Escape to Witch Mountain is probably the archetype of the Disney live action picture in the 1970s, a featherweight but thoroughly entertaining confection of juvenile wish fulfillment. Ask people in my generation (and a little younger) what their favorite movie was as a little kid and they’re probably as likely as not say this one (My answer would be Le Mans, but I was a weird kid). Escape was a huge hit by the standards of this kind of movie and one of the few Disney movies to inspire a sequel until we were struck with the plague of animated straight-to-video sequels during the 1990s.
Escape tells the story of two orphaned siblings, Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia (Kim Richards), whose foster parents, the only family they knew, have died and are they being returned to the orphanage. It quickly becomes clear that these two kids are not exactly what you’d call average. They can move objects with their minds and Tia can communicate with her brother without speaking. This comes in handy when dealing with the resident bully (Dermott Downs) but gets them tagged as the orphanage’s resident oddballs. It also brings them to the attention of Lucas Deranian (Donald Pleasance), major domo to a man named Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland). Aside from having the kind of name that only exists in movie villains, Bolt is also a rich man obsessed with using the occult to expand his wealth. That’s not a summary of his character; that is his character. Bolt is a cardboard bad guy, on hand just to threaten our young heroes and be defeated by their apparently magical powers.
Deranian poses as the children’s uncle to lure them back to Bolt’s vast estate, where the millionaire attempts to bribe the children to use their power make him even richer. The problem in dealing with kids who have mystical powers is that they can usually tell when your up to no good. Tony and Tia escape from Bolt’s mansion and he goes after them with everything at his disposal (which seems to amount to Deranian, one henchman and about a dozen or so cops to cover the entire state of California). The children stow away in the Winnebago of Jason O’Day (Eddie Albert). True to this kind of movie, he’s a curmudgeon who doesn’t like kids but, of course, eventually warms to Tony and Tia.
Being aimed at kids, none of the situations that the orphans find themselves in are terribly threatening and their powers are a convenient deus ex machina to get them out of almost any scrape. As a youthful fantasy of empowerment, Escape from Witch Mountain is about as good as it gets. Eisenmann and Richards are appealing and likeable and manage to carry the film on their small shoulders. They have a great chemistry together and are completely believable as brother and sister.
If you have kids in the six to eight age group in your household, Escape from Witch Mountain is still a great movie for them. It remains popular as parents in my demographic are introducing it to their kids.
Fun Kim Richards Trivia #1: Runner up to Kim for the role of Tia was this young actress named Jodie Foster. Not too shabby to able to say you beat out the future Clarice Starling for a role.
Fun Kim Richards Trivia #2: Kim’s sister Kathy married into the Hilton family and gave birth to sisters Nicki and Paris, who have never and almost certainly will never appear in a Walt Disney movie.