“Hocus Pocus” is beloved, but it’s not Disney’s top Halloween movie

Another Disney Halloween classic surpasses ‘Hocus Pocus’ in every aspect. While ‘Hocus Pocus’ enjoys iconic status, Disney’s cult favorite, which has charmed audiences for 30 years, faces strong scrutiny. If you dare to question the merits of ‘Hocus Pocus,’ you may incur the wrath of its ardent fanbase. Nevertheless, while ‘Hocus Pocus’ exudes charm and wit, it remains somewhat lightweight in comparison to another Disney Halloween gem that, although less mainstream, delivers a full, satisfying cinematic experience. Celebrating its 25th anniversary, ‘Halloweentown’ is a love letter to outsiders in the form of a Disney Channel Original Movie. If you ever felt like the odd one out, a kid who didn’t conform to societal norms and instead immersed themselves in ‘nerdy’ pursuits, ‘Halloweentown’ was a reassuring gift, especially if your passion lay in horror movies and Halloween. For many, ‘Halloweentown’ and its protagonist are inseparable, making it a truly personal cinematic experience.

What’s the Story of ‘Halloweentown’? ‘Halloweentown’ poses a simple yet intriguing question: what do monsters like witches, vampires, werewolves, and ghosts do when Halloween is over? The film also explores themes of heritage, self-discovery, and non-conformity within a family-friendly context, tinted with autumnal hues. Marnie Piper, played by Kimberly J. Brown, is an enthusiast of all things supernatural, a passion that her family and friends can’t comprehend. Her mother, Gwen, a widow, has spent Marnie’s life shielding her and her siblings, Dylan and Sophie, from anything magical. She prohibits Halloween decorations, costume parties, and trick-or-treating, much to Marnie’s teenage frustration. During her grandmother Aggie Cromwell’s yearly visit, Marnie discovers her lineage of powerful witches. As this Halloween marks her 13th birthday, Marnie must unlock her magical potential before midnight, or lose it forever. Determined to begin her training, the kids follow Aggie to Halloweentown, an alternate dimension inhabited by supernatural beings, which is threatened by a malevolent evil force.

Marnie, the archetypal Disney Channel Original Movie heroine, is a headstrong and uncertain character, a teenager straddling the line between assertiveness and adolescence. She is a passionate nerd, knowledgeable about 1940s Universal Monster movies and well-versed in mystical symbols. “Halloween is cool,” she proclaims with a self-assured smirk, savoring the words. However, despite her desire for independence, she doesn’t see herself as extraordinary. ‘Halloweentown’ was unique in 1998 because it gave voice to kids who didn’t quite fit in. Marnie, like many viewers, walked the path less traveled, where her interests set her apart. ‘Halloweentown’ resonated with those who had a non-conformist streak, especially young girls who adored horror movies and Halloween. The film served as a reassuring mirror, reflecting nerdy girls who enthusiastically embraced their unconventional interests. It was a film that told them that “being normal is vastly overrated” and showed them how to find strength and joy in their true selves without shame. For kids who felt isolated because they didn’t meet the social norms of their peers, ‘Halloweentown’ provided a sense of identity and belonging.

A World of Kind Monsters Judging ‘Halloweentown’ beyond the lens of nostalgia, it still holds up. Released as the fourth Disney Channel Original Movie, it mastered the formula before it became mainstream. This was a golden era when studios produced high-quality children’s entertainment without relying on established intellectual property, and it shows. Director Duwayne Dunham, known for ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey,’ imbues the film with a picturesque seasonal atmosphere, with giant glowing pumpkins, cauldrons emitting smoke, and a delightfully quirky cast. With its inventive production design and clever scenarios, ‘Halloweentown’ resembles a Halloween-infused version of Stars Hollow from ‘Gilmore Girls.’ A werewolf runs a salon, depressed ghosts make use of sweatboxes, and the taxi driver is a wisecracking skeleton named Benny. The town features a movie theater, a bowling alley, and a sleazy car dealer-style broomstick salesperson. Even the microwaves have buttons labeled “bubble,” “toil,” and “trouble.” The film oozes charm.

The script of ‘Halloweentown,’ written by Paul Bernbaum, Jon Cooksey, and Ali Matheson, is accessible to children without being condescending. It conveys themes that kids can understand, such as the desire to be independent, acceptance of differences, and the value of embracing one’s identity. The movie teaches viewers that even the “ugliest” monsters have the kindest hearts, and that those who hold power-hungry ambitions may hide them in plain sight, as depicted by Mayor Kalabar. Defeating this corrupt leader requires the entire Piper-Cromwell family to embrace their powers, even the rational Dylan. ‘Halloweentown’ doesn’t shy away from championing strong, empowered women and the acceptance of differences. Its narrative is centered around the struggle between denying one’s uniqueness and the powerful autonomy that comes from embracing one’s true identity.

Despite some of the teenage humor that doesn’t quite hit the mark, the cast shares an undeniable chemistry. Kimberly J. Brown delivers a natural and captivating performance. And then there’s Debbie Reynolds, who breathes life into the character of Aggie with her timeless charm. Reynolds provides an impeccable performance, imbuing Aggie with the spirit of a beloved grandmother: warmth, wisdom, and a touch of mischievousness. Aggie’s eyes twinkle with inviting playfulness, adding to her character’s endearing appeal. Reynolds’ performance elevates ‘Halloweentown’ to another level, a testament to her enduring talent. It’s also worth noting that Kimberly J. Brown cherished her relationship with Debbie Reynolds and even kept a note from the actress after her passing in 2016.

A Home for Outcasts ‘Halloweentown’ is more than just a film; it’s a world where outcasts find solace. The film didn’t create a cult following like ‘Hocus Pocus’ that led to a Disney+ sequel three decades later. However, ‘Halloweentown’ served as a source of comfort and reassurance for those who felt like outsiders, misfits, or non-conformists. For many children, it offered the message that being different was not only okay but also something to be celebrated. ‘Halloweentown’ reminds us of the importance of embracing one’s true identity and the strength that comes from doing so, providing a powerful message for kids. It may not have achieved the iconic status of ‘Hocus Pocus,’ but ‘Halloweentown’ left a lasting impact by touching the hearts of those who needed to feel appreciated, special, and safe. It served as a comforting presence for countless children who found reassurance in the film’s celebration of their unique interests and identities, making it an enduring classic in its own right.

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