In 1998, the Disney Channel introduced original movie Halloweentown. It was about a girl, Marnie Piper, who discovers she's a witch. Her grandma (Debbie Reynolds) is a great witch, while her mom, who has chosen to live the mortal life, refuses to accept her being a witch. It's Marnie's 13th birthday, and if she isn't trained to be a witch, she will lose her powers forever. Can this newcomer witch learn the ropes quickly enough to save Halloweentown?
In 2001, the first sequel premiered, Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge. Marnie, now more experienced, has to stop her family's enemy from enslaving Halloweentown (recurring theme). Three years later, in the third movie, Halloweentown High, Marnie attempts to prove that humans and creatures can live peacefully together, so she invents a human-witch high school exchange program. Although most like the idea, others are determined to stop it.
Finally, last Friday, October 20, the fourth movie in the series came out: Return to Halloweentown.
In the fourth movie, Marnie gets a full-ride scholarship to Witch University. This sounds too good to be true to Marnie. Marnie's mother (Judith Hoag) is, as usual, completely against the idea. She reluctantly agrees to let Marnie go, but makes Marnie's non-magic brother, Dylan (Joey Zimmerman), tag along. At school, Marnie reconnects with Ethan Dalloway (Lucas Grabeel), whose father was the evil villain in the last movie.
On the first day, she makes enemies with the Sinister sisters: Sage (Katie Cockrell), Saphire (Kellie Cockrell), and Scarlett (Kristy Wu). Dylan is in love with all three of them after they cast a spell on him.
Some people Marnie trusts too much, as they are seeking to use her power to take over Halloweentown. With then help of Ethan, Aneesa the genie (Summer Bishil), and a professor who is a-look-a-like of her grandma, she has to stop these evil forces, learn about her family past, and save Halloweentown… again.
In the first three movies, Marnie Piper was played by Kimberly J. Brown. Kimberly is a great actress and she has many devoted fans online. Kimberly decided not to sign on to the fourth movie. Obviously, you cannot just write out the part of Marnie: she's the main character! She was recast with Sara Paxton.
Fans seemed to have mixed emotion about Sara. Some said Kimberly was non-replacable. Others disagreed, saying they were willing to give Sara a chance. I, personally, like Sara Paxton. I saw her in Sleepover, Aquamarine, and a recurring role on Summerland. But even I wasn't convinced she could pull it off. I have my sister screen TV and movies for me — she tells me if they are worth watching or not. She said Sara pulled it off, so I watched a re-broadcast for myself. I think Sara did just as well, if not better, than Kimberly.
I will admit it. I am obssessed with High School Musical. Really, really obssessed. So, the presence of Lucas Grabeel was the deciding factor in whether or not I wanted to watch this movie. In HSM, Lucas plays Ryan, a gay guy shadowed by tacky sister, Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale). I wanted to see if he could pull off playing a completely different character. I was actually shocked with Lucas playing Ethan. He was amazing. I kept waiting for Lucas to break out in song. I think a lot more highly of Lucas now.
At the beginning, I was confused by the movie. I hadn't rewatched the first three movies, so it was hard for me to follow: like I was watching the third X-men movie, even though I never saw the first two. I was able to catch on, but I had to piece things together at the end. I would suggest you watch the old movies again — they play them all the time on Disney as part of the Disney Channel's "Hauntoberfest." Or, if you're like me, you have your sister watch it with you and explain until you catch on.
Return to Halloweentown is very good in general. It meets the standards of the last movies and sets the bar high for a fifth one. I was impressed by the acting, especially Sara Paxton, Lucas Grabeel – who showed he can play different characters – and Joey Zimmerman, whose character really emerged in this movie. I would consider watching it again if I have time, and I'm looking forward to the fifth one!