Hi everyone, it’s Sabrina, and welcome to another Spooky October post! I’m feeling sentimental about it because today I’m doing a bit of a throwback and chatting to you about one of my favourite movies growing up – Halloweentown! I’ve got a few things to discuss, plus be sure to stick around for my book recommendations at the end of the post!
HALLOWEENTOWN: AN OVERVIEW
Released in 1998, Halloweentown is a Disney Channel Original movie about a seemingly normal family whose lives are changed one Halloween. The children’s grandmother comes for her yearly visit and the kids sneak out to follow her home, without realising they are travelling to an altogether different world.
As previously mentioned, this was one of my favourite movies as a kid. Living in Australia, there weren’t many people who celebrated Halloween so it was endlessly fascinating to me. My parents weren’t exactly as strict as the mum in the movie, but I knew they had a vague disdain for the holiday, so I could easily relate to the children characters. According to my Letterboxd account, the last time I watched this movie (aside from right before writing this post) was in 2017, so you can see it never really left my life.
As a movie for kids, I think it is a really good one and still find it enjoyable as an adult – I was worried there would be too many cheesy moments, but to my surprise they were very limited and didn’t take away too much from my experience rewatching the movie now. I loved the soundtrack (hearing the opening music instantly brought a smile to my face) and the set (it looks like a really cool theme park). Sure, the characters can be annoying and the magic system doesn’t always make complete sense, but it is a fun, entertaining movie that celebrates family and community.
The next three sections of this post will have a lot of spoilers, so if you’re bothered by that, please skip ahead to the last section: book recommendations!
CHARACTERS AND MOTIVATION
I’m not sure if it is strange or if it was inevitable, but my exact feelings toward the characters are where I notice the biggest difference when comparing my experience of the movie now as an adult to my experience watching it as a child. To be honest, these days I find all the characters in this movie aside from Sophie to be fairly annoying (especially Marnie), but I still love them and I think they make the movie really special. The trick is that the movie makes it so clear why each character makes the decisions they do and why they say the things they say. I can put up with a lot from a character if I can understand their motivations.
My favourite character as a kid was always Marnie – I guess that was to be expected, since she is framed as the main character and the one you are supposed to be rooting for. She has a fascination with magic and weird stuff which was something I could relate to and she’s also most obviously, out of the children, a witch. I’ve always loved witches – my name is Sabrina, after all – and I probably wanted to be Marnie so I could have magic abilities myself. I specifically remember that I desperately wanted to fly – and I made many (reasonably safe) attempts at it. Now, Marnie is my least favourite character and I see her as the most selfish – unlike Sophie and Aggie, her main motivation is not saving the town but simply gaining access to her powers. Sure, the town ranks in her priorities somewhere, but it was more her sense of entitlement (which, admittedly, I understand) and curiosity that drew her to follow her grandmother onto that bus – Aggie needing her help was just a convenient argument in her favour. Having said all that, it’s obvious that her mum’s stifling parenting style was a big contributor to Marnie’s rebellion and curious attitude, so the I can see why she values her independence and individuality so highly.
My least favourite used to be Dylan. I thought he was spiteful and arrogant because he genuinely thought he was better than everyone else – and yeah, that’s still possibly the case, but now I would rather interpret his reactions as being out of fear of the unknown and uncontrollable. It’s only once he decides to believe the adventure is a dream in which no harm can come to him that he starts to join in with the quest to save the town. Fear and worry is certainly something I can understand – especially when faced with something as unprecedented as a magical world under the threat of dark forces! So I can appreciate his character a bit more as an adult, though his snide comments are still irritating!
Another character I understand much better now is the mum, Gwen. She is framed as a bit of a bad guy in the beginning of the movie because she is a very strict parent who bans anything to do with magic from her household – even the fictional is outlawed – and won’t let her kids go trick-or-treating. There seems to be more emphasis in the movie on Gwen just wanting her and her kids to be “normal”, but she also says that she wants to protect them. I guess, in her mind, the two go hand in hand. And when you realise the danger the children are in later on in the movie, it’s easy to empathise with Gwen’s reasoning – she just wants her kids to be safe, who could fault her for that? Of course, her strict methods backfire when it comes to Marnie – keeping secrets and enforcing rules just makes her more curious – but it has the desired effect on Dylan, who is disdainful of anything fictional and illogical. I think this is an interesting thing to reflect on when it comes to regular, non-magical parenting.
