Star Wars, Marvel, Pirates of the Caribbean. All of these Disney franchises are well known and well-loved after decades in rotation, but there’s far more in the House of Mouse than appears on your Disney+ main menu. The year before Star Wars even released in theaters, Disney told offered up its own sci-fi story, one that sparked a franchise spanning four decades.
Escape to Witch Mountain has all the feel-good hallmarks of a 1970s Disney film. Cherubic child actors, dastardly villains, and questionable haircuts. What sets it apart is the genre. Behind the road-trip movie exterior, it’s actually a science fiction relic following two young aliens as they seek to reunite with the rest of their kind.
Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann play Tia and Tony Malone, orphans with supernatural powers and sketchy memories. After Tia uses her telepathic powers to save a man in town, millionaire Aristotle Bolt learns of the children and “adopts” them, claiming to be a long-lost uncle. The rest of the plot is simple: the Malones escape and find a grumpy old widower to help them find “Witch Mountain,” where they will reunite with their people.
Between the cheesy 1970s action and the family-friendly Disney heart, it’s no wonder a sequel, Return from Witch Mountain, was soon to follow. Everything about the first film is amplified in the second: there are gangs, mind control, plutonium, and a goat. But best of all, the villains are played by none other than legendary actors Bette Davis and Christopher Lee, chewing up all the scenery in every scene.
After Return from Witch Mountain, there were a couple of made-for-TV sequels that, sadly, are not available on Disney+, and the franchise fell out of collective memory for decades.
Until 2009, when a “remake” of Escape to Witch Mountain was released entitled Race to Witch Mountain. In reality, it’s less of a remake and more of a sequel. What do you do when you want to revive a franchise and take it to the next level? You bring in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, just at the brink of becoming known as an actor more than a wrestler.
Compared to now, he looks absolutely scrawny as he plays Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cab driver tasked with taking two superpowered teens to Witch Mountain while avoiding government agents looking to dissect and study them. Tagging along is Carla Gugino as Dr. Alex Friedman, an astrophysicist looking to prove the existence of life in space. It’s a forgotten gem of early 2000s adventure films, like Fast and the Furious mixed with E.T.
Each of these three movies takes the same core concept and expands on it in a way purely indicative of its time, first through simplicity, then through chaos, and finally in the steady formula of sci-fi adventure movies we’ve come to know and love.
It may not be Star Wars, but it’s definitely a triple feature worth substituting for yet another original trilogy rewatch.
Escape to Witch Mountain, Return from Witch Mountain, and Race to Witch Mountain are now streaming on Disney+.