In Disney’s fantasy world, witches are little more than a villainous lot preying upon virtuous princesses. It’s a familiar trope from Snow White onward. Of course, in the 1937 classic, the envious Evil Queen turns into a black-robed, beak-faced hag offering Snow White a poison apple conjured from a book of spells. Decades later, The Little Mermaid presented a Rubenesque take on the usually evil, gangly figure in Ursula the sea witch.
Disney later gave us the Sanderson Sisters, a children-eating trio in Hocus Pocus that may seem like harmless Halloween fun, especially every October. But it’s only with Halloweentown that witches finally catch a break.
The Disney Channel movie that premiered in 1998 isn’t perfect, but it does offer some welcomed departures. Marnie Piper, a rebellious young teen, spends another Halloween at home, thanks to her overbearing mother who detests the time of year. The mood lightens when Agatha Cromwell, played by the late Debbie Reynolds, visits her grandchildren unannounced.
She brings a bag of goodies from which Marnie pulls a pentagram necklace. Instead of recoiling in horror at the often-maligned five-pointed star, Marnie greets the discovery with excitement. When dressing up in a Halloween costume also found in the bag, the impressionable girl proclaims, “I’m a Wiccan!”
Sure, those scenes may seem hokey, but they serve as innocent antidotes for the bigotry and ignorance that continues to hamper Wicca and its practitioners.
Next, Grandma Cromwell tells stories of a place called “Halloweentown” populated by witches and the like. Marnie’s kid sister thinks witches are mean and scary. “They’re just like everyone else,” Grandma advises. “Some are kind; some are mean. That’s the way they use their magic.”
Well, if that ain’t the moral of the story!
Soon, Marnie learns of Grandma’s true intentions in wanting her to be trained before losing her witch powers passed down by the Cromwell lineage. Marnie sneaks on a bus to Halloweentown, where the family of witches must ultimately battle an evil warlock rather than do his bidding.
Wrapped in family fun, such subtle subversions are the real magic of Halloweentown!