To tell you the truth, I saw them both when I was 14 or so, and I thought Escape was a great little film. It had all the elements of a great kids’ movie and all the elements to keep a teenager or even adult interested for a sustained amount of time. The story was interesting, the characters were likable, and the effects were well done (if underused like you mentioned).
However, I was bitterly disappointed with Return. Mainly I didn’t like it for the overall cheesiness and silliness that you mentioned in your review. Where Escape was engaging and entertaining, Return was merely silly. Whenever the plot turned to the street gang of rejects from “The Little Rascals,” I cringed. It was a little better when the plot turned to Christopher Lee and his mind control device, but it still felt cheesy and cliched. It had great effects, but that couldn’t save what is exclusively a kiddie film.
I haven’t seen Race to Witch Mountain as of yet, but I plan to in the near future, although I have mixed feelings about it. When I first heard about Race, I though, “Oh boy, another Witch Mountain sequel, maybe this one will redeem that awful Return movie.” But after seeing the trailer, I realized that it wasn’t a sequel, it wasn’t even a remake, it was a reboot. Okay, so I could go with reboot, as long as it’s done well. The Day the Earth Stood Still had an interesting reboot (really remake in that case) that couldn’t touch the original but still took the story in an intriguing direction.
But something didn’t feel right about the trailer for Race; you know at once that they’re aliens (which was the whole point of Escape, and was one of the things that film so great was the journey of discovery). With the kids’ new powers, why do they even need a taxi driver to help them? If they can walk into cars and bullets bounce right off them, why would government officials be a problem? The powers Tony and Tia possessed had limits and made them more relatable, but Sara and Seth seem almost indestructible and distant. As a cheap action flick, Race seems okay. But not having read the books, it seems that the original Escape hasn’t been beaten.
I suspect more people will agree with you than with me on the relative merits of Escape to Witch Mountain and Return from Witch Mountain. I have to call ’em as I see ’em, though, even if the consensus is against me!
Yes, Race to Witch Mountain is a reboot, and they should have called it that. You’re quite right that Sara and Seth aren’t relatable characters like Tony and Tia, partly because of their extreme powers but also because of their alienness and lack of a learning curve. We really relate to Dwayne Johnson’s Jack, not the kids. And yeah, the filmmakers do ramp up the kids’ powers so much that it’s hard to see why they’re threatened not only by government agents but even by the alien Siphon. Why can’t Seth just phase them through the Siphon’s attacks?