With the upcoming release of Disney’s “Race to Witch Mountain” starring Dwayne Johnson, it’s no surprise that they released a new Special Edition of “Escape to Witch Mountain” and “Return from Witch Mountain” on DVD. As part of Disney’s Family Classics collection, these 1970’s films are sure to thrill fans.
“Escape to Witch Mountain” follows two orphan children, Tia and Tony Malone (Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann) who aren’t your average youngsters. After being brought to an orphanage run by Mrs. Grindley (Reta Shaw) the children quickly reveal some of their unexplainable differences. When faced with one of the more vocal boys from the orphanage named Truck (Dermott Downs), Tony defends himself by causing items to levitate and beat up on Truck. Meanwhile, Tia uses telepathy to speak to her brother about using their powers in front of other children.
Not only can they communicate in their thoughts, but Tia has moments where she’s able to sense the future. When Tia has a vision and warns a man named Lucas Deranian about getting into his car, he reports back to wealthy businessman, Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland) about the girl’s predictions. Bolt sends Deranian (Donald Pleasence) to acquire the children by pretending to be their long lost relative.
At the Bolt estate the children have some fun moments where the film manages to mix the whimsy of “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and “Mary Poppins” in a scene where Tony makes inanimate objects come to life with music. However, the fun doesn’t last long when the children realize that Bolt is trying to harness their powers for his own good. Tia and Tony take off in the middle of the night and decide to follow a map they found hidden in Tia’s case she’s had since she was young. On their way, they slip into a Winnebago owned by loner Jason O’Day (Eddie Albert). At first, O’Day is opposed to taking the children where they want to go, but he quickly warms up to the idea.
Along the journey, O’Day and the children get into all kinds of trouble while trying to stay ahead of Bolt and the police. The kids use their powers to deter anyone who tries to get in their way, as well as befriend several animals throughout the film. The friendship between O’Day, Tia and Tony is refreshing and the actors seem to have a wonderful time together. While the special effects look pretty goofy and low-budget today, they also add charm to the classic. Overall, Tia and Tony’s quest to discover where they came from keeps the story engaging and the ultimate reveal of their roots is a satisfactory explanation and wrap.
After the success of “Escape to Witch Mountain” it isn’t too much of a surprise that Disney followed it up with a sequel, “Return from Witch Mountain”. While the first “Witch Mountain” film gives good reason why Tia and Tony are wandering around and searching for where they came from, “Return to Witch Mountain” puts the kids in unnecessary danger because their Uncle decided to send them on Vacation.
While heading to their location, we meet up with Victor (Christopher Lee,“Lord of the Rings”), a man who’s designed a device that can control the mind of anyone who’s wearing it. He tests the device’s power on a man named Sickle (Anthony James) in front of his financier, Letha (Bette Davis). Just as Sickle starts to climb a building, the taxi caring Tia and Tony runs out of gas. As they sit waiting for the driver to get gas, Tony has a vision of something bad happening to Sickle. He leaves Tia behind and goes to search for and warn him, but when Tony doesn’t get there in time, he has to use his levitation powers to keep Sickle from hitting the ground.
When Victor realizes Tony has powers, he drugs him and takes him back to his lab. Tia instantly feels that the life of her brother is threatened and goes searching for him. As she wanders the streets, she meets the harmless Earthquake Gang and quickly befriends them. Together they set out to find Tony who’s undergoing mind control treatments from Victor who wishes to use the boy's powers at his will. Before long, Tony is under complete mind control and Tia does her best to find him. The film is mainly Tia looking for Tony and Tony doing whatever Victor tells him to do (including attempting to steal gold from a museum.)
The reunion of Tony and Tia is greatly welcomed as the film suffers from them not being together that much. While Tia’s quest to save her brother is somewhat interesting, it is the way Tia and Tony worked together that really made the first film so enjoyable. Performances are decent here, including the awh-shucks performances from the Earthquake Gang. Bette Davis is great as Letha and Lee proves a good villain. Unfortunately, the script feels more dated than the first film, and the 70’s chase music is overbearing at times, but still “Return from Witch Mountain” will likely appeal to fans of the first film.
