Melissa Joan Hart is really good casting as Sabrina, the young witch who discovers that she has magical powers on her sixteenth birthday. Hart was always able to convey the girl next door charm and otherworldly beauty well, and she is able to transform Sabrina in to an admirable silver screen heroine. Much like the comics that spawned her, Joan Hart plays Sabrina a transfer student from Massachusetts who goes to live with her aunts at Riverdale. She’s fairly new to her school and dreams of becoming one of the senior elite. On the day of her sixteenth birthday, she discovers that she comes from a long line of witches and that her aunts are her witch mentors.
Her cat Salem is also a familiar, who is basically around to do their bidding. Sabrina begins using her magic to boost her popularity at school and begins to learn what happens when magic is used sloppily. Tibor Takacs does a good job of creating the world of Sabrina for a more realistic coming of age tale, building a charming dramedy that keeps us guessing where Sabrina is going to end up next. Its fun to see how much she’s able to master her powers, and what happens they don’t quite work out as planned. “Sabrina” works primarily as a teenage dramedy where Sabrina has to remember to stay true to herself, and watch out not to get too power crazy.
Especially with the threat of becoming an animal if she uses her spells to win over the affections of the school jock. Tibor Takacs is able to take a low budget and turn it in to a fairly charming adaptation of the Archie Comics series that’s familiar without being so faithful that audiences will have to turn to the comics for a reference point. I’m one of the few nineties kids that really disliked the “Sabrina” TV series (this movie is a pilot for the inevitable series) of the late nineties. I fondly recall tuning in to check it out based on Melissa Joan Hart’s name credibility alone, and was utterly bored by it.
It somehow lacked the heart and soul of the original TV movie that spawned it. It just felt so stale and grating. Which is not to say that the TV movie is anything resembling a masterpiece, mind you. For a ninety minute TV movie, there’s just so much filler to go around, including a pool party mishap, and a track meet that decides the direction of the finale. None it was really as interesting as watching Sabrina learn the ropes of her powers, and how vast her world was now that she knew where she came from. While the TV movie stumbles every now and then, it’s a fine and respectable adaptation for its heartfelt narrative and because Melissa Joan Hart is just so darn likable.