Escape to Witch Mountain – DVD Review

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Children on the run. Mysterious powers. Power-mad bald men. A cranky but helpful old man. It’s gotta be Escape to Witch Mountain. With the theatrical release of Race to Witch Mountain, Disney has released special editions of the first two Witch Mountain films. Each in a snazzy silver case that emphasizes their special editionness.

In 1975, Disney delivered Escape to Witch Mountain. A story about two young orphaned children, Tony and Tia, who have no recollection of where they’ve come from, or who they really are. Or what they really are for that matter.

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Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann play Tia and Tony, respectively. Let’s be honest. These two are not Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning when it comes to acting ability. Don’t get me wrong, they very well may be talented child actors, but their performances here feel stilted and wooden. It may be a case of bad directing, which can result in bad acting (see George Lucas’s directing in the new Star Wars films and the work of Hayden Christensen and Samuel L. Jackson).

Tia and Tony possess mysterious psychic powers that enable them to move objects with aid of piano wire and a magical harmonica. Hey, it’s 1975, so the effects aren’t CGI. You’ll learn to live with it.

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After Tia and Tony save Donald Pleasance from a fatal car accident (you know him, he’s in all the old Halloween movies as Michael Myers’ doctor), he reports back to his boss that these may be the psychics he’s been looking for. His boss, Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland), made it easy to envision what Carl Reiner would be like if he were a Bond villain.

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Bolt gets the kids, but his plans are thwarted after Tia and Tony escape his home. The chase is on. Enter a crusty and bitter old man, played by one of my favorite TV actors, Eddie Albert. Albert is more commonly known for his work as the farm-loving, often befuddled city-dweller turned farmer Oliver Douglas on Green Acres.

Others may know him as the warden in the Burt Reynolds classic The Longest Yard. Either way, he’s the quintessential cranky old man who inadvertently gets caught up in saving Tia and Tony from the clutches of Aristotle Bolt.

Compared to modern family films, the pacing in Escape to Witch Mountain is quite slow. It takes some getting used to, but it is a safe film to watch with all members of the family.

Loaded with special features, Escape to Witch Mountain includes an optional pop-up commentary track that can play during the film. The graphics are cheap, and I wish Disney would step-up and create graphics at least on par with the classic Pop-Up Video series from VH1. The trivia, however, is interesting. I, for one, didn’t know that Eddie Albert was an acrobat before he was an actor.

Featurettes include a thirty-minute making of retrospective with new interviews by the living cast and crew; an interview with the director of the film, John Hough; and look at classic Disney special effects; and audio commentary.

Other features include some montage videos of Disney science-fiction films and a look at the films Disney released in 1975. All well and good, but necessary? Hm.

There’s also a short cartoon, “Pluto’s Dream Home,” which includes a jive-talkin’ genie. I had flashbacks to the crows in Dumbo.

If you’re planning to see the newest installment of the series, Race to Witch Mountain, it wouldn’t hurt to check out this classic first film. If you are a fan of all things Disney, this is a must-have.

I recommend Escape to Witch Mountain as either a rental or purchase. The film receives an A- for its concept, effects, and performances by Eddie Albert and Donald Pleasance. It’s no Mary Poppins, but it gets the job done.

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