VIDEO: Both films are presented in 1.75:1 anamorphic widescreen by Disney. Although both films were not without a couple of minor instances of wear at times, each film otherwise looked mostly crisp and clean, with satisfactory sharpness and detail. Only a couple of minor traces of edge enhancement are seen - otherwise the films looked reasonably smooth and clean, with accurate color and flesh tones.
SOUND: Both films are given Dolby Digital 5.1 remixes, and the results are about what one would expect from films from this era: there's little in the way of surround use, with the exception of some light reinforcement of the score and slight ambience. Audio quality is fine, with crisp, clear dialogue.
SPECIAL FEATURES for “Escape to Witch Mountain”
Audio Commentary with Iake Eissinmann, John Hough, and Kim Richards. It’s always great to have actors who worked as children return to films and add commentary, mainly because it’s interesting to hear how they felt being so young on set, as well as their current views on the film. Richards and Eissinmann offer a natural, at ease commentary, as if they really are brother and sister reminiscing. They talk about the effects and they try to recall as much as they can. Hough, on the other hand, offers more of a straightforward commentary and shares a lot of information on the filmmaking process from working for Disney, the script, and the details necessary to make the film work.
“Making the Escape” A very nice look at what it was like to make “Escape to Witch Mountain”. With cast and director interviews, this making-of feature provides a lot of inside information and personal perspectives to keep it interesting, as well as archive photos and footage that help capture the essence of what it must have been like around the set. You’ll even learn a few interesting things like the fact that Jodie Foster was almost cast in the role of Tia. Definitely worth a look for fans.
“Conversations with John Hough” This feature offers thoughts from John Hough about his career, working with Disney, and his process working on “Escape to Witch Mountain”.
“Disney Sci-Fi” -set to techno music, this is short collection of clips from some of Disney’s sci-fi films.
“Disney Effects, Something Special” A look at how Disney films often used effects to help tell their story. This feature focuses on some of their older effect-heavy films including “Mary Poppins”, “The Parent Trap”, and “Dick Tracy” to name a few. Visual effects designer, Harrison Ellenshaw and Executive Director at Buena Vista Imaging, John S. Chambers discuss the magic of Disney effects, matte painting, and the changes that took place in the 90’s with digital media and the positives and negatives of that shift. This isn’t a long feature, but it’s a nice look back on the use of special effects in the past.
Also included on this DVD are: “Pluto’s Dream House” A Disney animated short starring the loveable Pluto and Mickey Mouse. “1975 Disney Studio Album” This is a collection of clips from films that were released in 1975, including “Escape to Witch Mountain.”. “Pop-Up Fun Facts” can be viewed when watching the film, as well.
BONUS FEATURES for “Return from Witch Mountain”
Audio Commentary with Iake Eissinmann, John Hough, and Kim Richards. Once again the commentary is informative and doesn’t lag much. Hough continues to add a more direct commentary with lots of information regarding the making of the film, and Richards and Eisenmann bring good energy to the commentary that balances Hough’s part quite well. Definitely worth a listen for fans.
“Making the Return Trip”
Some of the cast, director John Hough, associate producer Kevin Corcoran, and special effects Danny Lee get together and remember what it was like making the film. They talk about the pressure of trying to top the original, the special effects, working with Bette Davis and Christopher Lee, and more. Overall enjoyable especially for fans.
“Lost Treasure: Christopher Lee, The Lost Interview” An older interview held to promote “Return to Witch Mountain” with Christopher Lee. Enjoyable and interesting. Worth a look for fans of the film and the actor.
Also included on the disc is: “Disney Kids with Powers” clips from Disney movies that feature kids with special powers. “The Gangs Back in Town” sees three of the Earthquake Gang members return to talk about their experience making the film. “1978 Studio Album” This is a collection of clips from films that were released in 1978, including “Return to Witch Mountain.”. “The Eyes Have It”, An animated Disney short starring Donald Duck and Pluto. “Pop-Up Fun Facts” can be viewed when watching the film, as well.
SNEAK PEEKS for both films:
“Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure”
Disney Blu-ray: Magic in High-Def
“Race to Witch Mountain”
“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”
Disney Movie Rewards
Final Thoughts: Disney delivers again, with excellent special editions of these fun family features. Additionally, those who are interested in seeing the remake will find an offer for a free movie ticket included in both DVDs.