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Return to Halloweentown

by Christopher Gildemeister


Return to Halloweentown

Release date: October 20, 2006

TV rating: TV-G

Starring: Sara Paxton, Judith Hoag, Lucas Grabeel, Debbie Reynolds, J. Paul Zimmerman

Genre: fantasy/drama

Recommended age: 8+


This fourth installment in Disney's Halloweentown film series continues the adventures of Marnie Cromwell, daughter of a mortal man and a witch, and provides magically-themed fun, drama and positive messages about acting responsibly, accepting others as they are and learning to discern between right and wrong.


Now eighteen and eager to get away from her mother and boring hometown, Marnie accepts a scholarship to Witch University in the magical world of Halloweentown. Marnie is doubly disappointed on her arrival to learn that use of magic is forbidden at Witch U., and that her younger brother Dylan has also been accepted to the college. Marnie clashes with the cheating, manipulative Sinister Sisters, who use their magical powers to break the rules and bully everyone else in the school, and who bewitch a love-struck Dylan into following their every order. For her part, Marnie tries to prove her independence by constantly ignoring magical "phone calls" from her mother Gwen.


Marnie learns that the University was once her ancestral castle, and during a class an ancient heirloom box magically appears in her hands. Marnie and Dylan discover that the box contains The Gift, a mysterious source of great magical power. Marnie's teachers urge her to break the school rules and use her magic to open the box; but unknown to Marnie, the teachers are members of the evil Dominion and want to use her powers to enslave all the magical creatures in Halloweentown who are not witches. At the teachers' urging that Marnie open the box and obtain The Gift, Marnie asks the good teacher Professor Periwinkle to send her back in time. There, she encounters her own grandmother Aggie as a young adult and learns that the Dominion of the past planned to declare Aggie a queen and force her to use The Gift for evil. Marnie learns that The Gift is a horrible one indeed: the possessor of a magical amulet can force everyone else to obey her merest whim. Aggie is disgusted by The Gift's potential for evil and entraps it in the box, giving Marnie the key.


Returning to the present, Marnie finally realizes that she needs her mother's help and calls her to Halloweentown. Marnie is confronted by the Dominion and the Sinister Sisters, who transform Dylan into a dog and refuse to release him unless Marnie obeys them. She agrees, but at the last moment she combines her powers with those of her mother Gwen and the restored Dylan to make The Gift vanish. Periwinkle arrests and entraps the evil Dominion members, and the Sinister Sisters are dismayed to learn that they have lost their magical powers and their hold over others.


Positive lessons abound in Return to Halloweentown. Though she wants more than anything to use her magical powers, Marnie resists the temptation to do so even when urged on by her teachers, thus showing the importance of following the rules.  Although wanting to make it on her own, Marnie eventually comes to understand and respect her mother's love and wise advice, teaching respect for one's parents. Marnie and Dylan befriend the many non-human creatures in Halloweentown, such as skeletons, goblins and faeries, while the racist Dominion members want to turn them into slaves. Marnie shows her willingness to change and be forgiving of others when she overcomes her distrust of Ethan Dalloway, the son of an old enemy, and befriends him. Ethan for his part demonstrates his trustworthiness and nobility by helping her combating the Dominion's plans announcing that, after his father's evil acts, he renounced his own magical powers and is content to live as a mortal.  And in spite of her constant big-sister belittling of Dylan, at the end of the movie it is revealed that Marnie has given him The Gift, as he is the one person she trusts not to abuse so great a power. Finally, the power of controlling others and making them obey is shown as not a Gift but a terrible curse; "Tis truly sad when a few people force their views on everyone else," states the young but wise Aggie in rejecting The Gift.


Return to Halloweentown is eminently suitable for family viewing. Sex and bad language are totally absent, and the only "violence" consists of a few "magical" fantasy light effects and some slight slapstick comedy, such as the Sinister Sisters making Dylan spill pudding on himself. There are a number of non-human-looking "monstrous" characters, but such are not gory or disgusting and should not frighten any but the very youngest viewers.  The premise of the program includes a benign treatment of such fantasy creatures as witches, magic and monsters, similar to the popular Harry Potter book series, but does not overtly encourage a fascination with the occult. All in all, Return to Halloweentown is an excellent family-friendly way for children and adults alike to celebrate Halloween.

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