Everyone knows the “Sequel Rule” by now, which goes like this: “sequels to popular movies are almost always never as good as the original films”. Direct-to-video or direct-to-DVD or direct-to-TV sequels are never going to be good. That is almost a guarantee and there are many examples out there. But sequels that end up in theaters and are awful are hard to find, since a lot of big executive movie people had to have seen the film and gave it the green light for the big screen. Escape to Witch Mountain is considered a beloved family classic from the 1970s. But what about its sequel, released to theaters three years later, Return From Witch Mountain?
In Return From Witch Mountain, Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann return as Tia and Tony Malone, those siblings with extraordinary abilities. This time these kids get sent to the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles by their Uncle Bene (Denver Pyle) for a vacation. As with the first film, the plot is set in motion when the kids have to use their powers to save someone. This time, Tony is the hero when he foresees and, with his “energization” gift, prevents a man (Anthony James) from falling off a building. Tony alone is drugged and taken by Dr. Victor Gannon (Christopher Lee) and Letha Wedge (Bette Davis), who sees the powerful youth as the key to wealth and personal gain. Meanwhile, separated from her brother, Tia soon encounters the Earthquake Gang, a nonthreatening band of four prepubescent boys who welcome her into their ranks when she helps thwart a cornering from rival gang the Goons. The Earthquakes try to assist Tia in reuniting with Tony. That is no easy task because the uncharacteristically unreceptive Tony has his mind completely controlled by Dr. Gannon, who commands him via an ear chip and transmitter. Tia and her new buddies also have to face the “Earthquakes” usual nemesis, Mr. “Yo-Yo” Yokomoto (Jack Soo), a truant officer bent on getting them back in school.
Anyone who watched the original Escape to Witch Mountain will be familiar with the story in Return From Witch Mountain. In fact, the entire story behind this film could be mistaken for the first part of the original film, just with different secondary characters. Unfortunately, the big mystery story behind Tia and Tony’s past got revealed in the first film, so there isn’t any of that to fall back on. Instead, we are just left with craziness. While the original Escape to Witch Mountain didn’t feel that dated, even with the non-CGI special effects, this film feels extremely dated.
The wackiness has been turned up 100 times in this film. The acting is definitely a step down from the original. Both of the young leading stars from the first film are back here, but they seemed to have lost their ability to act. On second thought, they may just be victims of poorly written material this time around. That being said, they certainly don’t help raise sub-par material to new heights. The only star with any sense of acting skills seems to be Christopher Lee, of Star Wars prequels and Lord of the Rings trilogy, as the main villain. But everyone else is just there as comic relief. This film is just like almost every other film during its time, when it comes to have a lot of bumbling, idiotic villains, who are easy enemies for the protagonists to defeat.
Leave it to Walt Disney Studios to make a theatrical sequel that shouldn’t have made it to theaters in the first place. How a sequel can ever be almost the complete opposite of the orginal film is hard to comprehend. But Return From Witch Mountain is just that. Everything that Escape to Witch Mountain did right has been thrown out the window. There are certainly worse films out there, but this is nothing more than just your usual average to below average live-action Disney TV movie from this era. There is nothing “classic” about Return From Witch Mountain.
The video included is available in 1.75:1 anamorphic widescreen color, which is enhanced for 16:9 TVs. The quality is about as good as you can get for a 30-year-old film. There is some noticible graininess in this film, but nothing too bad. No other problems than that, though.
The audio included is available in either English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound, Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound, or French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo sound. There are subtitles available in English, Spanish, and French as well. The dialogue and music come out loud and clear, so no major problems here either. But like the video quality, the audio quality is pretty average, but about as good as this film can get.
Audio Commentary –
There is a full-length audio commentary with the director, John Hough, and a grown up Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann. Not the best audio commentary, but it is somewhat entertaining listening to Richards and Eisenmann talk about their experiences with this film, 25 years later. Hough does provide some information about this film, but not a whole lot.
“Pop-Up Fun Facts” Commentary Track –
This is a new option to watch the film with facts popping up throughout the film in little boxes. This shares a number of tidbits about onscreen actors and their other credits. Talks mainly about things connected to the film than actually pertaining to it, though. So it’s a nice addition, but nothing special.
“Making the Return Trip” Featurette –
This runs 23 minutes and it’s your standard “making-of” featurette. We hear comments from Eisenmann, Richards, Hough, producer Kevin Corcoran, special effects man Danny Lee, and actors Brad Savage, Erik Yothers, and Christian Juttner. Among the topics discussed are reuniting for the film, working with the accomplished cast members, achieving the special effects, the nature of the movie and its locations, and Alfred the goat.
“Lost Treasure: Christopher Lee, The Lost Interview” Featurette –
This is a 11 minute interview with Christopher Lee from 1978. Lee is questioned by Spanish reporter Pepe Lupi about Return from Witch Mountain and his other work. The entire piece is in Spanish, which Lee tries his best to get through and is translated by burned-in subtitles. It’s somewhat interesting, but mainly just a hype piece for the movie before it originally got released to theaters.
“The Gang’s Back in Town” Featurette –
This runs 8 minutes and it reunites three of the actors who portrayed the Earthquake gang: Erik “Poindexter” Yothers (Crusher), Brad Savage (Muscles), and Christian Juttner (Dazzler). They talk about their experiences and answer questions telepathically expressed by someone pretending to be a young Tia. Pretty funny actually.
“Disney Kids with Powers” Montage –
This runs 3 minutes and it’s a montage piece, which excerpts Disney films that mostly reflect its title. Among the sampled are Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Sword in the Stone, Mary Poppins, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, both Witch Mountains, and the original Freaky Friday. Nothing to see here.
“1978 Disney Studio Album” –
This is a 3 minute taste of the dozen or so projects released or developed by the studio around the same time as Return from Witch Mountain.
“The Eyes Have It” Cartoon
This is a 7 minute animated short that originally preceded Return From Witch Mountain in theaters. In this 1945 cartoon, Donald Duck uses his newly-acquired hypnotic goggles to convince Pluto he’s a mouse, a turtle, a chicken, and so on, to interesting effect.
Fans of the original film will probably be disappointed in Return From Witch Mountain. There really isn’t much difference with this edition’s DVD to the 2003 Special Edition. If you own that, you really don’t need this since there is only one added extra and it’s not worth the upgrade. You can get Hollywood Movie Money for the new Race To Witch Mountain movie, though, so that might be worth it for some.
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Return From Witch Mountain. Directed by John Hough. Written by Malcolm Marmorstein (screenplay) and Alexander Key (characters). Starring Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, Bette Davis, Christopher Lee, Jack Soo, and Denver Pyle. Running time: 94 minutes. Rated G. Released on DVD: March 10, 2009.
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