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  Escape to Witch Mountain Sufferin' Psychics
Year: 1975
Director: John Hough
Stars: Eddie Albert, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasence, Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, Walter Barnes, Reta Shaw, Denver Pyle, Alfred Ryder, Lawrence Montaigne, Terry Wilson, George Chandler, Dermott Downs, Shepherd Sanders, Don Brodie, Paul Sorensen, Tiger Joe Marsh
Genre: Science Fiction, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Orphaned brother and sister Tia (Kim Richards) and Tony (Ike Eisenmann) have been left alone in the world yet again when their foster parents passed away, leaving them to move into a children's home. They fear for the future, especially as they have unexplained abilities that enable them to talk to one another with their minds, and lift objects in the same manner, though Tia has vague, hard to grasp onto memories of the time they lost their parents in a disaster at sea. That they cannot piece together their past leaves themselves as the only friends they have in the world, and the orphanage may be run by the kindly Mrs Grindley (Reta Shaw) but the resident bully, Truck (Dermott Downs), is making life more difficult than it needs to be...

The Disney live action movies of the nineteen-seventies were mostly comedy efforts, fairly often with an interest in presenting special effects from the expert team the studio employed, and also featuring animals since they reasoned family audiences were interested in watching creatures get up to various antics onscreen. Escape to Witch Mountain was something different, cashing in on the decade's interest in the paranormal where it seemed not a week went by without some story of a poltergeist, apeman, flying saucer encounter or even a serious investigation into psychic powers were in the news or subject of a documentary. Therefore those effects folks were put to work to convince us Tony and Tia had incredible talents in that particular vein.

In the main these took the form of using wires invisible to the camera (well, usually) to lift the performers and various props into the air, much as had been perfected by John P. Fulton on those vintage Invisible Man movies of old, and to that extent the simplicity was very pleasing. If some of the later effects with a flying Winnebago or upside down helicopter were less accomplished, by that point you would be willing to overlook such drawbacks since the notably sincere plotline had been conveyed with some accomplishment. This had its lighter moments, and the Disney cinematography of the era - overlit and in bright, flat colour, basically - made it much of a form with its contemporaries from the House of Mouse, but aside from that was comparatively earnest.

There were no comic relief characters, not even the animals (a cat, horse and bear) so much, which left us with the narrative of two lonely children confused as to their place in the world, and finding the adults little help in clearing up that conundrum. In that manner it appealed to those kids who may not be feeling the most self-direction in their lives, which is likely why it went on to be the hit it was, for there's something about those lost souls gaining magic powers that can demonstrate a tremendous wish-fulfilment fantasy for the disenfranchised, no matter how valid those troubles may be (not every kid who enjoyed this was an orphan, after all). But mostly it was tapping into that science fiction craze the seventies were so caught up in that manufactured the success.

Assisting were the adult players, led by Eddie Albert who played the grouchy but not really Jason O'Day, a widower who wants to be left alone in that camper van but is forced to act when Tony and Tia, yes, escape from the clutches of Ray Milland as the memorably named Aristotle Bolt, a millionaire who wishes to harness the power of the kids and those like them (we are told there may be others just as abandoned). Also making an impression was Bolt's right hand man Lucas Deranian, played by perennial sinister presence Donald Pleasence, here suggesting his character might have been a nicer guy given the chance, but it's Bolt who is paying his wages. As the title suggested, much of this took the structure of a series of chases and escapes, especially in the second half, which was fair enough but did come across as if Disney were not quite up to speed with what they could do with fantasy adventures for family audiences, though when they tried to be shortly after they flopped. Not bad at all, even today, and did Worzel Gummidge nick the puppets' harmonica theme? Music by Johnny Mandel.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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John Hough  (1941 - )

British director who began work as a director for 60s TV show The Avengers. Directed a wide variety of mostly genre movies over the last 30 years, the most notable being Hammer's Twins of Evil, The Legend of Hell House, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Brass Target, Incubus and Biggles. Also turned in Disney pictures Escape to Witch Mountain and The Watcher in the Woods, plus straight-to-video turkey Howling IV.

 
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