The Tuesday Zone: Disney Movies, Halloween, and Latent Psychoanalysis

Portrait of a columnist dangerously close to overanalyzing movies in the vein of a liberal arts student.  Portrait of a man torn between a love of simple, enjoyable movies and a desire to write a post beyond claims of “I like this” and “I like that.”  This blogger knows that the difference between wasted space and high readership lies somewhere between fluff and insight.  He knows that page views lies somewhere in the Tuesday Zone.

Woah, you guys.  It’s practically Halloween.  I have a whole litany of horror films I can talk about, so which should I choose?!  I mean, there’s my favorite Halloween film, Trick ‘r Treat, and there’re dozens of slasher flicks.  Given that I can’t seem to shut up about gender roles in movies, horror is a pretty natural genre, isn’t it?  Oh, oh, I know!  I could do Rocky Horror Picture Show!  But that’s not really horror or Halloween-y, I guess….

Okay, okay, I got it.  I know what I’m gonna write about.  This here’s a blast from the past, if the past is 1998.  Guessed it yet?  Here’s another hint: it has the word “Halloween” in the title.

Dimension Films
Pfft. No.

That’s right, it’s the Disney Channel Original Movie, Halloweentown!  I know, I know.  You’re all thinking: “But Tuesday Zone guy, there’s already so much on that movie.  Besides, it’s too good for an amateur like you!”  And you know what?  You’re a jerk.  Why is it the imaginary people I quote in these articles are always jerks?

Shut up, Freud. No one asked you.

But lest that last paragraph sound facetious, I want to start out by saying that I think Halloweentown actually is a pretty good movie.  Sure, it’s not Pixar, but it doesn’t try to be.  I decided to revisit this Disney Channel classic because I loved it as a kid.  It has aged surprisingly well.  It’s not all sigh-worthy jokes and useless plot contrivances, like a lot of TV movies directed at children.  Sure, there’s a bit of that made-for-TV fluff, but overall Halloweentown has a fun and decent story to tell.

So, plot summary:  Marnie Piper is a thirteen year old with two younger siblings and a deceased father.  She loves Halloween stuff, like everyone totally should, but her mom forbids her to celebrate the holiday in any capacity.  When Halloween rolls around, Marnie gets pissed at her mom for being a vampire that sucks the fun out of life.  But just as we wonder what else is on TV, grandma (Debbie Reynolds!) arrives.  She’s awesome and all into Halloween, and Marnie discovers that she, her mother, and grandmother are all witches.  Her mother left the world of Halloweentown (where all the creatures of our favorite holiday coexist) to raise a “normal” family.  So Marnie and her siblings sneak out to track the grandmother.  They find themselves in Halloweentown, where things don’t seem to be so good, as folks are getting really cranky and then disappearing.  Ultimately, Marnie and her siblings must save the day as their mother and grandmother are incapacitated by an evil scarecrow-esque dude that threatens to destroy human beings.

Singer White Entertainment & Ventura Valley Films
And no one is surprised by his incompetency and failure.

What’s so impressive about Halloweentown is how many different balls it juggles.  First, we have the mother-daughter relationship with Marnie and her mother Gwen.  We don’t get to see many films centered around this (Brave being a recent and notable exception), so it’s nice to have a film about female relationships when many movies struggle to create two women that talk at all.  Neither Gwen nor Aggie have a living husband, and this increases the tensions between Marnie/Gwen and Gwen/Aggie.

The general conflict is that Gwen wants to live a normal life on Earth, whereas Marnie is fascinated by Halloweentown and being a witch.  This isn’t anything mind-blowing, but it still allows for interesting dialogue and conflict between child and parent; a daughter learns about new and exciting abilities as she reaches the proper age, but her mother doesn’t want her exposed to that exciting but potentially dangerous lifestyle.

Sigmund Freud 1926.jpg
Sigmund Freud 1926” by Ferdinand Schmutzer – historic print. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

NO.  Stop it.  Halloweentown is NOT about the repression of sexuality in pubescent women by their….oh god, what have I done?

This relationship is mirrored and illuminated by Gwen’s relationship with her own mother, Aggie.  Aggie still lives in Halloweentown and wants Gwen to return so that Marnie can be trained as a witch.  Marnie hates her mother for being so stiff, but she fails to see that their main point of contention is the same one between Gwen and her mother Aggie.  Gwen wanted to leave her home world for a different place when she was Marnie’s age, and that’s exactly what Marnie wants.  But Marnie fails to empathize with her mother, which causes their tension.  They need to explore each other’s world a bit more—both literally in terms of Marnie going to Halloweentown, but also emotionally, as they see the worth in each other’s perspective.

Halloweentown also says a bit about emigration.  Aggie, the grandmother, represents the old country through-and-through.  She comes to Gwen and the kids as a representative of Halloween, and of Halloweentown by extension.  Gwen, on the other hand, is the perfect assimilator.  She wishes to abandon the ways of her homeland entirely.  Marnie is somewhere in the balance, as she certainly likes some things about Earth, but is also enamored by the idea of a place that is pure Halloween.  There’s a bit of xenophilia (i.e. love for an unfamiliar place/people) as she falls in love with Halloweentown before she even knows it really exists, and the movie also plays with her inability to critique her new surroundings.  But ultimately, there is a lot said about how people try to adapt new cultures, and what might be lost in the abandonment of those cultures.

Singer White Entertainment & Ventura Valley Films
Some things are more expendable than others.

A sense of balance is where the movie ultimately lands.  We see cultural and ideological clashes: Halloweentown formed because humans shunned the creatures long ago; the mother wants to assimilate while Marnie is more pluralistic; the main villain wants to forcibly put Halloweentown denizens back on Earth.  The narrative climax and emotional resolution is when the family joins hands against the villain, ultimately reconciling these differences so that they can compromise.

So yeah, Halloweentown actually does a decent juggling act, thematically.  None of this is essential to enjoying the movie.  The purpose is to entertain kids, and it wasn’t made for critics or film festivals.  Still, I can’t help but be impressed by the fairly dynamic characters and interesting undertones, which bolster the solid writing and pacing.  This movie is fun and at least a little funny, and if you feel like taking a trip down nostalgia lane, Halloweentown actually isn’t a bad stop for your Octoberween shenanigans.

Tune in next week for a look at a brand new film.   Hint: it stars a woman who was in one of the best movies about World War I I’ve ever seen.  Also, if anyone would like to suggest a film for a bit of Tuesday Zone analysis and consideration, send in an email: me@alexgladwin.com

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