I’m not sure why, but Kimberly J. Brown is nowhere to be found in this final film of the “Halloweentown” series. I read an interview online from Kimberly J. Brown that explains she never got a call to come back to the movies, even though she was more than willing. I peg it to the fact that Sara Paxton was then blossoming to be tailored for Disney Channel stardom, thus they kicked out the very adorable and quite talented Brown in exchange for the more streamlined and younger Sara Paxton. The difference is immensely noticeable as the character seems completely different from the original Marnie. Paxton is a good actress, but she’s not as charming or soft spoken as Brown was, thus there’s an element missing from this final film. Also, Debbie Reynolds is nowhere to be found, another sad fact considering she was a key element to the formation of Marnie. She was her Obi-Wan. Without her, Marnie is just another heroine.
I’m also assuming Disney just wanted to reboot the whole shebang, which fails on every level. The heart of the series is Kimberly J. Brown and without her, this final installment is just hollow. “Return to Halloweentown” is very much not a Halloweentown movie in spite of the fact that it tries to convince the audience it’s apart of the series. It features nods to the character Sophie who is allegedly so far ahead of her training she’s traveling galaxies, while Marnie is still learning her craft (how does that work exactly?), she is never seen or heard but we hear she’s doing better than Marnie and yet the movies doesn’t focus on Sophie at all. Marnie is now a ditzy bubble head prone to using her magic in about as girliest a way as possible in spite of seeing her mature in a more matriarchal position in the former films, and Aggie is seen in only a few moments with Millicent Martin added to replace Mrs. Reynolds in her absence. And there is no mention made of any of the other characters from the previous movies including Marnie’s boyfriend Cody.
Instead, Marnie is now just a self-involved college girl heading to Witch University defying her mom who wants her to go to school in the mortal world. With Dylan tagging along, she experiences the same clichés of school life we saw in “Halloweentown High” except now we actually get to see much more monsters and the town, which was the point of this series in the first place. Lucas Grabeel who was being tailored for stardom in “High School Musical” is wholly forgettable as Ethan Dalloway, Marnie’s love interest who was stripped of his powers in the third film and returns to help Marnie in her quest to stop a brotherhood hoping to conquer Halloweentown through Marnie who is a prophesized queen. Since there was never any mention of a queen or king in the previous films, it’s quite convenient.
For what it’s worth, this attempted reboot seems to be attempting to appeal to a new audience with Paxton’s stardom, but otherwise it’s a bland and awfully convoluted little kids film with none of the innocence or originality of the first two films, and it lacks in any of the conflicts of the first movies mainly because it’s all been done before. Secret societies, a hidden villain, a school for magic, we’ve seen it all before, and they can never really do anything new here. But what with Paxton and Grabeel being the poster children for Disney at the year this was made, “Return to Halloweentown” is much more concerned with being a vehicle for the two stars than making any sense or acting as a proper finisher for the series. And for folks who enjoyed the series offerings, it’s a shame. This is really just a star vehicle and nothing more. It recycles old plot themes, meanders from the actual story, garners no entertainment or inspiration from its audience and is in the end a vapid and listless finisher to an otherwise amusing family series. But that’s okay, there is at least “Wizards of Waverly Place” to come along years later, an admitted guilty pleasure of mine. Don’t judge me, man.