Escape to Witch Mountain
By Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune (Illinois) April 1, 1975
The new Walt Disney film “Escape to Witch Mountain” is a solid adventure for the under 12 set. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but compared to other recent Disney live-action features, “Witch Mountain” is something special. Only rarely is it juvenile.
Two children, an orphaned brother and sister, both about 12, star in this tale of the supernatural. The kids, Tia and Tony, have angelic faces and eerie talents. Tia can talk to her brother telepathically without moving her lips.
Both can move objects without touching them. Caught in a fight, Tony orders a baseball glove to strike a bully in the face. In another scrap, he has his pet black cat scratch his opponent. Weird kids.
But nice. Tia is clairvoyant, and she uses her ability to predict the future to save a powerful man’s life.
Unfortunately, she picked the wrong man to save. Mr. Deranian (sounds like “deranged,” and played that way by Donald Pleasence) is the executive assistant to rich and powerful Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland). Bolt lives on the California coast in a San Simeon-style estate.
Not satisfied with merely “owning everything in sight but the sky,” Bolt wants to latch on to things extraterrestrial.
Learning about the kid’s powers from Deranian, Bolt arranges for Deranian to masquerade as their long-lost uncle.
Bolt takes the kids into his home, feeds them piles of ice cream, gives them a suite of bedrooms furnished with everything from a soda fountain to a puppet stage, waits not more than a couple of hours, and then hits the wee ones with his proposition: “You could tell where oil was, when natural disasters will occur. I’ll buy you anything you want; just don’t ever leave me.”
Which, of course, is exactly what the kids suddenly want to do.
A chase story
From then on, “Witch Mountain” is a chase story replete with the Disney outfit’s usual bag of special effects: flying cars, superintelligent animals.
One more thing. From time to time, Tia has these visions. She sees her brother and herself sinking off a wrecked boat in icy water. What do these visions mean? Who are these kids really? And where on earth did they get their powers?
“Witch Mountain” earned prolonged applause from the young matinee crowd I joined; little ones seemed to enjoy it best, and I wasn’t bored either.
“Escape to Witch Mountain” stars Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, Eddie Albert, Ray Milland, and Donald Pleasence
Just leave the kids at ‘Witch Mountain’
By Brian Nelson, The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois) March 27, 1975
That children will enjoy a Walt Disney movie usually goes without saying, The question generally is whether adults will enjoy staying at the theater with them, or would be better off shopping, washing the car, etc.
Because Disney Studios are pretty inconsistent when it comes to turning out “family” films. They know how to interest the kids, but the stories may te so simpleminded, the acting so bland, that some of the films are barely a cut above most Saturday morning television fare.
“Escape to Witch Mountain” is one of those films, a Disney formula flick that I watched all the way through only with the greatest reluctance. The kids, especially the younger ones, apparently liked it; I could barely keep my eyes open.
This is a halfhearted attempt by director John Hough and scripter Robert Malcolm Young to update the standard Disney “two runaway kids” (or dogs, or parakeets) plot, throwing in some supernatural powers to latch onto the current trends.
The fact that such able actors as Ray Milland, Eddie Albert and Donald Pleasence can be so utterly boring in this film attests to Hough’s lack of involvement with the film — or to his incompetence as a director.
The two young heroes of this effort are Tia and Tony, sister and brother who have lost their foster parents and now are seeking out their real origins. They know nothing of their past, aside from occasional hazy film clips that flash through Tia’s mind: what they do know for sure is that they have special powers.
Tia is the younger sibling, but blessed with greater powers — among them precognition, extra-sensory perception and telekinesis, the ability to move objects mentally. Tony has telekinesis, too, but his other powers are more limited, and he often has to focus them – through a mystic harmonica, – mysteriously played by some other-worldly spirit from the orchestra.
Anyway, nasty tycoon Aristotle Bolt (Milland) wants to get his hands on them so they ¢an predict the stock market for him: so he has his assistant, Deranian (Pleasence), claim to be their long-lost uncle. But the kids, knowing something is amiss, make their escape aided by a crotchety misanthrope (Albert) whom they immediately turn into a smiling grandfather-image.
The kids were obviously cast for cuteness, because they’re a cut below Disney’s usual child prodigies in acting ability — enough to set the stomach churning. Milland, Albert and Pleasence considerately agreed not to show them up, so their performances are as blah as the rest.
Even the special effects aren’t very good, in the main looking like cut-and-paste jobs. Included among the awe-inspiring wonders are a flying baseball bat, a flying crayon, a flying flour sack, a flying Winnebago camper, an upside-down flying helicopter and a flying saucer — some fun, eh, kids?
By the way, has anybody noticed what a male- chauvinistic world the Disney dimension is? I recall seeing two females — excluding extras — in the entire film: Tia, and the head of the home for orphaned children. Even the kids’ horse is a stallion. (But Tony notes that maybe Tia has greater powers than he “because you’re a girl.” Observant little devil. )
The Disney people sometimes pick up on an idea and really run with it — as in ”Island at the Top of the World.’ But this movie is obviously a schedule- filler, with no other purpose besides filling the March release slot.
I can only recommend ”Escape to Witch Mountain” for those children still young enough that they ”ooh’ and ”ah” at just about anything. If they’re old enough to take a critical mind with them into the theater, they may not enjoy it — and I don’t think most adults will, either.