Another unfortunate effect of Gwen’s parenting is the rift it causes between her and her own mother, Aggie. Aggie sees magic as her grandchildren’s birthright and that keeping them from it is cruel and unnatural – and there’s definitely merit in that point of view, and it is the one I am more inclined to agree with. It’s unfortunate that Gwen and Aggie never seem to get to the heart of the issue in their arguments, with Gwen’s insistence on “normal” being better and Aggie’s focus on tradition. They don’t talk about relative danger and how you have to, at some point, let your kids be individuals.
To totally shift gears here, I’m now going to mention Kalibar. His motivation is still a bit unclear to me after all these years – like okay, he thinks they’re all better than humans and they should go take over the mortal world again like they used to, but I’m not sure why exactly he needed to be a bad guy in a cloak to do that? He was already the mayor! I suppose he preemptively froze people that he thought would dissent, but in the end most of the town seemed happy when he was defeated anyway. Still, I remember the reveal that he was the villain was shocking as a child, mostly because I wasn’t expecting the bad guy to have a secret identity at all, never mind a handsome, popular and powerful one. The movie does have some interesting – though not perfect – commentary on the “evil people are ugly” trope, with the bad guys both being portrayed as handsome (and when Luke switches back to the side of good, he turns into a goblin again and still gets the promise of a date with Marnie, which I think was a nice touch), and Aggie makes that comment near the beginning that “you can’t tell what’s in a monster’s heart just by looking at them. I mean, sometimes, some of the slimiest, raunchiest, ugliest little monsters turn out to be the nicest.” Of course it’s a little trite, but let’s remember this is a kid’s movie, lol. However, they do turn around and make the residents of Halloweentown who’ve been tainted by the “bad thing” turn old and haggard, so that certainly doesn’t fit the message.
MY MINOR COMPLAINTS
More for fun than genuine criticism, here’s a list of things in the movie that I think were silly:
- Marnie complains that she will be seen as a freak for not going trick-or-treating, yet she takes pride in being really into weird stuff.
- One of Marnie’s friends inserts herself into the argument that is clearly between Marnie and her mum – I don’t know anyone who would be comfortable to do that!!
- “Chocolate bar” is used as an insult… I don’t get it.
- You can literally see the actor’s fillings when the villain does an overdramatic evil laugh, lol.
- Instead of plucking a single hair from the werewolf, for some reason Dylan shaves a full chunk of it off. So rude and unnecessary!
- There was one thing that made me made at Sophie: she let a pet dog off its lead! How will its owner find it again? 😦
- The final showdown at the end feels a bit lacklustre. It takes place in broad daylight!
- Aggie is kind of forced to come back to the human world in the end. She didn’t even get a chance to pack her stuff!
LITTLE THINGS I LOVE
And to balance out the last section, here’s a (admittedly shorter) list of little things I love from the movie:
- Aggie’s bag is so cool, it appears to have a will of its own and is bigger on the inside than it appears.
- The gifts Aggie brings back from Halloweentown are also so cool. Especially the candy!
- I appreciated that Gwen shows up in Halloweentown so quickly after she notices her children are missing.
- I love that the chicken is returned to life.
- Seeing the “monsters” do normal, everyday stuff was so fun and entertaining.
- The quest element to the plot is also something I love.
- I enjoy that the family united at the end and all decide to get along for not only a greater cause but a happier future together.
Finally, I couldn’t finish this post without sharing some book recommendations! I have four each for the movie in general and each of the children:
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson ✦ Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas ✦ The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska ✦ Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones
“Nobody around here really appreciates my taste in weird stuff.”
Circe by Madeline Miller ✦ Things We Say in the Dark by Kirsty Logan ✦ Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer ✦ In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt
“Personally, give me a good nature documentary any day.”
What On Earth? by Quentin Wheeler and Sara Pennak ✦ The Last Butterflies by Nick Haddad ✦ Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart ✦ Consider the Platypus by Maggie Ryan Sandford
“I wanna help you fight the bad thing!”
The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend ✦ Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger ✦ The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark ✦ The Merlin Conspiracy by Diana Wynne Jones
What do you think?
Have you seen Halloweentown? Are there any movies you’ve enjoyed since you were little? How do you feel about annoying characters – can you still appreciate them if you understand them? Would you let your (hypothetical or real) children go to Halloweentown and learn magic? Let me know!