For the last couple of years, I’ve posited that Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge is simply the best film in the whole series. I enjoy the combined elements of time travel, the introduction of Kalabar’s handsome but evil son Kal, and Marnie coming into her own as a teenage witch. However, I have enjoyed the first and second films equally this year. Kimberly J. Brown and Debbie Reynolds first appeared as Marnie and Grandma Aggie, respectively, in 1998. Depending on what you say about the DCOM or not-DCOM Northern Lights, Halloweentown was either the fourth or fifth Disney Channel Original Movie. It was the second-ever Halloween DCOM, and arguably the most beloved of all spooky Disney Channel Original Movies. I didn’t watch a lot of non-Disney magic stuff as a child, but I looked forward to the Halloweentown movies year after year. They were so exciting to watch back then, and they still are! These first two films were written by Paul Bernbaum and So Weird writers Jon Cooksey and Ali Marie Matheson. The first was directed by Duwayne Dunham, the second by Mary Lambert. Both musical scores were done by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh.
What I especially appreciate about the first film is its attention to Halloweentown as a place and a community. We see creatures doing some form of Jazzercise, getting their hair done, going to the sauna, hitching rides with Benny the skeleton cab driver, and milling about the town they call home. The city is in the hands of Mayor Kalabar, who has a thing for Marnie’s mom but is secretly plotting world domination. Marnie takes it all in with wonder as she completes her first witchly task: saving Halloweentown’s inhabitants from being drafted into Kalabar’s army against humanity. Before all this happens, we meet the Piper/Cromwell family. Dylan takes after his mother Gwen by expressing disdain for Halloween. “Why can’t you pick some other holiday to get hung up on, like Arbor Day?” he asks Marnie. Gwen is a witch who married a mortal (who is now deceased), so her three children are half-human. She works tirelessly to keep their lives as “normal” as possible.
Even before she learns she’s a witch, Marnie is frustrated with her mother’s overprotective nature. She’s 13, and she wants to have more freedom. Grandma Aggie inadvertently provides this freedom when Marnie, Dylan, and Sophie follow her onto the bus back to Halloweentown. With help from Luke the goblin, an enemy who becomes her ally, Marnie stops Kalabar from taking over the world. She must defeat his son Kal in the second movie.
Halloweentown II came out in 2001, which was a great year for Disney Channel Halloween overall. The Even Stevens episode “A Very Scary Story” and the Lizzie McGuire episode “Night of the Day of the Dead” premiered that year. In addition to other Halloween episodes and an entire paranormal theme in the show So Weird, the channel had three overtly spooky DCOMs outside of Halloweentown and Under Wraps: Can of Worms, Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire, and Phantom of the Megaplex. Halloweentown II was the first Halloween DCOM sequel. Where the first Halloweentown builds a world for us, the second focuses our attention on Halloweentown as an immortal realm with rules of its own. We don’t see much of the town’s daily life because Kal has placed a gray spell on residents that turns them all into dreary, monotonous beings. But we do see Marnie and Grandma Aggie struggle to beat the clock while searching for Aggie’s lost spellbook. While Aggie accessed the human world via a flying bus in the first film, the sequel introduces the iconic gray brick portal, which is set to close at midnight (until the next year’s Halloween). Until the end of this film, Halloweentown’s creatures may visit the mortal world freely on Halloween only.
The plot of the second film hinges on this limited access of the portal. Marnie, Luke, and Aggie spend most of the sequel at the home of Gort, Halloweentown’s version of Fred Sanford from Sanford and Son. Gort lives among junk. Every item that is lost in Halloweentown lands at his place, but things lost inside Gort’s home go “poof!” Marnie is horrified to realize that Kal charmed her so he could gain access to Aggie’s last remaining spellbook, which he’s using to permanently change humans into the creatures they are dressed as for Halloween. One of my favorite aspects of the time-bending and inside-outness throughout this movie is the “timeline” Gort keeps in his closet. Marnie and Luke use the timeline to escape Gort’s house, where Kal has them trapped. As any fan knows, TRAP-A is the spell that turns everything in Halloweentown from gray back to its colorful, lively form. In a matter of minutes, Kal changes humans at the school dance into creatures, Marnie laments the fact that it’s midnight and she’s too late to save the day, and Marnie comes to her senses to work around the rules once more. Joining her powers with the powers of her siblings and her grandmother, she opens the Halloweentown portal forever and releases Aggie’s spellbooks from Kal’s grasp. Sophie adorably frees Halloweentown’s citizens from their grayness with the “TRAP-A” spell. There’s a teaser that Kal will be back, which would still make a great addition to this franchise. But for now, he’s only back in real life, as the lovely Kimberly J. Brown’s fiancé (and you can see him reprise his role in this short film Kimberly wrote and directed).