When Marnie Piper (Sara Paxton) takes admission to the Witch University of Halloweentown, she soon finds out that the wizards and witches are not allowed to use magic in the school.
Here we are folks – we finally made it to the end of our Halloweentown series marathon with David Jackson’s Return to Halloweentown. As far as the first two entries in the franchise go, I personally feel as if they are wonderful and delightfully fun for families all around the world. While the third entry wasn’t too good, it still had some moments of charm and wit along the way, even if it wasn’t quite able to recapture the magic of its predecessors.
But before going into the fourth and final installment in the series, Return to Halloweentown, I had my doubts, primarily because this film replaced series staple Kimberly J. Brown with Sara Paxton to play the role of the lead Marnie Piper. When I first found out about this, I thought that the only logical explanation was that Brown was unable to film or just didn’t want to do a fourth film. But when I looked it up, I actually found an interview with Brown where she states that she was not only available to film, but she didn’t even get a call to reprise her role.
Plus, I heard from many fans of the series that their least favorite entry was none other than this one, but I still held out hope that regardless of change, the film would be a fitting and satisfying end to such a beloved children’s series. Unfortunately, I held out hope for nothing. Return to Halloweentown is not only the worst film in the franchise, but it’s a complete and utter failure on all accounts.
Let’s address the elephant in the room – Sara Paxton as Marnie Piper. She just doesn’t work in this role. Maybe it’s because I just watched three movies where another actress, Kimberly J. Brown, portrayed the role of Marnie, but Paxton is simply unable to bring the same level of charm and wonder that Brown was able to bring to the table so effortlessly. Don’t get me wrong – Paxton is in no way bad in this film; she is just incapable of replacing Brown the way the filmmakers had intended.
It’s so strange to me that Return to Halloweentown brought back every single main actor in the series including Joey Zimmerman and Judith Hoag, but not Brown. Something that I truly didn’t expect, however, was Debbie Reynolds’ role in this film. It’s practically non-existent. In the first three movies, she served as a wonderfully wise character that everybody adored. In the role of Aggie Cromwell, Reynolds radiated a sense of warmth and comfort from her performance. She feels like the grandmother everybody in real life would want.
But for some reason, Return to Halloweentown almost pretends like her character no longer exists. Reynolds is in the film for one or two scenes and never shows up again. She must have been under some sort of a contract because I have no idea why she would return to this film when she didn’t have anything essential or important to do. It’s borderline insulting and disrespectful to the series.
Not only that, but the film has a storyline that is simply dreadful to have to sit through. Instead of telling a fun and exciting story of a witch family going to university, we get straddled with more lame relationship drama and way too many corny scenes to count. Return to Halloweentown is a prime example of when a series goes on too long, and the movies are no longer made for fun – they are made for money.
Return to Halloweentown is not only borderline disrespectful to its predecessors, but it’s also a dreadfully boring and far too campy conclusion to the franchise.
Overall Grade: F
MPAA Rating: TV-PG
Directed by: David Jackson
Distributed by: Disney Channel
Release Date: October 20, 2006
Running Time: 87 minutes