Halloween movies: Halloweentown
Looking back at the series’ best residents, Halloweeniest moments, and more!
If you were a kid in the ’90s, there’s a good chance you watched a number of Disney Channel Original Movies — including, and especially, the Halloweentown series.
The films centered on the Cromwell family — primarily Aggie (Debbie Reynolds), her daughter Gwen (Judith Hoag), and her teenage granddaughter Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) — and their experiences in the magical world of Halloweentown.
All of the films included crazy creatures, evil forces facing the Cromwells, and above all, a fierce love of Halloween. Grab your broomsticks, and read on for the moments you might not remember, the best Halloweentown residents, the Halloweeniest moments that would make Grandma Aggie proud, and more! (Bonus: Sassy, sarcastic lines from Marnie’s brother, Dylan.)
Marnie is upset that her mother, Gwen, always prevents her and her young siblings — Dylan (Joey Zimmerman) and Sophie (Emily Roeske) — from trick-or-treating like every other kid in their non-descript suburb. Then Grandma Aggie appears and ushers in quirky Halloween cheer. The kids are intrigued and follow her back on a yellow bus that transports them to hallowed Halloweentown. But something is slightly off: residents are more aggressive and meaner. When Grandma and Gwen are frozen by the evil mayor Kalabar, the kids must rally to save Halloweentown and their family before midnight.
Thing you might not remember: Consider the prestige behind the camera. Michael Slovis’ name is an unknown to most, but Breaking Bad fans will lose all sense of decorum in realizing he shot this movie. The cinematographer helmed nearly all the filming for the seminal AMC series. There aren’t crazy shovel shots or artsy drug prep montages in this family film. There aren’t many shades of the future Game of Thrones director present in the introduction of the Cromwells. But with laborious mental engineering, you can maybe see Luke finding the right spell to conceal his troll appearance to look like Jesse Pinkman. It can’t be stated enough times: One of television’s preeminent visual aesthetes put in early work here.
Best Halloweentown resident: A drive-by panning of residents reveals plenty of winners: Luke the troll, pumpkin head, the werewolf hairdresser. But the secondary character Marnie and the kids kick it with the most is Benny, the skeletal cab driver. Benny has more bad jokes than your dad. While your dad’s jokes make you groan, Benny’s elicit groans and genuine laughs — even if they’re worse than bad dad jokes! His villain turn due to Kalabar’s magic destroys all sense of trust you found in this world.
Dylan, dishing on humble midwest cities:
Grandma: “A magical place, where many different sorts of creatures live together in peace.”
Dylan: “Like Cleveland? [pause] I hear they have a nice school district.”
This is Dylan’s breaking out party. There are plenty of gems, but this jab at one of middle America’s much maligned cities — particularly sports-wise — was easy enough but still effective. He could have been mute in the next three movies and still be considered a winner.
Halloweeniest moment that makes Grandma Aggie proud: “Spells are simple. You just have to want it, and you have to let yourself have it.” If Cleveland locked in Dylan, Grandma’s wise words echoed by Marnie are the guiding ethos of the whole series. Her maxim ultimately guides Marnie through her witching journey, helps the Cromwells crush Kalabar, and saves Halloweentown in the process.
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HALLOWEENTOWN II: KALABAR’S REVENGE (2001)
Aggie is now living with the Cromwells in the human world, finally bringing her Halloween joy to the household. A party at the house sees the appearance of the mysterious teen Kal, whom Marnie is super into (she says he’s “the bomb!”). To find out why Aggie’s charms don’t work, she and Marnie head to Halloweentown while Gwen stays back to chaperone and attend the school dance with Kal’s milquetoast dad, Alex. But something is slightly off (again): Unlike HT1, where people were overly aggressive, residents were drab, boring, and literally gray. The life was getting sucked out of the town. Time travel is involved in H-Town. People in the real world become the monsters they’re dressed as in costume. And once again, there’s a race against time, with Marnie and Aggie need to find the spell book before midnight.
Thing you might not remember: The way people saw the Internet. Halloweentown II needs to be sent to the Smithsonian; it’s a relic for how people reacted to the Y2K scare. It was released in October 2001, so it stands to reason the writers drew upon dotcom woes. The chat room client Marnie uses to write user GrrrlPowr makes the old school AIM interface look ahead of its time. When describing how to find a way out of time purgatory, Marnie plainly compares the way out to hackers finding the back door (which isn’t inherently wrong). Tangentially, she rides her broom through time and space, through a hi-tech-looking wormhole with random numbers flying by. The Worldwide Web, man. It is a series of tubes.
Best Halloweentown resident: We first meet the lovable packrat Gort as Aggie watches in her crystal ball. He’s a man who keeps around more household tchotchkes than your crazy aunt. Fortunately, if you lose something, you know where it is: Gort’s house. He is sadly afflicted by the boring streak running through the town, determined to keep his house in order. But by the convenient plot machination of magical time travel, Marnie and Luke are shot back 50 years to the film’s MVP in all his grouchy glory. The Gort house lull isn’t dissimilar from when Harry and Hermione loitered in the forest; however, the Notorious G.O.R.T. salvaged the drawn out scene.
