Return to Halloweentown (2006)

This is the only film in the Halloweentown series not to feature Kimberly J. Brown as Marnie. Brown herself has claimed that not only was she available, but she wanted to finish out the series. Instead, series creator Sheri Singer would just state that Disney and Brown’s camp couldn’t come to terms and make a deal work. That said, Joey Zimmerman, Debbie Reynolds, Judith Hoag and Lucas Grabeel did all come back for the film. Sophie, who was played by Emily Roeske in the previous Halloweentown installments, is mentioned but does not appear. It was directed by David Jackson, who also made the Yasmine Bleeth-starring The Lake.

Marnie decides that instead of college that she’ll attend Witch University in Halloweentown on a full scholarship. But when she starts classes, she learns that all they do is study Shakespeare and the history of magic. She makes a new friend — Aneese the Genie — while reconnecting with Ethan and running afoul of the Sinister Sisters, the daughters of Silas Sinister.

The reason why magic is no longer taught? It’s all Marnie’s fault. Witch University was originally established exclusively for warlocks and witches to learn how to use magic. But Marnie destroyed the portal between the worlds, most of the magical children went to college in the mortal realm.

There’s also the matter of a locked box in the dungeon of the school that only Marnie can open, with a sinister group called the Dominion working to force her to break open its seal. Once open, it allows the Sinister Sisters to control Halloweentown. As you can imagine, everything works out — this is a Disney Channel movie, not the usual Filmirage gorefests we watch around here and even sets up future tales.

Due to the recasting, most fans of this series kind of wish this movie never existed.

Herbie Goes Bananas (1980)

You know, I kinda hate Jim Douglas. After Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, he just gives up on the Love Bug and gives him to his nephew Pete Stancheck, who has to head to Mexico with his buddy D.J. to get the car. On the way to get the car, they get their pockets picked up the loveable — well, that’s debatable — ruffian Paco who also steals from some Incan-ruin robbers, which is a bad idea. Somehow, Paco gets the map to the gold they’ve stashed and also sneaks on to a cruise ship along with our protagonists and Herbie for even more wacky hijinks in Rio de Janeiro, including the Brazil Grand Prêmio race before Captain Blythe (Harvey Korman), the boss of the ship, kicks everyone off and drops Herbie into the ocean where he drives along the ocean floor and survives*.

I mean, how powerful is Herbie? What is he? A demon? A hyperintelligent car? The soul of a child who died inhabiting an indestructible VW bug? Why do I have so many questions?

Look, John Vernon is in this and I give that guy a pass. People have to work. Yet somehow I have made it through four Herbie movies which are the very definition of diminishing returns. I mean, I love every movie in the Police Academy and Vice Academy series and obviously have little to no taste and this movie broke me. It left me crying in the corner.

*The real VW Bug used for this stunt did not. They just left it there. 25 more VW Bugs paid for this film with their lives. Blood for the Love Bug!

The Ugly Dachshund (1966)

Based on the novel by Gladys Bronwyn Stern, The Ugly Dachshund was finally the Disney live action film that pushed my dislike for Dean Jones and his characters to the breaking point. He’s quite literally an irrational man-child who explodes at the slightest misfortune, yet he’s somehow won the affections of Suzanne Pleshette, who is beyond wonderful in this movie. Seriously, as a kid I’d grown up with her as Dick Newhart’s wife — well, Dr. Robert Hartley — and always thought of her as the sarcastic yet supportive wife of a beloved TV character. Perhaps I was not yet ready for the radiant charms and smoky eyes of 1966 Ms. Pleshette. Forgive me for acting like a Tex Avery wolf, as I am trying to be polite.

In this film, she plays Fran and is married to Mark (Jones). She spends most of her time raising her prize-winning dachshund Danke, who has just gone into labor with multiple puppies. The veterinarian suggests that Mark adopt a Great Dane puppy whose mother has pushed him away. Mark gets the great idea to act like said puppy is a dachshund, as if his wife is a total moron. Luckily, Danke has enough milk to save the dog’s life, but hijinks ensure as the gigantic dog grows up around small puppies, including a scene of Japanese racism that was strong enough to earn this movie a warning before you watch it on Disney+.

But hey — there’s a dog show where the big dog acts like a little one and I guess that’s somewhat humorous. And maybe I teared up a bit when the big dog saves a baby dog that is stuck in a garbage truck. Man, I’m not inhuman, you know?

Man of the House (1995)

At some point, Jonathan Taylor Thomas was a thing. So was Chevy Chase. And I guess so was Farrah Fawcett. So imagine all of them in a movie where JTT wants his mom to never marry again and Chevy wants to be the man that breaks that cycle of her never finding the right stepfather for her son and you have Man of the House.

Becca loves this movie and asks to watch it frequently, which I figure has to do with the fact that we have a major age gap. Yet I watch it with her and enjoy how much she enjoys it.

