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DISNEY

MOVIE INFO

Director:
John Hough
Cast:
Eddie Albert, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasence, Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, Walter Barnes, Reta Shaw, Denver Pyle
Writing Credits:
Robert M. Young, Alexander Key (book)

Tagline:
Escape To The Unknown!

Synopsis:
A vehicle floats in midair a coat rack comes to life and attacks a sheriff and wild animals are putty in the hands of Tony and Tia Malone in Disney's thrilling fantasy adventure about the psychic powers of two young orphans. Their clairvoyance prompts evil millionaire Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland) to lure them to his mansion to exploit their powers. While escaping, they meet a friendly campter (Eddie Albert) and begin to unravel the mystery of their origin. Soon, all three are fleeing townspeople who have branded the children witches but then IT happens! Someone with even greater powers takes over and leads the children and the audience into a dazzling and unexpected experience one that is truly out of this world!

MPAA:
Rated G

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.75:1/16X9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 3/10/2009

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director John Hough and Actors Iake Eissinmann and Kim RIchards
• “Pop-Up Fun Facts” Subtitle Commentary
• “Making the Escape” Featurette
• “Conversations with John Hough” Featurette
• “Disney Kids Sci-Fi” Featurette
• “Disney Effects: Something Special” Featurette
• “1975 Disney Studio Album” Featurette
• “Pluto’s Dream House” Animated Short
• Sneak Peeks


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RELATED REVIEWS


Escape To Witch Mountain: Disney Family Classics (1975)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 13, 2009)

It seems like whenever a remake comes along, film buffs screech with horror. The original turns into a “classic” that will surely be defiled by the stench of the new version. Never mind that flicks like The Maltese Falcon and The Wizard of Oz reworked earlier films – all remakes are evil!

The hue and cry often becomes even greater when filmmakers redo youthful faves – flicks like 1975’s Escape to Witch Mountain. Inevitably those of a certain age bemoan that the new effort with rape their childhoods and whatnot. It’s rose-colored glasses to an extreme.

Such a reaction seems inevitable for 2009’s Race to Witch Mountain, a reworking of Escape. Clearly the original was a classic, and the new one will be an abomination, right?

I can’t comment on Race - not yet, at least – but I know that any aspirations to classic status Escape may boast seem excessively optimistic. And I’m part of the demographic that should defend and protect it. I know I saw it as an eight-year-old, but I don’t think Escape has entered my consciousness much since 1975. Disney made a lot of fairly forgettable live-action movies back in the day, and I can’t recall anything about Escape that makes it more memorable than its peers.

Still, with the remake on the horizon and a DVD on my desk, I figured I’d take a trip down memory lane to re-examine Escape. The flick concentrates on siblings Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia Malone (Kim Richards). When their adoptive parents die, they end up at an orphanage. They possess psychic powers that set them apart from the other kids and that also impress Lucas Deranian (Donald Pleasence), an assistant to wealthy Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland).

Since Bolt pursues supernatural techniques, he immediately pursues the Malones and recruits them to his mansion. Bolt tells Deranian to pose as their uncle and take them into his guardianship. Bolt soon makes it clear that he wants to use the kids’ powers for his own means.

Though he bribes them with all the material possessions they could want, the Malones don’t buy into his schemes. Tia and Tony decide to escape, but Bolt won’t let them go without a fight. He pursues them relentlessly while they entreat a camper named Jason O’Day (Eddie Albert) to assist their flight. The film follows their path to freedom and the complications that lead them to a mysterious location named Witch Mountain – and even more secrets.

Since Escape didn’t make a great impression on me as a kid, I don't want to say “you can’t go home again”. Maybe it’s a good thing that I possess no fond childhood memories of it, for that means it can’t disappoint me as an adult. Whenever you re-encounter a fave from the past, you always run into that chance that it’ll stomp all over those pleasant feelings.

I’m happy that didn’t occur with Escape, though again, that’s mostly because I have no pleasant feelings to eradicate. Even if I did boast those emotions, I can’t say that Escape would’ve ruined them, as it’s not a terrible movie. There’s nothing here so atrocious that cherished childhood feelings will end up trampled underfoot.

That said, I find it tough to imagine an adult who watches Escape will take much from it other than a potential trip down memory lane. As I mentioned, I was smack-dab in the 1970s Disney demographic, so I saw all of their live-action efforts in the day. (I saw their animated flicks as well, but the Mouse mostly avoided cartoons during the Seventies; that decade saw the release of only three fully animated efforts.)

I enjoyed these live-action movies at the time, but they all seemed pretty disposable even then, and that hasn’t changed over the last three decades plus. On the positive side, Escape does include some interesting story twists, and it manages to integrate them pretty well. Yeah, a few feel a little like they came out of left-field, but I think the movie sets them up well enough that they don’t come across as problematic. Though the plot doesn’t seem especially ambitious, it works as a good framework and allows for a reasonable amount of interesting circumstances.

Mildly interesting circumstances, at least. More action-oriented and less comedic than most Disney flicks, Escape offers some fun in a childhood wish fulfillment mode, but the sequences rarely become anything more than moderately compelling. They pique our interest in a minor way and that’s about it.

Which is probably why I maintained virtually no memory of Escape over all these years: it’s so darned forgettable. The cast features some accomplished adult actors, and they add a bit of credence of the flick. The kids are less enthralling, though. Eisenmann and Richards weren’t poor actors, but they tend to feel awkward here; they emote a lot and fail to bring much personality to their roles.

That’s a bit of a weak link, as we just don’t invest much in the fates of Tia and Tony. Nonetheless, Escape provides just enough wacky shenanigans to become watchable. It’s far from enthralling – at least for an adult – but it manages to provide mild entertainment.

Cast footnote: Eisenmann may own the record for most variations of an actor’s name. For this DVD’s extras, he goes by “Iake Eissinmann”, and at times, he’s also been listed as “Ike Eisenman”, “Jake Eisenmann”, “Lake Eissinman”, “Jake Eissinmann” and “Iake Eissenmann”. The guy must have a real identity crisis by now.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C/ Bonus B

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4285 Stars Number of Votes: 7
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main