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Visiting The Past: Disney's Witch Mountain Chronicles – DVD Review

The nostalgia of the 70s brings to mind many different films but something about two kids with telepathic powers on the loose being pursued by villains seems to bring all the elements into focus.

escape1Escape To Space Mountain The first of the series began in 1975. It is a simple enough picture about two kids with extraordinary powers. The difference with these types of film back then is that the kids could be in mortal danger and find ways to think their way out of them. It was actually a very growing experience but you knew that this was still a movie because of the way it was structured, some of the pratfalls and the music. Ultimately no harm would come to them. The movie was shot nearly all on location because of the director John Hough who explains his various choices on the commentary. The actors who played Tony and Tia also contribute and talk about their memories on the set which ultimately relate a lot to the bear and the dogs. The bear’s growl as he leaves a scene towards the end is laugh out loud funny. Eddie Albert and Donald Pleasance wrap out the cast as the good and evil archetypes as the kids try to find their way home, even though they don’t know where “home” is. “Making The Escape” talks about the film coming together and interaction and perceptions of the now grown up stars. Kim Richards, who played Tia, said the best days were when they were acting in their pajamas. Ike Eisenmann seems very moved that kids still think that their work is inspiring. “Conversation With John Hough” talks about how the director came to the film and why it fell in line with stories he wanted to tell. He was very happy to find that at the Disney Studios. “Disney Sci-Fi” is a montage of different sci-fi films from “Witch Mountain” to “Tron” to “Armageddon”, although “The Black Hole” seems to be glaringly missing. “Disney Visual Effects – Something Special” talks about the groundbreaking FX elements from “Mary Poppins” to “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” to “Dick Tracy”. “1975 Studio Album” shows other films that were made that year including “The Apple Dumpling Gang” and a young Kurt Russell movie about a jock with strength powers. “Pluto’s Dream House” is a small animated picture with Mickey where Pluto gets what he wants but becomes scared by the genie who grants him his wishes. The pop up fun facts track on “Escape” show some of the continuity elements and the location facts involved in the making of the picture. The trailer for the new “Race To Witch Mountain” shows the difference in approach to a new millenial version while “Morning Light”, produced by Roy Disney, shows a definite inventiveness in form.

returnReturn To Space Mountain The sequel to “Escape From Witch Mountain” takes more liberties and less canon into stride while adding some interesting villains in the form of Christopher Lee and Bette Davis. This film definitely plays more into the dark elements than its predecessor. The set up is a little strained in letting the teenagers wander around Los Angeles but keeps the pace moving. The locations shown are an area we don’t usually see which is around East LA. While the decrepit elements of the areas shown give the film a definitely otherworldy feel, one can only think of how bad of an area it was then and then how bad it would be now. Unlike the previous film which was more happy-go-lucky with less mortal fear, this film (which I like a little better) is more of a thriller. The separation of Tony and Tia builds a mythology and makes one think of how a third film with the originals would have turned out. Ike and Kim return to do this commentary but their memories of this film they admit were a little more hazy. They remember “Escape” a little better but they could not give a reason. They did shoot most of this movie apart so maybe there is that frame of reference. The one thing they both agree on is the star manner and great style of Bette Davis. She knew how to make a room work only with her eyes. John Hough, the director, also makes note of this and also dicusses this era of Disney in terms of how they made films which soon changed in the early 80s when they formed Touchstone Pictures. “Making The Return Trip”  talks about what brought the team back for the sequel. They weren’t that much older. Ike was just a little taller than Kim. A lot of the kids who were in it were interviewed save for Rocky. John Hough said that the script for “Return” was written externally of him without his creative input. However, he said he had no problem with it and he still got to shoot a lot of the film on location. Kim as Tia says she was just trying to keep up with the boys. “Christopher Lee: The Lost Interview” has Lee speaking on film to a Spanish journalist in a pre-junket type interview. The reporter is asking basic questions but Lee is responding in Spanish which is pretty cool especially when he is asked to do an acapella song. “Disney Kids With Powers”  is another montage of magic both live action and animated from the Disney vaults. “The Gang’s Back In Town” talks with the kids from the “Earthquake” gang about their memories of being on-set. It appears that they all had a crush on Kim as Tia. Their favorite scenes included the club house and when they were hoisted over the gate at the end. “1978 Disney Studio Album”  shows apart from “Return”, “The Cat From Outer Space” and “The Small One” which I both remember from my first 5 years. “The Black Hole” was also announced as being in production at thie time.  “The Eyes Have It” is another animated short that has Donald Duck hypnotizing Pluto making him imitate all kinds of animals before becoming a lion much to the quack’s dismay.   The Pop Up Fun Facts track on “Return”, like “Escape”, speaks to the locations, the back grounds of alot of the actors and the balance of animation and special effects. The “Sneak Peeks” on this disc are the same as the previous with “Race To Witch Mountain” seeming to have the most prevalance because of its siblings plus the new perception of “Snow White” in Blu Ray format.

The “Witch Mountain” films from the mid 70s are a piece of nostalgia but also a picture of a time in movies that were both family friendly but with a little bit of edge and danger which is what made them so great. Out of 5, because of this balance, I gives the DVDs a 3.

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