Movie review: ‘Halloweentown’ relies on nostalgia for appeal

Film captures 90s Disney, Halloween spirit perfectly



While heartwarming and family-friendly, a nostalgic affection for the film might be required to really enjoy “Halloweentown.”

KESTRA ENGSTROM, Managing editor

Duwayne Dunham’s “Halloweentown,” starring Debbie Reynolds, Kimberly J. Brown and Judith Hoag, first premiered on Disney Channel in October 1998.

The film has been a Halloween season staple in households across the country for nearly two decades now. Having never been part of my own family’s seasonal collection, I decided to watch it for the first time this year at 19 years old and see what I have been missing out on.

The film follows 13-year-old Marnie Piper, played by Brown, and her mother and grandmother, played by Hoag and Reynolds, respectively.

Marnie’s mother, Gwen, has always been overprotective of her and her siblings, especially when it comes to Halloween. On one particular Halloween night involving a visit from her grandma Aggie, Marnie discovers that her mother has been so protective because their family are actually witches, and Gwen was intent on keeping that secret from her children so that they could live a normal life.

Marnie and her younger siblings, Dylan and Sophie, embark on an adventure to their mother and grandmother’s hometown, Halloweentown, where the witches and ghouls of the world live blissful, suburban-esque lives. It’s full of magic, family bonding and, of course, a lot of spooky fun.

Although I fully understand the appeal of such a film and can appreciate it as a glorious 1990s Disney remnant, watching “Halloweentown” for the first time at my age was underwhelming, to say the least.

In order to truly enjoy the cheesy lines and silly costumes at my age, you really have to go into the film with a particular nostalgic affection for that era of Disney Channel.

The being said, the movie is truly the epitome of that era, in the best way possible. It perfectly captures the goofiness and whimsy of Disney Channel’s golden age.

It also encapsulates everything that was so awesome about Halloween when you were a kid, without being overly corny about it — the costumes, the tricks and the fun.

Although they might be lost on some of the references, “Halloweentown” would even be a great movie for today’s younger audiences. Besides being full of positive messages about family, heritage and community, the charm of classic Halloween gimmicks is absolutely timeless.

However, for a lowly college student like me who lacks that pre-existing affection for the Disney Channel classics and has no children to instill with love for the spooky season, “Halloweentown” just did not hit.

I will admit, just because it was not my cup of tea does not mean I am going to call it a flop — not even close. There is an intrinsic value in movies like “Halloweentown” that so timelessly captures the holiday spirit while serving as living time capsules for highly vivid and memorable time periods in modern history.

Even if it is a bit corny, the costumes are a bit silly and the plot is a little childish, the reason why “Halloweentown” has stood the test of time is abundantly clear. It is a heartwarming classic with plenty of charm.

(Plus, Debbie Reynolds is an absolute delight.)

If you are in search of a sweet, lighthearted watch to kick off this Halloween, “Halloweentown” may very well be the movie for you, so long as you go into it with an appreciation for it as a true product of its time.