Sunday, November 05, 2006

This is Halloweentown?

Halloweentown, released in 1998, had all the elements of a successful Disney Channel movie--charm, close family ties, cute children, and Debbie Reynolds. Halloweentown was followed by Halloweentown II (2001), Halloweentown High (2004), and most recently, Return to Halloweentown.

In Halloweentown, 13-year-old Marnie discovers she is a witch and her grandmother, Aggie (Reynolds), takes her to Halloweentown to train her. Now Marnie is in college, unfamiliar territory for Disney Channel. Witch U. seems less like college and more like boarding school, with the Sinister sisters as the token bully girls.

The effervescent Kimberly J. Brown played Marnie in the first three installments. The slightly chubby Brown was a refreshing change to the blonde beauties Disney Channel usually employs. Brown always looked like a normal kid. She has since been replaced by the bland Sara Paxton, who is, of course, blonde and thin.

Lucas Grabeel, still riding on the coattails of High School Musical, plays Marnie's love interest, Ethan. He appeared in Halloweentown High, although there was never any palpable sexual tension between him and Marnie (Marnie's a bit of a harlot, making eyes at a different male in each film). He barely even in the preview for Halloweentown High, but now that he is a "star," the marketing for Return to Halloweentown was all about him, overshadowing J. Paul Zimmerman (he stuck with the series for all four films as Marnie's brother).

Reynolds is only present in two short scenes and Marnie's adorable little sister (who has been steadily gaining weight in each installment) is mysteriously missing.

The scenes seem unconnected, with various subplots that never get fleshed out. The relationship between Marnie and her mother, Marnie and her grandmother, Marnie and Ethan. As a result, the heartwarming scenes, as when Marnie says, "I love you mom," are not believable.

The film is nothing more than a vehicle for new Disney Channel stars. This would be fine, if it only had a heart.

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