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Unsold Pilot episode.
on March 26, 2012
The situation. This TV production aired as an episode of "The Wonderful World of Disney". The usual Sunday Night slot Disney aired for decades. This was a very "rudderless" period for the company and they tried a lot of experimental things. Most notable were remakes of successful films and sequels to them. Many were actually pilots for TV series based on the original films. These projects often involved new casts or, in the case of followups, different continuity. Beyond Witch Mountain aired the week after or possibly a few weeks after they aired the original classic Escape to Witch Mountain. It is really an unsold pilot for a series based more closely on the original and ignores the first sequel because it had mixed reactions from fans of the original. At the time it was very hip for critics to put down Disney for not being "relevant" or contemporary enough. It had been that way for over a decade. Even when Disney scored a hit at the box office, critics would criticize anything juvenile. Only re-releases of old "classic" Disney productions were tolerated. Films, usually the animated ones, made before the death of Walt Disney himself and before the creation of the Motion Picture Association of America and its ratings system. There was a major disconnect between the intellectuals who called themselves critics and what the public felt was safe for their kids to see. So, you had the X rated Midnight Cowboy winning "Best Picture" the same year that the G rated "The Love Bug" was number one at the box-office. Basically, Disney was clobbered by the newspapers over everything they made. In my own opinion I really cant think of a film from this period that I dont enjoy. This includes Return from Witch Mountain. At any rate Disney was finally starting to lose money and, apparently decided to cash in on the more successful films. The Wonderful World of Disney was often reinventing itself while its ratings were faltering badly. Sunday Nights were considered a "death zone" for ratings by all three networks. Disney started making TV pilots in an effort to claim more airtime, and on other nights. We saw remakes. sequels and pilots based on "The Apple Dumpling Gang" and a few others. All were inferior to the originals. One series that did sell, "Herbie The Love Bug" which reunited original Love Bug cast members Dean Jones and Michelle Lee in a sort of drawn out "remake" was cancelled after only a few episodes. After this Disney kept trying.
The movie. Well. This is hardly a movie. Its a 48 (without commercials) pilot for a series that did not sell. It tries to appeal to fans of the first who may not have liked the less whimsical and more science fiction heavy second film. Returning for this one is Jason O'Dea, once again played by Eddie Albert. Also back is Winky the winking black cat who shares a telepathic bond with the children. The original villains Aristotle Bolt and his henchman Duranian are also on hand and still trying to capture the children. This plot-line is a bit far fetched and it is difficult to imagine the writers coming up with a good excuse for the children to leave the safety of the alien colony "Witch Mountain" on a regular basis. In this episode the kids must find a lost cousin and bring him back to the colony. Other elements returning are Tony's use of a harmonica to control his telekinetic powers. The child actors dont resemble the original two in the slightest. Though, being a fan, I noticed that Tracy Gold, as Tia, has a voice that is very close to original Tia, Kim Richards. (If you close your eyes it can really throw you.) Likewise the other returning characters are cast very different than the originals. Its not bad, but its not great either and it is easy to see why this did not sell as a series. Other pilot films with similar plots such as alien colonists and psychic children had aired and failed to sell around the same time and this is lesser than most of those efforts. I suppose that the connection to the original classic film may have taken the edge off, at least in the minds of the producers and writers. I think that a full remake leading into the series might have been a better game. Its hard to jump from the movie, very obviously set in the mid 70s, to this one set in the early 80s. The fondly remembered camper has been replaced by a new model. The pilot begins with a recap of the events from the movie with footage lifted and intercut with the new cast suggesting that this is only a short time later and may even have been intended to negate the necessity of showing the original. But they did. A similar thing happened when HBO aired Psycho 4 back to back with the original. Psycho 4 has major continuity gaffs with all the previous films and airing it after any of them serves only to point them out. The same sort of thing is happening here, only not as bad. Obviously, you wont be forced to watch the other ones first so you can just enjoy this for what it is. A TV show. Incidentally Disney did a full remake of Escape to Witch Mountain for TV during their better days of the 1990s. I havent seen that version and I am hoping it will eventually be released. As for Beyond Witch Mountain... well there isn't much to it. at 48 minutes in length there isn't time to do much. The are captured, escape, and send the cousin to Witch Mountain. Then they return to Jason. The premise being that they would drive around the country looking for other lost aliens. Oh well. That didn't happen.
This disc. Yes. Its a DVD-R. This is really not a problem as this is not a major motion picture. If I had to bet I'd say that it probably looks far better here than it did on broadcast TV when it first aired. I did not even realize it was not a full length movie until I watched it. A lot of companies are duping these DVD-Rs as they wait to see what direction technology takes us. The business is headed in a lot of disparate directions at the moment and its hard to predict which tech will win out. Anyway, I have purchased a lot of these official releases. Thats right, OFFICIAL LICENSED FILM RELEASES. These are not bootlegs or illegal in any way. Mostly of major motion pictures but also some TV movies such as Disneys own Child of Glass (a TV feature made so well that it got theatrical play after its TV airing.) So far everything has been of standard DVD quality. I happen to own a DVD-R recorder and the quality it produces is perfect. Tell the naysayers to shove it or buy a better one.
Now that I really think about it. This would probably be a nice extra on the DVD for the original Escape To Witch Mountain, but thats all. Seems a bit silly, at 48min. to sell it even as a DVDR.