Dylan, taking one for the team: “I was hoping for a little social interaction, but you’re the one that’s got the date,” he tells his mom. He’s initially set to attend the costume party dance, but has to watch Sophie since Gwen signs on to go with totally-not-a-frog Alex. She follows up by asking various girls he could have asked, all of whom declined for various reasons. It was pretty rude of Julia to react by blowing milk out of her nose upon his asking.
Halloweeniest moment that makes Grandma Aggie proud: The series rests on the dichotomization and struggle of the human world and Halloweentown. That’s why Kal wants to enforce chaos in making all the H-Town residents humanlike, and all the humans monster. When the portal closes, all seems lost for Aggie and Marnie. But then they manage to break all the rules and open the portal to permit shifting between the two realms whenever they want (as opposed to just on Halloween), making serious progress in uniting the two worlds.
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HALLOWEENTOWN HIGH (2004)
Halloweentown High centers on the consequences of Marnie opening the portal, and starts with her facing the Halloweentown council, asking them to let a group of Halloweentown students attend her school in the mortal world. She bets all the Cromwell magic that it will go off without a hitch, and must prove that to be true by midnight on Halloween or else she and her family will lose their abilities. Trouble arises when the Knights of the Iron Dagger and a few selective, sneaky members of Halloweentown try to prevent Marnie from succeeding.
Thing you might not remember: This was basically High School Musical before High School Musical. Olesya Rulin and Lucas Grabeel — who played pianist extraordinaire Kelsi and Sharpay’s singing-dancing twin brother Ryan, respectively, in director Kenny Ortega’s tale of an athlete and a mathlete who come together for their mutual love of music — are both in Halloweentown High as a pair of those aforementioned visiting students. Rulin appears as a bright pink troll, Natalie, and Grabeel a wizard, Ethan.
Best Halloweentown resident: Rulin’s Natalie is a fierce, independent female (Destiny’s Child, style). When Dylan discovers that she’s a bright pink troll, and not the cute, human girl she’s appeared as throughout most of the film, he freaks out, so she shuts it down. She tells him she likes the way she looks, and thinks she’s even more beautiful that way. Preach, girl! And she’s even forgiving, later remaining good friends with him.
Dylan, keeping it real: “Why does reuniting the worlds have to involve me sharing a bathroom with an ogre and a gremlin named Bobby?” Honestly, if I had a nickel…
Halloweeniest moment that makes Grandma Aggie proud: The Cromwell witches coming together to preserve their magic is definitely up there. Aggie is all about Halloweentown (we learn more about why that’s the case in the series’ fourth installment) so seeing her girls fight for their powers, especially her daughter Gwen who long rejected the magical world, is a huge victory. (I also imagine Aggie is pretty proud of her alligator purse. Even if it does cause trouble and eat her boss’ bird, it’s pretty darn cool.)
RETURN TO HALLOWEENTOWN (2006)
Return to Halloweentown follows Marnie (now played by Sara Paxton) and Dylan to college at Witch University. She’s stoked, because she’ll finally get to embrace her witchy ways. But once there, she discovers she’s not allowed to use magic on campus. Even worse, she makes enemies out of the three Sinister Sisters who are the daughters of Silas Sinister. In case their name didn’t tip you off, they’re up to no good. Silas is part of a villainous group called the Dominion and they want access to a magical heirloom that has the power to completely control another — but only a Cromwell can wield that power, so they go after Marnie.
Thing you might not remember: Jesse McCartney is INTEGRAL to the plot of this movie! Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s a scene where Marnie takes Ethan (yes, he’s back!) on a nighttime broomstick ride and it’s all set to Jesse McCartney’s “Right Where You Want Me.” First, who wouldn’t want to go on a romantic broomstick ride? That sounds like the ideal date for a witch, or even a human being, so it’s super fun to watch despite the cheesy effects. Second, McCartney’s hit track was so perfectly 2006 that it packs a punch of nostalgia.
Best Halloweentown resident: Aggie is noticeably missing from this film, only making a brief appearance. While no one can replace the great Reynolds, Millicent Martin fills the void as Persimmon Periwinkle, a professor at the university who helps Marnie uncover the mystery of her family history. She also turns out to be a super badass undercover agent in the anti-Dominion league, and has a super dope catchphrase, “Fiddlesticks.”
Dylan, being grateful he’s not a dog (literally): “Opposable thumbs… thank you.” After being turned into a dog by the Dominion, who were attempting to pressure Marnie into using the heirloom on their behalf, Dylan is pretty thankful to be returned to his normal state.
Halloweeniest moment that makes Grandma Aggie proud: Marnie heads back in time to uncover the mystery of Splendora Cromwell, her relative whose name was written on a locked box that held the heirloom. Splendora tells Marnie all about its powers and why it must not get into the wrong hands. As it turns out, Splendora (Agatha) Cromwell is Grandma Aggie, here appearing in her younger form (also played by Paxton). The two work together to keep the heirloom away from the Dominion, and they’re successful at that.