Halloweentown was a Disney Channel Original Movie released in 1998 so fittingly there are neon clothes and scrunchies galore. While at its core it is a film about family, self-acceptance, and teamwork, Halloweentown also covers more mature topics in a way children can understand and appreciate. I have always found Halloweentown to be charming and relatable. Though I was a toddler when it came out, I grew up watching it and still rewatch them even now.
Marnie is a classic 90’s Disney protagonist, 13 and basically an adult ready to make her own decisions no matter how reckless they are. The film opens on Marnie arguing with her mother Gwen because she’s not allowed go to a costume party with her friends. Gwen is adamant that she wants her children to have nothing to do with Halloween, much to the dismay of Marnie who has expressed a love for “weird stuff”. Marnie and her friends plead, but Gwen puts her foot down and sends Marnie’s friends away. We can all identify with this scene because in one way or another we have all experienced it either as a child pleading with a parent or as a parent trying to reason with a child.
In the next scene, we are introduced to Grandma Aggie, played by the late Debbie Reynolds. Reynolds brought a whimsical feel to the role, solidifying in my mind that she was Aggie Cromwell, a centuries-old witch of immense power and a joyful personality. We first meet her as she is getting off the interdimensional Halloweentown Bus. She steps off, wearing a dark velvet cloak and colorful dress, an outfit most befitting a witch. I’ve heard that the right accessories bring personality to an outfit, but her handbag quite literally has a mind of its own. Her handbag shows a reluctance to leave the bus before, at Aggie insistence, it jumps down and follows her down the street. Much like the magical bag in Mary Poppins, Aggie Cromwell’s bag never empties, as it is connected to her home back in Halloweentown. From this bag, she pulls out all kinds of things such as costumes, spooky decorations, and lots of candy.
The effects in Halloweentown are standard for a low budget movie made for TV. But despite the unrealistic animatronics and dated use of green screen, the story and message still shine through.
Aggie and her daughter Gwen are essentially estranged for most of the film, constantly at odds on how the children should be raised. Gwen insists on her children having a normal life away from magic and Halloweentown while Aggie believes it is important to carry on the magic of the Cromwell line and raise the children with the knowledge of their abilities and magical heritage. This leads to the children discovering the secrets their mother tried to keep from them. They following their Grandmother back to Halloweentown to assist her with the trouble that is brewing there.
Marnie and her brother Dylan, much like Aggie and Gwen, are repeatedly at odds with one another through the film. Dylan refuses to believe that magic is real while Marnie revels in the idea that she comes from a long line of witches. They bicker constantly, but when they are left to fend for themselves and face a great danger, they pull together along with their little sister Sophie. They support each other as they search for ingredients to their grandmother’s Witches Brew. They speak the incantation together, and at the movie’s climax, the entire Cromwell family work as one to defeat the great evil. The importance of family is a universal message. We have our differences, different beliefs, and different goals, but we are family and even despite those differences, we support and encourage each other when we need it most.
Halloweentown shows throughout the film the importance of believing in yourself. When Aggie asks Marnie if anything out of the ordinary has ever happened to her she insists that there is nothing special about her at all. I identified with Marnie a lot growing up. I was a middle child with average grades, desperate for something magical to happen. Nothing I ever did felt like it mattered much or made any real differences, so seeing the kids in Halloweentown believing in abilities and helping each other save their loved ones was a fun escape. Watching their confidence in themselves and each other made me find a little confidence in myself too.
One aspect of Halloweentown’s story has significant meaning in today’s society. While I believe the goal of the movie was to express familial love and being able to express yourself without shame, it was also made very clear the damages of prejudice. Prejudice is displayed in Halloweentown by the attitudes monsters have towards humans and vice versa. It is stated that humans ignorance and fear towards monster led them to attack and trying to hunt them out of existence. In doing so it led to the creation of Halloweentown. Instead of making an effort to understand or get to know the creatures who were different and strange, the humans chose to lash out at anything they didn’t consider ‘normal’.
A hatred of humans was sparked by this behavior and only intensified over the centuries the creatures were exiled from the human world. The mistreatment is ultimately what led to the rise of the dark Warlock Kalabar who used his charismatic personality to gain office and trust in Halloweentown. He uses his dark magic to trap the citizens and use their magic to make himself more powerful. His plan to steal the Cromwell’s magic talisman and use its power to take over the human world only came to fruition after the many years of suffering the creatures experienced at the humans’ hand.
Halloweentown pulls no punches in showing that prejudice, ignorance, and violence against a group of people will accomplish no good and will only foster further prejudice, ignorance, and violence against ourselves.
I love the message that accepting yourself and other people for all the things that make them different and special is so prominent in this film. I like to think that in the world we live in today we have made great strides in tolerance and understanding, and I can’t help but smile as I watch this film because I know it was of the things that shaped my view of the world today.
Halloweentown is wonderful to watch for both children and adults. Its tone and themes make it a great watch year round, and its wholesome humor in place of scares have made it my favorite thing to watch on movie nights in with kids.