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DISNEY

MOVIE INFO

Director:
John Hough
Cast:
Bette Davis, Christopher Lee, Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, Jack Soo, Anthony James, Richard Bakalyan, Ward Costello, Christian Juttner
Writing Credits:
Malcolm Marmorstein, Alexander Key (characters)

Tagline:
Sinister forces from this world against two young space travellers from another.

Synopsis:
In this thrilling sequel to Disney's Escape to Witch Mountain, automobiles mysteriously fly and humans float in thin air as sinister masterminds Christopher Lee and Bette Davis unleash a diabolical plan. The entire city of Los Angeles teeters on the brink of nuclear disaster when the greedy criminals manipulate a young boy's supernatural powers for their own devious gain. But the youth's sister and a streetwise band of truants join forces in a desperate attempt to save the city from destruction.

MPAA:
Rated G

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.75:1/16X9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish

Runtime: 94 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 Return Trip” Featurette
• “Lost Treasure: Christopher Lee – The Lost Interview” Featurette
• “Disney Kids with Powers” Featurette
• “The Gang’s Back in Town” Featurette
• “1978 Disney Studio Album” Featurette
• “The Eyes Have It” Animated Short
• Sneak Peeks


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RELATED REVIEWS


Return From Witch Mountain: Disney Family Classics (1978)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 18, 2009)

Although Disney avoided sequels to their animated films for many decades, the same rules didn’t apply to the live-action fare. I’m not sure what the first Disney live-action sequel was, but I do know they churned out quite a few of them.

Here’s another entry in that line: 1978’s Return from Witch Mountain, the follow-up to 1975’s Escape to Witch Mountain. Once again we meet Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia Malone (Kim Richards), two siblings with amazing psychic powers. In the first film, we learned that they’re actually aliens; at the end of Escape, they reunited with their long-lost relatives and zoomed off in their flying saucer.

In Return… they return! After a few years with their kinfolk, Tony and Tia get a “vacation” in Los Angeles to remind themselves about life among the humans. Their Uncle Bene (Denver Pyle) sticks them in a cab and sends them on their way.

As this occurs, we meet sinister scientist Dr. Victor Gannon (Christopher Lee), his benefactor Letha Wedge (Bette Davis) and her nephew/their good Sickle (Anthony James). Gannon has developed a device that controls minds, and he uses Sickle to test it.

One of these experiments goes awry and Sickle plunges off of a rooftop. Tony uses his mental powers to save Sickle’s life, and this impresses Gannon. He abducts Tony to use for his own nefarious means.

Stuck alone in the city, Tia flees and finds herself affiliated with a teeny-bopped street gang. (Or at least Disney’s “G”-rated version of an inner city gang.) She uses her own abilities to save them from some other toughs, and this earns her a spot among their ranks. They join forces to save Tony and stop Gannon and Letha’s plan to unleash a nuclear device in LA.

As I mentioned when I reviewed Escape, I’m sure I saw it during its theatrical run but I maintain virtually no memory of the experience. I also can’t recall Return, but I’m less certain I watched it on the big screen – or ever. By the time it came out, I was 11 and less likely to embrace “G”-rated Disney flicks.

Still, it’s possible I saw Return and completely forgot it as well. Now that I’ve watched it as an adult, I suspect that if I did check it out, I’ve suppressed the memory. While not a bad flick, Return disappoints and doesn’t even match up with the mediocre pleasures of Escape.

This becomes a substantial letdown because Return boasts higher potential. Escape went with a simple story that emphasized chase scenes. The majority of Escape follows the Malone kids as they attempt to avoid entrapment. Sure, we find some expository elements that detail the kids’ mysterious paths, but much of the film simply traces the threats to the Malones.

To its credit, Return doesn’t simply rehash the original flick’s plot. Indeed, it creates a totally different tale, and one with some real potential. The attempts to use Tony for criminal purposes seems ripe for fun material and could’ve turned this into an exciting tale.

“Could’ve” being the operative phrase, as Return never remotely exploits its potential. Some of the problems come from the dated nature of the production. While I wouldn’t call Escape timeless, it didn’t feel trapped in its era.

On the other hand, much of Return leaves us with the inescapable feeling that Jimmy Carter is still in the White House. From its music to its fashions to other aspects of the production, the film feels bound into its era. Some of this becomes inevitable – of course the clothes will look dated – but I still think the filmmakers could’ve avoided some of the issues. After all, Escape wasn’t nearly as “Seventies” as Return, so there’s no reason it couldn’t succeed in that manner.

Oddly, Return also feels more like a kiddie movie than its predecessor even though its leads were three years older and it offers a more serious plot. C’mon – the story ventures into the potential nuclear annihilation of Los Angeles! That’s not exactly cheerful fare, and perhaps that’s why the filmmakers give Return such a light tone.

I understand the desire to make the film palatable to its young target audience, but I think the Disney folks go too far. If you don’t want an aura of darkness, then don’t bring such scary elements into play. There’s no inherent need for the movie to involve a nuclear weapon; it would’ve been better for the flick to feature a less dire predicament so it could explore its material in a more mature manner.

Probably the weakest link comes from the “street gang”. Yeah, I know we have a much different view of young thugs these days than we did 30 years ago, but I can’t imagine these tools passed for “tough” even then. They’re from the cute ‘n’ cuddly Disney mold and look more likely to break into a musical number than to beat an old lady for her purse. They consistently overact and inspire far more eye-rolls than anything else.