The battles between would-be father and son continue as they both join the Minotauk Indian Guides led by Chet Bronski (George Wendt). And oh yeah — a mobster and his son that Chevy’s character sent to prison both want revenge.

Somehow, Disney made this movie without cleaing C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” and Enigma’s “Return to Innocence” for the soundtrack. I have no idea how that happens.

Director James Orr also made They Call Me Bruce, a movie that Becca woudl absolutely refuse to watch with me, as well as Mr. Destiny, a movie that she has also watch in the multiple dozens of times. Orr also dated Fawcett until he was convicted of misdemeanor battery after attacking her for allegedly refusing his marriage proposal.

The Scream Team (2002)

I watch a lot of Disney Channel movies late at night, so perhaps I can be forgiven when I mix them up. Or maybe it’s because this is the first of several films where some motherless or fatherless kids move to or visit a new town where a relative was involved in the supernatural and must deal with it themselves. Seeing as how there’s no Debbie Reynolds or Mr. Boogedy in this, I would assume that we’re watching The Scream Team, but you can also think that maybe this is Beetlejuice.

At least this has the talents of Eric Idle, Tommy Davidson and Kathy Najimy as the ghosts who help those in the afterlife cross over. They even have a waiting room just like the aforementioned Tim Burton classic.

This is also an early role for Kat Dennings, who plays Claire Carlyle, who is joined by her brother Ian in learning exactly why their grandfather can’t move on from this plane of existence.

This was a pilot for a series, but this episode is pretty much all you get. If you like this type of supernatural fun that’s safe for kids, trust me, there’s so much more on DIsney+.

Halloweentown High (2004)

Another Halloweentown, another jump two years into the future. Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) prepares for a new school year as she works to build the relationship between the world of magic and our normal dimension. To do so, she proposes bringing a group of Halloweentown students to her mortal high school. The big worry? There have been signs of the Knights of the Iron Dagger, a fanatical order that wants to destroy all things magic.

However, the Halloweentown High Council agrees to the plan after Marniebets all the Cromwell magic that her plan will work. If she can’t show why this was a good idea by Halloween, her entire family will lose their magical abilities. Luckily, she has the support of her grandmother Aggie (Debbie Reynolds).

It turns out that there are both humans and magical beings that don’t want our worlds to cohabitate. Things were better when they were status quo, which Marnie and her family are rallying against. These are big things to consider within the context of a Disney Channel movie, but here we are.

Mark A.Z. Dippé worked on the special effects for The Abyss and Terminator 2 before becoming a director. He’s made plenty of straight to vieo Garfield movies, but is best known for directing Spawn.

Disney live action fans will either be pleased — or dismayed as it’s a modern remix — to hear “Let’s Get Together” from The Parent Trap in this movie.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978 (2021)

The movie stars where the last one ended — with Deena and Josh Johnson restraining Deena’s possessed girlfriend Sam and traveling to meet C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), the lone survivor of the Camp Nightwing massacre. Her entire house is surrounded by clocks to keep her on schedule and potentially from going mental. She wants our heroes to leave until they convince her to tell the tale of what happened in 1978.

The camp was divided between the Shadyside and Sunnyvale kids, even then. Ziggy Berman of Shadyside (Sadie Sink, Stranger Things) has been accused of stealing by several of the Sunnyvale campers who tie her to a tree and nearly burn her. She’s saved by several camp counselors just as her sister Cindy (Emily Rudd) and her boyfriend Tommy Slater (McCabe Slye) are attacked by the camp’s nurse, who is the mother of Shadyside killer Ruby Lane. She claims that Tommy will die before the end of the night.

It’s at this point that everyone should just figure out a way to go home. Nothing hammers that home more than when they explore the nurse’s house and find a diary which explains how Sarah Fier made a deal with the devil by cutting her hand on Satan’s stone, as well as a series of empty graves and a wall that lists who will die that night.

Of course, all hell breaks loose, with Tommy becoming possessed and the girls, joined by their friend Alice (Ryan Simpkins), struggling to find a way to return Sarah’s hand to her grave before the curse claims them all. That’s the same worry that our heroes in the last film faced and things work out just about as well before back in the original timeline, the hand being placed in the grave triggers a flashback that sends Denna back to 1666 and into the body of Sarah Fier.

I remain impressed by the script by Zak Olkewicz and Leigh Janiak as well as Janiak’s direction. This one may not have moved me as much as the first installment, but it’s nice to have a slasher getting seen by a big audience. The final scene between the two sisters did impact me more than nearly any ending I’ve seen in some time, so there’s some major emotional heft to this story.

This was filmed at both Camp Rutledge — the location for Little Darlings — and Camp Daniel Morgan — where Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives was made.

Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977)

Take a look at that poster for this and ask yourself: Is Dean Jones giving Don Knotts a physical or mental stroke?

Dean is back from the first movie as Jim Douglas and Knotts is his mechanic Wheely Applegate and together with the car who can kinda be a person, Herbie the Love Bug, they’re racing in the Trans-France Race from Paris to Monte Carlo, a distance of 594 miles.

Somehow, this movie was such a big deal that Mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley proclaimed July 11, 1977 as “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo Day” and a parade on Hollywood Boulevard led to Mann’s Chinese Theater where the car’s tire prints were made in the cement.

The opponents in this race include Bruno Von Stickle (Eric Braeden, Victor himself), Claude Gilbert (Mike Kulcsar) and feminist Diane Darcy (Julie Sommars). Herbie pretty much has a car boner for her car Giselle, which leads to all manner of hijinks that include Herbie trying to lose the race to win that car over.

Can cars be people? You have to accept that if Herbie is going to work for you. How do these cars get human feelings? Have they become self-aware? Are they the possessed souls of dead race drivers trying to win one more race so they can get to the other world? Am I reading too much into a Disney formula comedy from 1977?

Not only do the humans and the cars get together, but there’s also a jewel theft subplot. I am certain that when I saw this at the drive-in as a five-year-old, I could care less about the humans holding hands and the cars holding doors and just wanted Herbie to drive through a lake and upside down through a tunnel. Things were simpler for movie-watching Sam back then.

The Haunted Mansion (2003)

Originally opening at Disneyland in 1969, The Haunted Mansion was one of the last Disney theme park attractions overseen by Walt Disney himself. Two years later, a similar one opened in Walt Disney World. Originally it was going to be a run-down building, but Walt rejected the notion of a worn building in his brand new theme park. A trip to Winchester Mystery House — filled with straits to nowhere and doors that opened into brick walls — put Disney and his team on the right path.

The dark ride is one that has its own fans who obsess — and rightly so — over the history and multiple versions of the attraction. After Disney’s death in December 1966, the opening of the ride on August 12, 1969 finally brought numbers up to the theme park that has his name on it.

When you talk into the main room and hear the voice of Paul Frees intone, “When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls, whenever candle lights flicker where the air is deathly still, that is the time when ghosts are present, practicing their terror with ghoulish delight…” you know that you’re in for a ride unlike anything else. I am notorious for not enjoying theme parks and I’ve gone through The Haunted Mansion multiple times.

Following Tower of Terror, Mission to Mars, The Country Bears and the Pirates of the Caribbean series, this would be the fifth Disney attraction to get a movie of its own. Written by David Berenbaum (ElfZoom) and directed by Rob Minkoff (the co-director of The Lion King), it opened to near-universal scorn.

The film stars Eddie Murphy as Jim Evers, who along with his wife Sara (Marsha Thomason) runs a real estate business. He barely has time for their kids Michael and Megan and even sells a house instead of meeting his wife for their anniversary. To make up for it, he suggests a vacation before the occupants of Louisiana’s Gracey Manor ask him and his wife to help sell their gigantic home.

The real reason they are summoned is that the lord of the manor, Master Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker) believes that Sara is the reincarnation of his long-dead wife Elizabeth. Yet for some reason, everyone else in the house — including Wallace Shawn as Ezra — is afraid of his butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp, who as always deserves better).

Eventually, Ramsley threatens the children and forces Sara into marrying Gracey before her husband returns to save them all and reveal the truth of what happened on the day of Gracey’s wedding.

As interesting and exciting as the original ride is, the movie is pretty lifeless. In an odd choice, it’s based on Phantom Manor, the version of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland Resort Paris, instead of the more familiar versions of the attraction. It’s also funny that Eddie Murphy had a routine about how he’d leave a haunted house immediately when he was a young and vital standup comic, but by 2003, he was willing to sleepwalk through this film.

But hey! Jennifer Tilly is Madame Leota and that has to count for something!

Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999)

While this was originally going to be a series, this is the first Disney Channel original movie to get a sequel. It has a great pedigree, as it was directed by Kenneth Johnson, who created The Bionic Woman and V*.

Stardate 2049: Zenon Kar is a 13-year-old girl who has been in so much trouble on a space station that her parents send her to Earth, where she has trouble fitting in with the kids that have no idea what pop culture is, all while discovering a conspiracy to upload a computer virus top the space station, crash it to Earth and collect the insurance money.

Hey — Stuart Pankin! Not only Bob Charles, the anchor of HBOs Not Necessarily the News and Earl Sinclair on Dinosaurs, Stuart shows up in all manner of movies, a dependable character actor that I love. He’s Commander Edward Plank, the boss of the big space station.

They made two more of these movies about the plucky space girl — and Disney+ has them — so if this is your jam, get on it.

*He also directed Short Circuit 2 and Steel, but we don’t talk of those movies.