It is the spookiest time of the year! Like many others every Halloween I love to watch scary movies, Now, I’ve enjoyed the horror genre for most of my life. Although I probably shouldn’t have been watching certain things as a kid, Disney was no better at delivering the scares. Films like Don’t Look Under The Bed or the original Under Wraps were very effective nightmare fuel. However, the perfect balance of horror and humor came with Halloweentown. In fact, I’d argue that the franchise is the golden standard for all Disney Channel original movies.
With the titular holiday here, I thought it would be fun to look back and rank the films from worst to best. Whether you’re someone who has never seen the series, or just want to revisit the films, hopefully this gets in you the holiday spirit.
(It goes without saying that this list is purely based on my own opinion)
Return to Halloweentown
Return to Halloweentown was the fourth and final film in the series, and it didn’t make for a very good sendoff. Its biggest criticism is often the fact that the series recast the main character, Marnie, who was portrayed by Kimberly J. Brown in the first three films. Here she’s played by Sara Paxton who just doesn’t feel like the same character. The reasoning behind Brown being recast has never really been made clear, but that’s not the only problem with the film. One of the things that was great about the first few films was the relationship between Marnie and her family. That’s mostly gone in this one because the late Debbie Reynolds barely shows up in this movie as Marnie’s grandmother. Her mother, played by Judith Hoag, has a greatly reduced role as well. Also, the first few films, while still kid friendly, had some genuinely creepy moments in them. Here, the film leans more into fantasy than horror. So it feels like it belongs to a totally different franchise altogether.
Halloweentown High makes for a better end to the series. However, it’a still not the strongest entry, partly because we don’t really go to Halloweentown. The main premise revolves around Marnie trying to improve the relationship between Halloweentown and the mortal world. As a result, she brings kids from there to her mortal high school. Instead of the cool sets and sights that we get in the first two movies, a vast majority of the film is set in a normal high school. Additionally, the fun looking creatures from Halloweentown are forced to look like normal humans throughout the film. While the film does explore the idea of Marnie’s family losing its magic, it mostly feels similar to so many other teen dramas Disney pumps out. Overall, it still has a decent amount of the charm and fun despite not being the best film of the franchise.
This was the one that started it all. The original Halloweentown, released in 1998, is a genuine classic for the season. Carried by the performances of Debbie Reynolds’ (as the sweet and mischievous Grandma Cromwell) and Kimberly J. Brown’s fun and relatable Marnie, this film is enjoyable for the simple fact that it’s Halloween film for the family. They (and I mean more than just Disney) rarely make films like this anymore. One of the reasons why this is easily one of the better entries is because it lives up to its name. We get to really explore the world of Halloweentown: the ghouls, the goblins, the good and the bad. And despite a PG rating, we get a scary and fun villain in the form of Kalabar.
Now, fans probably go back and forth over whether this one is their favorite or not. I feel the same; however, there’s something that I also think the sequel has that makes me want to rank it higher…
Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge
For me, when it comes to Halloween I have more fun the scarier something is. And in my opinion Halloweentown II is by far the scariest in the series. This film focuses on Kal, the son of the first film’s villain (Kalabar), who wants to seek revenge against Marnie and her family. This includes turning humans in the mortal world into real monsters. If that doesn’t sound scary, then the sequence in which he actually succeeds shoudl change your mind. It truly terrified me as a child.
I mean, look at this shot and tell me it’s not at least a little bit creepy even for an adult.
To me, Kalabar’s Revenge just has the best story, best villain and best scares of the entire series. If you only have time to watch one film this Halloween season, then I highly recommend you check this one out.
Now, I honestly wish the series had continued with its unique combination of comedy and horror, not just in the third and fourth films. Had it stayed consistent, I think it might still be a thriving franchise today.
What do you think of this ranking of the Halloweentown franchise? How would you rank the films? Let us know over on our Twitter account.
All episodes of Halloweentown are available to stream exclusively on Disney+ now!