Back in Escape, both Eisenmann and Richards provided serviceable performances at best, and that trend continues here. They seem a little more natural but still lack much range or real emotion. Once again they emote too much and fail to deliver particularly compelling personalities.

Only Davis and Lee bring any real pleasure to the film. It’s especially nice to see Davis. As an 11-year-old in 1978, I had no idea who she was, but obviously I have a different appreciation for her now. Clearly she was never a threat to win her third Oscar for her work in Return, and to be honest, she doesn’t provide a strong performance.

But you know what? She does just fine given the material at hand and it’s simply a blast to see her onscreen. I especially like her scenes with Lee. Both come from different schools of acting, but they butt heads well and make their sequences a delight to observe.

Unfortunately, they can’t redeem all of Return from Witch Mountain. For every fun scene with Lee and Davis, we’re stuck with plenty more silly ones. Even compared to the mediocre Escape, Return disappoints.


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

Return from 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. While not as attractive as the transfer for Escape, Return looked quite positive.

Sharpness remained pretty solid. I noticed some light edge haloes and occasional instances of mild softness, but these remained minor. Overall, the image was concise and accurate. I detected no examples of shimmering or jagged edges, and not too many source flaws appeared. I saw sporadic signs of specks and marks, but these were within acceptable levels given the flick’s age.

As also was the case for Escape, Return boasted terrific color reproduction. Both movies offered vivid hues, and this DVD made the hues appear dynamic and full. Blacks were dense and deep, while shadows displayed good clarity and delineation. The different issues knocked my grade down to a “B”, but this was a satisfying presentation.

Though the DVD offered a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, I found little that deviated from its monaural roots. Music seemed to remain stuck in the center, and effects essentially followed the same path. Some minor expansion from the middle channel offered modest expansion to the effects, but nothing remotely distinctive emerged. For all intents and purposes, the audio remained monaural.

Audio quality was average for its age. Speech came across as a bit thin and trebly but remained intelligible and without obvious flaws. Music lacked much range but also was reasonably clear and concise. In addition, I thought effects remained accurate enough. They featured some slightly boomy bass at times but usually were pretty one-dimensional. Overall, I thought the audio was mediocre.

As was the case with the DVD for Escape, most of the extras for Return already appeared on an earlier Special Edition release. 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. We learn about photographic choices, sets and locations, cast and performances, working at Disney, stunts and effects, dealing with animals and kids, and a few other production subjects.

While the Return commentary covers the same basic topics as the track for Escape, that doesn’t make it a carbon copy. This one turns into its own piece and provides a lot of good facts about the film. Once again, Hough offers the majority of the notes. He gives us many interesting details about the production and covers the film well.

Richards and Eissinmann indicate that although they were older when they made Return, they remember the experience less well when compared to Escape. They attribute this to the film’s lower profile; fewer people ask them about Return, so they have less reason to recall its specifics. Anyway, they toss in a few good anecdotes and add value. Overall, this is another entertaining and informative piece.

We also find another 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. The facts show up sporadically, so don’t expect a wealth of details. Nonetheless, they throw out some interesting tidbits, so they’re worth a look.

A few featurettes follow. Making the Return Trip goes for 22 minutes, 48 seconds and features Eissinmann, Richards, Hough, associate producer Kevin Corcoran, special effects artist Danny Lee, and actors Christian Juttner, Brad Savage, and Erik Yothers. “Trip” looks at the development of the sequel and related challenges, script and story, cast and performances, experiences during the shoot, locations, stunts and effects, and the film’s legacy.

“Trip” manages to avoid too much repetition from the commentary. Of course, they can’t avoid some redundant material, but this piece still manages to stand on its own. “Trip” gives us a nice overview of the production and entertains along the way.

For some archival material, we go to Lost Treasure: Christopher Lee – The Lost Interview. In this 10-minute an 54-second piece, we find a vintage interview Lee did with a Spanish-language journalist. To my surprise, Lee takes and answers almost all of the questions in Spanish; I assumed an interpreter would be present.

“Treasure” is fun to see for that curiosity factor, but it doesn’t have much value to it in other ways. Lee mostly just discusses the story to Return, so he doesn’t provide much more than publicity. Still, it’s so odd that it’s worth a look. Where else will you find Lee’s attempt at singing opera?

In the two-minute and 53-second Disney Kids with Powers, we see clips from movies that deal with the paranormal. In addition to Return and Escape, we find snippets from flicks such as Mary Poppins, The Sword in the Stone and Freaky Friday.

Next we find The Gang’s Back in Town. During this eight-minute and 12-second program, we hear from Juttner, Savage and Yothers. All three sit together to reminisce about their experiences on Return. They tell us about their current lives and reflect on their acting careers. We don’t find a ton of deep information, but we get some interesting memories.

We take a period-specific look at the studio via the two-minute and 58-second 1978 Disney Studio Album. This shows us what Disney did that year in terms of movies, TV, theme park attractions and other endeavors. It turns into a cool way to check out the status of Disney circa 1978.

Finally, The Eyes Have It offers a vintage short. In this one, Donald Duck tries to use hypnosis glasses on Pluto, and his experiment works. It’s a strange cartoon but it proves oddly entertaining.

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 Return appears here.

Although I wasn’t wild about Escape to Witch Mountain, it looks like a classic next to its feeble sequel. Return from Witch Mountain actually had some potential, but it doesn’t succeed most of the time. The DVD presents good picture and extras but audio seems mediocre. Fans should like this generally positive release, but I can’t recommend the film itself; it seems mediocre at its best.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 6
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