Disney // 1975 // 97 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 11th, 2009
An adventure truly out of this world.
"Where do you think we're from?"
Tony (Ike Eisenmann, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) and Tia Malone (Kim Richards, Black Snake Moan) are two extraordinary children. Both have remarkable powers they don't quite understand. They have a wide variety of psychic abilities, and can perform a broad array of extraordinary feats. However, they try to keep these unique talents a secret. Every time they've unleashed them in public, they have frightened people and lost friends. Tony and Tia think it's probably best to act as normal as possible.
One day, a man named Deranian (Donald Pleasance, Halloween) comes to visit. Deranian claims he is Tony and Tia's uncle, offering them a wonderful new home. He is only being partially honest; bringing them to a wonderful new home, but he is not their uncle. He works for a power-hungry millionaire named Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend). Bolt is enthralled with the possibility of learning more about these psychic powers, but the children find out about his evil intentions. The siblings are determined to escape, aided by a cantankerous RV owner named Jason O'Day (Eddie Albert, McQ). Can they make it to the mysterious Witch Mountain before Bolt catches up with them?
It's fun re-visiting Escape to Witch Mountain. The film has been re-released on DVD to coincide with the theatrical release of the remake, Race to Witch Mountain, a title which undoubtedly implies an increased action quotient. I haven't seen the new version, but I sincerely doubt it will manage to capture the simple charms of the original. This is a fun, frivolous, imaginative Disney adventure that manages to make a series of rather typical plot developments feel fresh and entertaining.
In this era of hyperactive commercialism, it's extraordinarily doubtful a film like Escape to Witch Mountain could get made. It stars two unknown, ordinary-looking youngsters, and all the major supporting players are elderly character actors. In 1975, it was still possible for a mainstream adventure film to get released with Eddie Albert at the top of the bill. These days, someone like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is required. That's a shame, because with Dwayne Johnson in the role, we can't have the classic "I'm a cranky old man who hates children, but I'm actually a great big teddy bear underneath" subplot.
Like so many children's films, this one tantalizes younger audience members with glimpses of fortune and glory before revealing that such things are usually a foreshadowing of evil. "Edmund, wouldn't you like some Turkish delight?" "Hey, look at that house made of gingerbread and candy!" "Look at that delicious chocolate river!" Hmm. Why are sweets always involved? Here, the first sign of foul play is Aristotle Bolt, offering the kiddies some triple-scoop ice cream cones. It's all sweet talk and sweet food, until the nasty Mr. Bolt reveals his true intentions. Hey, maybe goodies, toys, and ice cream aren't so great after all!
The actors here seem to be having a genuinely wonderful time. Donald Pleasance has a lot of delightful reactions. I love the constipated look on his face, when he discovers a giant bear sitting in the passenger's seat of his car. Ray Milland brings a playful snobbery to his role, playing a gentler variation of a megalomaniacal Bond villain. All you need to know about Aristotle Bolt is that he's the sort of man who has his named printed on the side of his personal helicopter. Meanwhile, Eddie Albert offers a hilarious, gee-whiz bewilderment to the proceedings, reacting with grumpy puzzlement to the many mystical revelations about the children.
A couple more fun side items: There's a scene towards the end of the film that very closely foreshadows the sequence in The Matrix when Morpheus guides Neo through a building. In this instance, the kids are receiving instructions from a deep voice offering them escape from Bolt and his cronies. Also, the DVD packaging and menus are loaded with spoilers. See, the kids are from outer space, which is "the big twist" during the final act. The movie intends this reveal to be a surprise, but that's a bit tough when there are UFOs all over the DVD case and on all of the menus. Oh, well...
The transfer here is quite strong. The image looks considerably better than most films from the 1970s, avoiding that "washed out" look so many films from the era are cursed with. The level of detail is quite solid, and blacks are deep throughout. Occasionally flesh tones seem a bit on the green side, though, and there's just a small bit of color bleeding during a few special effects shots. The audio is reasonably solid. Johnny Mandel's score has aged a bit, but receives a solid mix. Dialogue and sound design are both pleasingly clean and clear.
Extras include an audio commentary by director John Hough and actors Ike Eissinmann & Kim Richards, a pop-up trivia track, a featurette called "Making the Escape" (26 minutes), a conversation with John Hough (7 minutes), a 2-minute montage of clips from Disney sci-fi movies set to obnoxious techno music, an 11-minute examination of the film's special effects, a 3-minute montage of live-action Disney films from '70s, and a 7-minute cartoon called "Pluto's Dream House" (a bizarre vintage cartoon in which Mickey Mouse enslaves a talking lamp that sounds just like Robert Downey Jr.'s character in Tropic Thunder, spouting phrases like "Yessah, boss! Anything you please!"). Of course, all of this stuff was available on the previous DVD release, but I'm glad it's still here. The only new feature is a rather trivial (bad pun intended) trivia track. Fun stuff, but parents may be wary of the ethnic stereotypes in the cartoon.
Even though Escape to Witch Mountain has a rather high cheese factor, it's a winner. This "Special Edition" provides a solid transfer and plenty of interesting features, earning it an easy recommendation.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Vintage Cartoon
* Trivia Track (new!)