In conjunction with the release of Disney’s Race to Witch Mountain, the studio has gone back to the vault to re-release Escape to Witch Mountain and Return to Witch Mountain.
Escape was originally released in 1975 and is based on a novel of the same name by Alexander Key. The story follows siblings Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia (Kim Richards) Malone. When we join the kids, they are being dropped off at orphanage due to the death of their foster parents. They standout from the rest of the kids very quickly as Tony jumps to unbelievable heights to catch a ball and we see them able to talk to each other mentally.
One day while in town, Tia has a premonition and approaches Lucas Deranian (Donald Pleasence) to warn him about getting into his car. The car is smashed shortly thereafter and leaves the man very curious. Deranian runs to his employer to report the incident. Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland) is a millionaire who believes in the supernatural and wants to exploit it to expand his fortune. Deranian and Bolt doctor documents to convince the orphanage that Deranian is the children’s long lost uncle. Tony and Tia are then whisked away to Bolt’s castle. Even though they are tempted by toys and luxury, they know they need to run away and find the place located on a map hidden in Tia’s star case. During their escape they run into Jason O’Day (Eddie Albert) who is traveling cross-country in his Winnebago. The children are able to melt the heart of this crotchety old man and he helps them uncover the truth.
I didn’t remember much about this movie, and after revisiting, I think I must have blocked it out. The story has the potential to be interesting but the acting is bad, the dialogue uninspired, and the children do not elicit any sympathy at all. I found them rather annoying. Eddie Albert was so lovable in Green Acres but in this he is unbelievable in his attempt to be the mean old widower. In addition, the special effects look terrible.
As I started Return, I had hopes that it would be better than its predecessor. Alas, it was not.
Based on an original idea, it is three years later and Tony and Tia are back for a vacation in Los Angeles. Not long after coming into town, Tony saves a man from falling off of a building and is subsequently kidnapped by two observers, Dr. Victor Gannon (Christopher Lee) and Letha Wedge (Bette Davis). Dr. Gannon uses a mind-control device to test out Tony’s powers. He wants to use Tony’s powers to conquer the world but Letha just wants to make money.
Tia, while trying to find Tony, runs into some street kids who are being tormented by another gang. She protects them and in turn they help her search the city for Tony, all the while trying to stay clear of a truant officer, Mr. "Yo-Yo" Yokomoto (Jack Soo). Tia finally finds Tony but gets captured in the process. The street kids then come to Tia’s rescue and together with Mr. Yo-Yo they are off to save Tony and the world.
I will say on a positive note that Tony and Tia are much less annoying in the sequel but that is about all I can say. The story is boring and involves way too many long and drawn-out chases, which was a problem in the first one as well. Also Lee and Davis are completely underutilized as the villains.
The DVDs come with the same Special Features from the 2003 DVD releases and were obviously planned together as they are very similar. Escape has interview segments (“Making the Escape” with the cast all grown up and “Conversations with John Hough”), montages (“1975 Disney Studio Album” presents clips of what the studio was offering that year, and “Disney Sci-Fi” shows clips of science fiction in Disney films), and a cartoon short (“Pluto’s Dream House”). There is also the informative “Disney Effects – Something Special.” Return also has interview segments (“Making the Return trip” and “The Gang’s Back In Town” both present the cast all grown up. A great find is “Lost Treasure: Christopher Lee.” From 1978, it reveals a mustachioed Lee being interviewed and answering question in Spanish with English subtitles on screen.), montages (“1978 Disney Studio Album” updates the slate and “Disney Kids with Powers” shows clips of the aforementioned), and a cartoon short (Donald Duck starring in “The Eyes Have It.”) Both films come with a commentary track by Hough, Eisenmann, and Richards, and each offers an all-new feature that allows facts to pop up on screen.
Disneyphiles may go wild over the Special Features, but I can’t recommend either of the Witch Mountain films. You may want to see what The Rock has cookin’ and try Race instead, if you dare.