Return from Witch Mountain

Tony & Tia's really dumb adventure
John Hough
Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, Bette Davis Christopher Lee
The Setup: 
The psychic kids from Escape to Witch Mountain come back to L.A. for a vacation, but one of them gets kidnapped, placed under mind control, and made to do moderately bad things.

I saw Escape to Witch Mountain when it was in theaters [I was 7], and thought it was awesome. I distinctly remember arriving a bit late and walking into the theater as the colorful silhouettes of the running kids played behind the credits, and being completely transfixed. I recall reading the novelization of this sequel when it came out, but I don't think I ever saw the movie.

I re-watched Escape a few months ago, as part of my drive to re-see the live-action Disney movies of my youth, and was surprised to find that it's STILL FUCKIN' AWESOME [and those opening credits with the running silhouettes still give me a chill!]. I mean, of course it's super cheesy, but it has an air of good-natured mystery about it, and it generates a lot of sympathy in concentrating on these two confused kids, outcast by their peers, who are on a quest to find out who they are and where they belong. Sadly, the sequel does not fare so well. which I think I could tell from the novelization, even when I was 10.

It seems that Tony and Tia are returning from Witch Mountain [where their camp of fellow aliens is located] to vacation in L.A. and "see all the museums and concerts." No one notices their UFO as it flies over the city and lands in the center of the Rose Bowl. Then they meet a very New York cabbie who just happens to be in California, who runs out of gas and leaves the kids parked on the side of the road. I was amazed how calm and cheerful these young kids remain in the face of being abandoned on the side of a road in a strange city ON A STRANGE PLANET. Alien kids sure are easygoing.

Anyway, Tony runs off to help a guy he had a premonition about, and gets ensnared by the villainous duo of Victor [Christopher Lee] and Letha [Bette Davis]. I hope the subtlety of having a villain named Letha is not lost on you. Anyway, Victor has developed a mind-control device which he promptly affixes to Tony in order to use the boy's powers for evil. I was surprised at just how quickly Victor comes to accept the existence of mental powers such as few humans have ever seen, but maybe I'm just cynical and jaded. It can provide one of the few tepid enjoyments this film has to offer in watching Christopher Lee and Bette Davis give high-drama readings to exchanges such as "Letha-LOOK!" "I CAN'T look!" "You MUST!" but the script is so pedestrian it doesn't last long. Poor Bette is saddled with a character who is not exactly advancing the cause of women everywhere with her constant obsession with money and utter inability to figure out or put forth any kind of villainous plan. There is a bit of amusement delivered at the very end, however, as Bette does not appear to be even slightly flummoxed at being suspended 100 feet in the air on a tiny, rickety board. But I guess that's why she's Bette Davis and I'm not.

So Tony is abducted and Tia goes looking for him with the help of a youth gang. I suspect a far different outcome would result today if young Tia were to seek the assistance of an L.A. street gang, but these were obviously simpler times. They search for Tony, find him, lose him, seek him, etc. until it ends. I would speculate that a full third of the screenplay is made up of exclamations of "Tony!" and "Tia!"

Letha, who as I noted bitches incessantly about money, decides to steal Tony from Victor and take him to the local museum, which is having an exhibit on the old west which features 3 million dollars in gold bars sitting in a glass box in the center. Letha plans to have Tony transport the bars, via mental means, into the faux-woodgrain-sided STATION WAGON they have brought as their getaway car. It's reassuring to know that even supervillains understand the value of sensible family-style transportation.

I would be remiss in the extreme were I not to mention the contribution to this film made by Alfred the goat. A moment that is almost worth the rental of this thing occurs after Tony has rendered Victor and Letha's thug unconscious, and he lies propped up against Alfred's cage. Now is it just me, or is that goat EATING THE GUY'S HAIR?!?!? I think he IS.

It all builds inexorably toward a pulse-deadening showdown that pits Tony against Tia in what amounts to Scanners for tykes. Remarkably, the usually sharp Tia simply doesn't notice the lurking figure of Christopher Lee standing RIGHT NEXT to her brother. Anyway, soon order is restored, a van is repaired using stop-motion animation, we end with a strong pro-education message, and one viewer turns to the other and says: "Well, that was a fuckin' waste of time."

Should you watch it: 

No, watch the first one. And don't watch The Cat From Outer Space either, that sucked too.

ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN is more mysterious and moody in tone, had more of a story with much more emotional resonance, and will always hold a special place in my heart.