US Release Date: 03-21-1975
Directed by: John Hough
- Eddie Albert, as
- Jason O'Day
- Ray Milland, as
- Aristotle Bolt
- Donald Pleasence, as
- Lucas Deranian
- Kim Richards, as
- Tia Malone
- Ike Eisenmann, as
- Tony Malone
- Walter Barnes, as
- Sheriff Purdy
- Reta Shaw, as
- Mrs. Grindley
- Denver Pyle, as
- Uncle Bene
- Alfred Ryder, as
- Lawrence Montaigne, as
- Terry Wilson, as
- Biff Jenkins
- George Chandler, as
- Dermott Downs, as
- Shepherd Sanders, as
- Sam Edwards, as
- Kyle Richards, as
- Young Tia
- Lance Kerwin as
- Boy in Green-Striped Shirt
Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards in Escape to Witch Mountain
Escape to Witch Mountain is a film I distinctly recall watching the trailer for when I was a kid and thinking how badly I wanted to see it. The line spoken by the sheriff, “Those two kids...are witches!” is permanently engraved in my mind. I smiled knowingly to myself when he spoke it during this viewing.
Escape to Witch Mountain tells the story of young orphaned twins Tia and Tony. They have extraordinary powers of telekinesis and some telepathy. They fail to hide their powers and soon find themselves in the clutches of an evil rich greedy white man named Aristotle Bolt, who plans to exploit their powers to further his financial gain.
Being children in a Walt Disney film, they easily out smart their guards and find themselves on the run. They soon meet Jason, a depressed middle aged widower who needs little convincing to help Tia and Tony. Tia carries a box called her, "star case," which they discover contains a map to a place called, “witch mountain." With the baddies in hot pursuit, Jason races the children to their destination.
The chase is exciting in a children’s movie kind of way. We never see the children as being in any real danger but we do want them to make it. Along the way, Tia begins to remember more and more about their past and eventually we learn their back story. We frustratingly see the same flash back scene many times over with slightly more details occasionally added. It all wraps up very well by the end. You likely already know their secret but I will not reveal it in case you do not.
Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards never became movie stars beyond the sequel but both were television staples during the 1970s. Between the two of them they appeared on such television shows as Police Woman, The Rockford Files, Little House on the Prairie, Different Strokes, Wonder Woman, Fantasy Island, Eight is Enough, SWAT and James at 16, whose star, Lance Kerwin, has a small role here as another resident of the orphanage.
Escape to Witch Mountain is however, not as dated as you may think. Sure, no one has a cell phone but the story is so basic that the only thing you will really note is the automobiles. The 2009 remake upped the special effects and action but it is really not a vast improvement. The biggest difference to me is that if I was a child on the lam, I would rather have the Rock watching out for me than Eddie Albert.
Ike Eisenmann, Eddie Albert, and Kim Richards in Escape to Witch Mountain.
I too distinctly remember that line spoken by the sheriff. I believe they showed it as part of the promo for this movie when it aired on television. At any rate I was obsessed with Tony and Tia and their mysterious past for a short period of time as a young boy. In addition to the line about them being witches, I also vividly recall Tia's repeated pleas to her older sibling, “Tony, we've got to get out of here, before it's too late, please.” Both Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann are quite good as the enigmatic and charismatic Malone children. (Eric, although I always thought they were as well, it turns out that they are not actually twins. It is explained that Tony is two years older than his sister).
The story unfolds in an intriguing manner that holds up well today. The special effects are cheesy at times but they aren't overused to the detriment of the story. The repeated flashbacks where Tia keeps remembering just a little bit more each time of some mysterious crash in their past keeps the audience guessing. This movie is best enjoyed if you don't already know their secret.
The fast pace of the story, with these extraordinary children outwitting and amazing their adult pursuers at every turn, is sure to entertain kids of today, while offering a healthy dose of nostalgia for adults old enough to remember seeing it as children themselves. It was a huge hit for Walt Disney Productions and it represents the peak of their live action family films of the 1970s. The 1978 sequel lacked this movie's sense of mystery and plays more like a Saturday morning special.
The adults in the movie are played by Hollywood veterans.
Reta Shaw plays Mrs. Grindley the owner of the orphanage where Tia and Tony live at the beginning of the movie. She was a familiar face to television audiences dating back to the early 1950s. This was her final screen role. Donald Pleasence as Lucas Deranian, the man who first discovers that these children have unusual powers, likewise had a career in television dating back to the Truman Administration. Denver Pyle shows up briefly as Tony and Tia's Uncle Bené. He too has a long list of television credits but is best known today for his role as another uncle, Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard.
Ray Milland plays the wealthy and powerful villain of the story with the cool name of Aristotle Bolt. Milland won an Oscar back in the 40s playing a drunk in Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend and had found a late career niche (sans toupee) playing rich bad guys beginning with 1970's Love Story as Ryan O'Neal's disapproving father. Eddie Albert plays the gruff but kindhearted widower Jason O'Day who helps the children reach Witch Mountain (In Alexander Key's original 1968 novel of the same name he was Father O'Day, a Roman Catholic priest). Albert is best remembered for his role as Oliver Douglas on television's Green Acres. Eric called him middle-aged but he was actually a robust man of 68 when he made this movie – Eddie Albert died in 2005 at the age of 99.
Escape to Witch Mountain is wholesome family fare featuring telepathic/telekinetic children with the ability to communicate with animals. These include a black cat, several Doberman Pinschers, a horse, and even a bear, all of whom help Tony and Tia on their quest to discover their true identities. For children what's not to love about this movie?
Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann in Escape to Witch Mountain.
Unlike my brothers I have no fond memories of this movie from my childhood. Without that extra nostalgia factor I was less entertained by it than either of them. It's not without its charms, but is so clearly aimed at young children that there's not much to hold an adult's attention.
The plot is absurdly simple and really lives up to the film's title as the final 2/3rds of the film, which comprise the "escape" is really just an extended chase scene. Because Tia and Tony are so powerful, there's a decided lack of tension in it all. Aristotle Bolt (which I agree is a pretty cool name) clearly didn't think things through when he captured the children. He knew about their powers, but didn't put much thought into how he was going to control them. Even his plans for using them are pretty vague. In the original novel, it is Deranian (played by Donald Pleasence here) who is the main villain and instead of being a capitalist bent on increasing his fortune, he's a communist agent who plans on using the children to aid Russia.
Another change from the novel is that here, presumably for budgetary reasons, the action is set in California, while the book is set on the East Coast. Given the connection with Massachusetts to witchcraft, that makes more sense. When the hippy looking Californians start screaming about witchcraft and Witch Mountain, it comes across as unintentionally funny instead of sinister. This isn't the only unintentionally funny scene. I laughed at how easily Deranian is able to convince the orphanage that he is the children's uncle. What proof could he possibly have since they have no knowledge of the children's origins? My guess is that some money changed hands.
Eric mentioned the cars and they do stand out because of their size, which is about twice the length of cars today. Watching these boats chase each other around is kind of amusing and makes the turns at high-speed fairly impressive. Although I had no sense of nostalgia for the movie specifically, the cars and the fashions did make me a little nostalgic in general.
Perhaps there is stuff here for young children to still enjoy, but I have a feeling it's more likely to be enjoyed by those who remember watching it when they were children than it will be by those who are children today.
Photos © Copyright Walt Disney Productions (1975)