MSRP: $19.99
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
• All new Pop-Up Fun Facts
• Commentary w/ director & “the kids” (now grown)
• Making The Escape (featurette)
• Conversations with John Hough
• Disney Effects – Something Special (featurette)
• Disney Sci-Fi (sorta music video)
• 1975 Disney Studio Album
• “Pluto’s Dream House” (cartoon short)

The Pitch

“Gimme a Close Encounter… the Third Kind. Make it a double.  Side order of Extra Terrestrial. That’s right… E.T. But hold the UGLY. And just a dash, no more, of Phillip K. Dick… Not too much though. Just enough for the “sci-fi fugitive” flavoring. If it smells the least bit subversive, I’m sending it right back. I can’t substitute the cute animal sidekick? Alright, fine.”

“Tony, you can do stupid puppeteering.”
“It’s called ‘EVIL’, Tia.”

The Humans

Cast:  Eddie Albert, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasence, Kim Richards (Tia), Ike Eisenmann (Tony)
Director:  John Hough (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry; Legend of Hell House; Watcher in the Woods; Return to Witch Mountain)

“I don’t care if your Wonder Twin is going to transform into a bucket of water, kid. You find something else to wipe him up. This is my ShamWow®. MINE!

The Nutshell

Tony and Tia (T ‘N’ T!) are oddly adorable orphans with powers that would get them dissected in a post-X-Files world. Instead of heading to Professor Xavier’s School for the Gifted, they escape the evil clutches of a tycoon’s goons and an angry mob, and hynotize Eddie Albert with their irresistible heart-melting freckles. T ‘N’ T do what the title demands and make a beeline for “Witch Mountain”, which is not a Mouse House theme-park ride, surprisingly.

Disney echoes the classic Incredible Journey “homeward bound” plot with two amnesiac alien kids instead of the two dogs (“cat as the third companion” element stays). Throw in some villains to keep the plot moving, and you’ve got a template for family sci-fi that must have influenced Spielberg’s early career. It predates the psychically-driven quest to a mysterious mountain of Close Encounters and the playful levitation and climactic unlikely-vehicle-flying of E.T. by atleast a couple years.

“Can’t… move… Tony… Paralyzed… by PinkPlaid…”

The Lowdown

Like John Hough’s other “bait & switch” Disney flick, Watcher in the Woods (Supernatural? Fooled ya! Sci-Fi!), the Witch Mountain series inhabited the corners of my childhood memories. It was never a staple like Flight of the Navigator or E.T., but I’m sure it aided in my incremental advancement towards loving all things showcased in Time Life’s “Mysteries of the Unknown” book series. A contemporary of The Tomorrow People, Escape offered children characters that they could sympathize with instead of just idolize (like in most Sci-Fi aimed previously at the kid demographic).

It holds up well enough, with it’s straightforward chase-structure, kid-friendly tension, and “don’t judge a book by its cover” moral. Milland and Pleasance appear like swell guys with their toys and ice cream, and Albert’s crotchety Winnebago-jockey/widower’s gruff exterior is only skin deep. Amidst all the super powers and WTF moments, I have a harder time suspending my disbelief over the fact that these two unescorted castaways/runaways can roadtrip unmolested (but that may just be the paranoid Dad in me).

“Hey, this is regular vanilla… I wanted vanilla twist…”
BLAMMO! (watch me)

Speaking of
progeny, my father-of-a-kindergartener side appreciates having another
safe DVD in the arsenal to balance out the animated princesses. The
manchild in me appreciates the nostalgia (Uncle Jesse!).
The film geek in me appreciates the charm of obvious wire-FX and
traveling matte passing behind characters in RV windows. But what about
the general adult film-viewer in me? I prefer deeper drama, character
development, themes, and danger than Escape offers. It’s not Cat from Outer Space safe, but it’s still safe. And I’ve grown out of the demographic. Sorta.

The 2009 Race to Witch Mountain
is more my “matured” flavor (I’ve never seen any of the other
made-for-TV remakes) with its Rock and its whiz-bang… It’s true,
cribbing from Predator and the X-Files certainly helps. Carla Gugino is
the cherry on top.
The 1975 adaptation of Alexander Key’s novel isn’t as heavy on the conspiracy tropes like the post-X-Files Race, but takes advantage of the dormant genre-craze from the previous decades and repackages it in reliable Disney fashion. You could make the argument that Escape arrived too late to the table (The Black Hole anyone?) to have cashed in on the country’s collective Cold-War obsession with otherworldly visitors, but history shows that cinematic fads are/were cyclical for the most part. Just look at what Spielberg was able to do to revitalize the genre soon after. Escape almost looks prescient in hindsight.

Choose your own caption!

A]The Neverland Ranch funnel cake fights were always a little traumatic, even if they made MJ feel less awkward about his skin “condition”.
B] “I told you to keep those predictable child actors away from the Nose Candy!”
C] See Jason Staham return in Crank 3: 2 Kids, 1 Chev!

The Package

If you have the older version, the only new additions are the pop-up fun facts, less convoluted menus, and better cover art, but not really worth the upgrade. Since its sequel, Return to Witch Mountain, is rather inferior to the original, it should have been included as a bonus on a hypothetical disc 2, like this feature-free version. With that out of the way, the commentary is simultaneously dry/informative (director) and nostalgic (the two leads all grown up) and obviously edited together from two different recordings.

The behind the scenes featurettes aren’t real extensive, but for a 35 year old semi-cult-flick, I can’t imagine that Disney has a ton of materials in the vault. This particular edition (like the new companion Return from… DVD) came with a free ticket (that expired mere days after I received it) to see the re-imagined Rock-vehicle, Race to Witch Mountain. My family and I “Escaped” to the theater and enjoyed a fun Saturday matinee, you Disney palm-greasers. Thanks!

“Your brother doesn’t have an infatuation with William Shatner, cutlery, or teen promiscuity, does he? He does? Well, who can blame him, really?”

7.0 out of 10

*For fun (and another opinion), check out the older 2003 CHUD DVD review (sorry the pics are busted)!