Following Disney’s popular Escape to Witch Mountain, Return from Witch Mountain offers the continuing adventures of paranormal siblings Tony and Tia, who emerge from their mountain hideaway for a weeklong LA vacation, only to become entangled in the machinations of Christopher Lee’s sinister scientist and his sponsor played by Bette Davis.
Better structured and faster-moving than its predecessor, the sequel has more energy and wit in one sequence — the gold theft at the museum, in which a rolling stagecoach and floating manniquins evoke scenes from a Western — than all the special effects in the first movie combined. (The original’s “biggest” scene was probably the underwhelming prison break, with its whirling coat on a coat rack. Of course, more effects also means more glaringly cheesy effects.) As bickering villains Dr. Victor Gannon and dowager Letha Wedge, Lee and Davis are more engaging than the original’s Donald Pleasence and Ray Milland, and their characters and goals are better defined.
On the down side, the story is sillier, with a scheme involving mind control and a squeaky-clean street “gang” of nerdy kids who’d look better in Mouseketeer ears than painted denim jackets. In his last role, Jack Soo is ill used as a truant officer who becomes the butt of some unpleasant humor.
Most disappointingly, Tony spends almost the whole film separated from Tia in a trance-like state, so the siblings’ relationship is lost. (For this reason alone, my family liked the original better, though I remain fonder of the sequel, which I saw as a child in the theater. The first film for me is overshadowed by my childhood memories of the superior original novel by Alexander Key, which I read long before seeing the movie.)
Attentive kids will notice inconsistencies in how the siblings’ powers are portrayed. Why does Tia run away from the villainous Sickle (Anthony James) in the nuclear power plant moments after stranding a security guard in mid-air in the corridor outside?
More seriously, the climax, in which Gannon’s mind-control device is damaged and short-circuits, seems to contradict the first plot point, in which the device is introduced and similarly damaged. In both cases, Gannon can no longer control the entranced party with the damaged device — but the effects on the entranced party are radically different. In the first scene, Sickle remains on auto-pilot, endangering his own life — a major plot point, since it’s only because of this that Tony is captured. But in the climax the damage to the device frees Tony from its power!
One of the most popular Disney films of its era, Escape to Witch Mountain only loosely follows Alexander Key’s comparatively dark original tale about a pair of troubled orphans escaping a grim juvenile-hall orphanage and a sinister pursuer with the help of a heroic Catholic priest.
Rather than a coming of age story, then, Race to Witch Mountain is a dark family action-adventure movie, with moderate doses of X-Files paranoia and Galaxy Quest sci-fi fandom satire, and a sometimes obnoxious rock soundtrack. It’s slicker, darker and funnier than the original films, though wall-to-wall action makes it a bit of a one-trick pony, and prevents the characters from catching their breath and displaying more than one side.
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Very interesting reviews. I must admit, I expected you to give Escape to Witch Mountain a higher review than Return from Witch Mountain, but of course, I haven’t read the books.
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.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.