Alphabet Cinema: “E” is for “Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)”

The first time I watched the 1995 version of this movie on the Disney Channel, I completely loved it. It’s a little kid’s dream, after all. Finding out you have telekinesis and telepathy, then discovering that your long-lost twin has them, too! Oh, but wait, then a rich old man wants to adopt you both in order to use your powers for his own nefarious purposes (like, gambling, people; keep it rated G).

He gives you a mansion and all sorts of toys and ice cream to keep you happy, but your twin gets bad vibes so you escape on a horse, with whom you can communicate mentally. So ensues a chase ‘cross the countryside, the man’s butler hot on your heels.

All the while, you strive to reach Witch Mountain. You don’t really know why, but just maybe, getting there will explain how you got these extraterrestrial powers and who knows? Perhaps finally, you’ll be home. 

Here’s a screenshot from the 1995 TV movie. Remember that kid? His name was Brink from another Disney movie of the same name, later in 1998. (Actors Erik von Detten and Elisabeth Moss pictured here.)

It wasn’t until high school that I was informed by a disgruntled friend that the original Escape to Witch Mountain was made in 1975 (also by Disney). Director John Hough told this tale with many of the same plot points as the remake entailed, though with obvious variations. Besides the differences in cinematography and musicality, the movie was also paced more slowly, with the primary focus on the “mystery” of the Malone twins’ origins. Its special effects, though rudimentary (at least, for that time period), received many long minutes of showcasing, regardless of whether the viewer could easily see the strings suspending objects or not.

You can see the green screen fuzz around the toy camper. I love it.

Oh, and there was no actual mountain in the movie. A hilly area, yes, but no peaks in sight. Weird, huh?

The two kids, Tia and Tony, felt more innocent than the 1995 versions, and yet, somehow creepier as well (and I don’t mean their dated outfits). Tia was struck by so many flashback moments — about the SAME event each time–where she’d stare blankly into the distance, I was surprised she could function normally.

Kim Richards as Tia Malone

What I did like about the twins was their solidarity. The 1995 reboots (renamed Anna and Danny) quarreled more and the story highlighted Danny’s faults as a plot point.

I decided to make this film my “E” for Alphabet Cinema for two reasons: 1) I wanted an “oldie” movie in my line-up (yes, yes, next time I’ll be braver and go back to the ’30s and ’40s, all right?); 2) Someone wanted to buy my son Race to Witch Mountain, the 2009 remake with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (The Scorpion King, Get Smart). Naturally, I’d have to watch all the versions of this movie, yea?

(Actually, no, because there’s also Return from Witch Mountain in 1978 with the same child stars playing Tia and Tony as they visit LA (of all places) and run into more unsavory, avaricious characters. Ah! Always a sequel with these things.)

Added bonus though, both of the actors who played the original Witch Mountain twins (Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann) make appearances in the 2009 movie! Nice. Now I’m curious. May I borrow someone’s copy, please?

Rating: CI can see why this 1975 family adventure would be popular enough to be remade so often. Like I said at the start, the story calls to many childhood fantasies, highlights independence, and serves as a warning against adult greed and fear of the unknown (a.k.a. aliens). Solid remake material. 

ASV Villainy Rating: Whereas the 1995 version directly shows other twins on Earth with the same powers and origins as the protagonists, the 1975 film merely alludes to it. However, given that they have a (dubious) system to bring the various pairs back home, one can assume an organization. Turn it around and make them intent on world domination instead of going back home, and we’ve got an invasion, everybody–just, not on the scale of War of the Worlds or anything.  E for Evil Genius.

Next up on Alphabet Cinema: Fantasia 2000

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