Escape to Witch Mountain appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.75:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the film’s age, the transfer looked pretty terrific.
My only minor complain reflected sharpness. Though most of the movie exhibited solid definition, a witnessed a bit of softness in wider shots, a factor exacerbated by mild edge enhancement. Nonetheless, the majority of the film boasted positive clarity and accuracy. I witnessed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and source flaws remained minor. Some effects shots looked a bit messy, but the rest of the film came across as clean; I witnessed a speck or two but nothing more severe.
Colors excelled. The movie featured a vibrant palette that appeared lively and full. The hues offered a pleasant surprise, as they seemed much more dynamic than I expected. Blacks were dark and dense, while shadows demonstrated good delineation; a few “day for night” shots became murky, but that was inevitable. I considered an “A-“ grade for the transfer, and such a high mark wouldn’t be without justification. Though I went with a “B+” – mostly due to the occasional softness – I still felt this was a fine presentation that defied its age.
Unfortunately, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Escape seemed less satisfying. I’d like to hear the original monaural track, as remix seemed rinky-dink. While I didn’t expect great dynamics from the audio, I thought this remix appeared more feeble than it should.
Music showed some vague low-end but tended to be thin and fairly flat. Effects were similarly bland and without much range. Speech seemed intelligible but tended to suffer from a mild echo effect; that reverb gave the audio something of an unnatural feel.
I didn’t find much to impress via the soundfield. Music spread to the sides but not in a compelling manner; the stereo imaging lacked much definition and tended to seem mushy. Effects offered minor information from the sides and surrounds, but they also failed to add much life to the proceedings. Again, I’d rather just hear the original mono material, as this remix remained mediocre.
Though mostly recycled from an earlier special edition, we still get a reasonable roster of extras here. We open with an audio commentary from director John Hough and actors Iake Eissinmann and Kim Richards. Compiled from two separate running, screen-specific tracks, the actors sit together while Hough watches the movie on his own. The piece covers photographic choices, sets and locations, cast and performances, working at Disney, stunts and effects, dealing with animal actors, and a few other production subjects.
Without question, Hough does the heavy lifting here, as Richards and Eissinmann tend toward anecdotes that relate how much fun they had. They do throw in some nice stories, but the director provides the lion’s share of the concrete information. He digs into all the production subjects in a concise and informative way. The two sides balance well nonetheless and this turns into a high-quality piece.
After this we locate collection of Pop-Up Fun Facts. Through this subtitle commentary, we learn about sets and locations, cast and crew, background factoids, stunts and effects, and a few other production issues. These show up less frequently than I’d like, but they still provide a reasonable number of interesting notes. That makes them worth a screening, though it’s probably best to inspect them during a viewing of the movie, as they’re not too intrusive.
A few featurettes follow. Making the Escape goes for 26 minutes, 41 seconds and includes notes from Richards, Eissinmann, Hough, special effects artist Danny Lee, and actor Dermott Downs.“Making” looks at how Hough and the others came onto the film, the atmosphere at Disney, the characters and changes made to the original script, cast and performances, interactions on the set, working with animals, locations, stunts and effects, the flick’s legacy, and general memories.
Since the commentary included so much good information, it becomes inevitable that some elements repeat. Nonetheless, we get quite a few new tidbits, and I think Richards and Eissinmann seem better focused here; the format means that they’re less likely to simply reminisce and more likely to provide concrete details. That makes it a winning piece.
For more from the director, we go to Conversations with John Hough. In this six-minute and 53-second piece, he chats about aspects of his career, with a main focus on his days at Disney. Hough provides a generally fluffy overview of this period, but he still gives us some decent insights.
In the two-minute and 45-second Disney Sci-Fi, we find a compilation reel. It includes tidbits from Escape and other flicks such as Tron and The Rocketeer. It’s a waste of time.
Next we find Disney Effects: Something Special. During this 11-minute and three-second show, we discover comments from visual effects designer Harrison Ellenshaw, Buena Vista Imaging executive director John S. Chambers and lead digital artist Michael W. Curtis. We learn a bit about effects techniques used for Escape as well as other Disney films such as Mary Poppins, The Parent Trap and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. With so much territory to cover in such a short period of time, “Special” doesn’t manage much depth. Nonetheless, it becomes a decent overview of the various forms of effects used over the decades.
We take a period-specific look at the studio via the three-minute and 30-second 1975 Disney Studio Album. This gives us a montage that provides a snapshot of the studio circa 1975. We find out what they did during that year, and the information covers a wide range of topics; in addition to movies, we look at TV, the theme parks, and even projects then in developments. It’s a cool little bit.
Finally, Pluto’s Dream House offers a vintage short from 1940. Mickey discovers a magic lamp when he goes to build a new abode for Pluto, and he gets the genie to do it for him. It’s a cute cartoon, though I’m a bit surprised Disney let it out of their vault; though unseen, the genie offers a pretty insulting African-American stereotype. (By the way, I’m not saying Disney should have kept the cartoon locked away – I’m just noting that it’s a surprise they threw it out there without their usual disclaimers.)
A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Blu-Ray Disc, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Race to Witch Mountain, Bedtime Stories and Disney Movie Rewards. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area along with promos for Bolt, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, Disney XD and Morning Light. No trailer for Escape appears here.
Because I don’t remember much about Escape to Witch Mountain from my youth, I can’t say it disappoints me. Nonetheless, little about it stands out as especially compelling. It offers mild fun but nothing more than that. The DVD suffers from mediocre audio, but it boasts surprisingly strong visuals along with a pretty good collection of supplements. Escape fans will feel pleased with this release, but I doubt it’ll do much to enchant new viewers.