Monday, April 29, 2013

Movie Review: Escape to Witch Mountain

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Most of the acting and effects, engaging second half
Cons: One puzzling plot point, the kids' acting
The Bottom Line:
Kids will still enjoy
But adults will see the flaws
Movie is dated

Tia and Tony Search for Home

Believe it or not, there are Disney movies out there I have never seen.  Such was the case with Escape to Witch Mountain.  Frankly, I probably could have skipped it and been fine, not that the movie was completely bad.

Tony and Tia Malone (Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards) have just been placed in an orphanage.  Their adoptive parents have just been killed.  But the kids wonder about their birth parents, especially since they have special powers.  Among other things, Tony can move things with his mind (as long as he is playing a harmonica) and Tia can communicate with animals.

Just as they discover a weird map in the star case that Tia always carries around, they catch the interest of Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland).  Mr. Bolt is rich, but he's always looking for ways to become richer.  He thinks the kids ability to see the future would help him with his goal.  But they aren't convinced the fancy place he has built for them isn't a trap, so they escape.  With Bolt and his henchmen, lead by Deranian (Donald Pleasance), after them, the kids find an ally in Jason O'Day (Eddie Albert), a loaner traveling around in his motor home.  Will that be enough to help them escape?  What about the strange memories the kids are having?  And where does the map lead?

It's possible my problem with the movie was that, even though I hadn't seen it before, I recently found out where the story was going.  As a result, I didn't find the clues and puzzles that intriguing.  Yes, there were certainly things along the way I found cool and interesting, but it didn't keep me engrossed the entire time.

Part of that was the pacing.  The movie starts off pretty slowly.  While there are things happening in the first half, they don't progress that quickly.  Things pick up in the second half, and I will admit I like that much better.  But even then, there were parts where I was ready for the story to move on to the next plot point.

Speaking of plot points, there was one that was dropped completely.  The first time we see either of the kids use their powers, Tony is defending himself from a bully by using anything around him.  Yet later it is established that he has forgotten how to move things with his mind without playing his harmonica.  So, which is it?

The acting was mostly good.  The adults were all fantastic.  Eddie Albert melts your heart as the grouch the kids fall in with.  Donald Pleasance and Ray Milland are perfectly menacing.  They provide the needed danger without doing anything truly scary.  The weak link are the kids.  Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards are okay, but they are a bit too earnest in their line delivery which makes their performances slightly over the top and grating.  Most of the time I was able to look beyond it, but some times it just got to be too much.

The movie is very special effects heavy.  Since the movie was released in 1975, they didn't have all the modern computer effects we've got today.  Trust me, the movie never suffers from it.  Most of the time, I was convinced what I was seeing on screen was absolutely real.  The effects near the climax are the only ones that look hokey to me, but even then I didn't have a problem with them because of the age of the movie.

At times, I wonder if the secret to loving a kid's movie is to see it as a kid.  I'll probably never know for sure in the case of Escape to Witch Mountain.  It had some good moments, but in the end was only average.

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