witch Mountain and, again, confront villains intent on using the children's powers for their own gain.
This time evil and greed are personified by the inimitable, slumming and wasted, Bette Davis and the
remarkable, typecast and wasted, Christopher Lee.
Return From Witch Mountain has none of the charm of Escape To Witch Mountain. Lee's evil scientist is equipped with and uses
needles and various other menacing scientific horrors and on several occasions instructs Tony, whose mind Lee holds prisoner, to "rub (Tia) out." While it, too, has a G rating and is billed as a "family classic," I disagree with both the rating and billing. Return is a film I can not recommend either as a purchase or a rental.
As for this film's bonus features, I'm surprised at how much I enjoyed "Making the Return Trip." The technical reminiscences were interesting,
as were those of the actors. "Lost Treasure: Christopher Lee, The Lost Interview," a contemporary, Spanish interview of Mr. Lee, with English subtitles,
is interesting primarily because Mr. Lee's Spanish is so good and his mustache is so impressive. He is virtually unrecognizable as
Return's bad guy. "Disney Kids With Powers" and "1978 Disney Studio Album" are both montage pieces -- again, nothing exceptional, but not bad.
"The Gang is Back in Town" is superfluous, but "The Eyes Have It" had me at Donald Duck. I've always had a soft spot for that bullying, semi-intelligible, troublemaker, and pairing him with sweet, dopey Pluto seals the deal -- this is my favorite bonus feature on either of the Witch Mountain DVDs.
One axiom holds "you can never go home again," while another asserts "everything old will be new again." This year Disney Studios seems to be
trying to disprove the first and bolster the latter with its exhaustive Witch Mountain lineup. Our family has yet to experience Race to Witch Mountain, although
Film.com writer Christine Champ says it's true to "the spirit of the '70s original." My kids enjoy the original, and look forward to seeing Race. It looks like, with Return playing the part of the exception that proves the rule, Disney has indeed gone home and remade the old into something new.