Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)

G | 97 mins | Children's works, Science fiction | 1975

Director:

John Hough

Producer:

Jerome Courtland

Cinematographer:

Frank Phillips

Editor:

Robert Stafford

Production Designers:

John Mansbridge, Al Roelofs

Production Company:

Walt Disney Productions
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HISTORY

The film follows the spirit of Alexander Key’s 1968 novel, although there are several major differences. Among these is the setting. The book presented the story in the eastern U.S. and culminated in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The film sets the action in the mid-coastal region of California. “Jason O’Day,” the character portrayed by Eddie Albert, was conceived by Key as a priest, “Father O’Day.” In the book, the alien children, “Tia” (Kim Richards) and “Tony” (Ike Eisenmann), were older, had pale hair and olive skin and Tia is unable to speak. In the novel, the chidren's spaceship was shot out of the sky. Deranian, rather than Bolt, was the main antagonist in the book.
       Escape to Witch Mountain was filmed near Monterey, according to 25 Mar 1974 Box and 2 Mar 1975 LAHExam news items. The film’s production notes and studio publicity materials stated that a Byzantine castle-styled mansion built between 1920 and 1932 at Pebble Beach, CA was used for the fictional Xanthus, the home of “Aristotle Bolt” (Ray Milland). At the time of filming, the mansion was owned by composer-conductor George Stoll and his wife. A Victorian-era mansion built in the 1880s in Menlo Park, CA served as the Pine Woods orphanage. The production notes also stated that portions of the film were shot at Carmel Valley, Big Sur and Felton, CA. According to information in a letter to the LAT that was published on 10 Aug 1980, the automobile chase scenes were shot along the California coastline between Monterey and Palo Alto.
       Visual effects were used throughout the film to depict, for instance, a Winnebago camper ... More Less

The film follows the spirit of Alexander Key’s 1968 novel, although there are several major differences. Among these is the setting. The book presented the story in the eastern U.S. and culminated in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The film sets the action in the mid-coastal region of California. “Jason O’Day,” the character portrayed by Eddie Albert, was conceived by Key as a priest, “Father O’Day.” In the book, the alien children, “Tia” (Kim Richards) and “Tony” (Ike Eisenmann), were older, had pale hair and olive skin and Tia is unable to speak. In the novel, the chidren's spaceship was shot out of the sky. Deranian, rather than Bolt, was the main antagonist in the book.
       Escape to Witch Mountain was filmed near Monterey, according to 25 Mar 1974 Box and 2 Mar 1975 LAHExam news items. The film’s production notes and studio publicity materials stated that a Byzantine castle-styled mansion built between 1920 and 1932 at Pebble Beach, CA was used for the fictional Xanthus, the home of “Aristotle Bolt” (Ray Milland). At the time of filming, the mansion was owned by composer-conductor George Stoll and his wife. A Victorian-era mansion built in the 1880s in Menlo Park, CA served as the Pine Woods orphanage. The production notes also stated that portions of the film were shot at Carmel Valley, Big Sur and Felton, CA. According to information in a letter to the LAT that was published on 10 Aug 1980, the automobile chase scenes were shot along the California coastline between Monterey and Palo Alto.
       Visual effects were used throughout the film to depict, for instance, a Winnebago camper traveling in the air, and a helicopter flying and landing upside down. Among other sequences created with special effects was a scene in which Tony levitates above the trees in order to catch a baseball hit by “Truck” (Dermott Downs). There is a lengthy sequence in which Tony causes marionettes to dance to his harmonica music and another in which a coat, coat rack and broom move about the room to frighten and distract "Sheriff Purdy" (Walter Barnes). Because the film was made prior to the advent of computers, as noted by director John Hough in the added content for the DVD release of the film, the levitation effects were accomplished through the use of piano wire. Hough also stated in his commentary that actress Jodie Foster was a contender for the role of Tia, before she was cast in a different production.
       According to a 15 Mar 1978 Var review of the film's sequel, Return to Witch Mountain (1978, see entry), Escape to Witch Mountain took in over $9 million in film rentals.
       In addition to the 1978 sequel, the film inspired several remakes. Eddie Albert reprised the role of Jason O’Day in an unsold 1980 television pilot, Beyond Witch Mountain . Tracey Gold and Andy Freeman played Tia and Tony in that production. Another television production, also titled Escape to Witch Mountain and made in 1995, was directed by Peter Rader and starred Robert Vaughn as Bolt, and Erik von Detten and Elisabeth Moss as the children. Richards and Eisenmann appeared in cameo roles in the 2009 Disney production, Race to Witch Mountain , which was directed by Andy Fickman and starred Dwayne Johnson, Ciaran Hinds, AnnaSophia Robbs and Alexander Ludwig. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
25 Mar 1974.
---
Box Office
24 Mar 1975
p. 4766.
Box Office
2 Jun 1975
p. 10.
Daily Variety
11 Apr 1974.
---
Daily Variety
15 May 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 May 1974
p. 22.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Jun 1974
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Mar 1975
p. 26.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
2 Mar 1975.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
21 Mar 1975.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
22 Jul 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Mar 1975
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
10 Aug 1980.
---
New York Times
3 Jul 1975
p. 21.
Variety
19 Mar 1975
p. 29.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Key grip
Gaffer
Best boy
Stillman
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
Matte artist
Illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop man
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
SOUND
Sd supv
Sd mixer
Mikeman
Utility man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Prod mgr
Loc mgr
Scr supv
Animal handler
Transportation capt
Craft services
First aid man
Unit pub
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key (Philadelphia, 1968).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
1975
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 21 March 1975
New York opening: 2 July 1975
Production Date:
18 April--late June 1974
Copyright Claimant:
Walt Disney Productions
Copyright Date:
19 March 1975
Copyright Number:
LP44241
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Photophone Sound Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
97
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24124
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Orphan siblings Tia and Tony, aged ten and twelve, respectively, are sent by the Child Welfare Department to Pine Woods children’s home after the death of the Malones, their foster parents of seven years. The children can remember little about their biological family, but if Tia’s intermittent flashes of suppressed memories are correct, their parents may have died in an accident at sea. In her memory flashes, Tia recalls that a white-haired man rescued the siblings, but subsequently drowned. Although their past is a mystery, the children are aware that they possess unusual powers other people lack. For instance, Tia can send messages to Tony telepathically and communicate with animals. Both children occasionally foresee future events and other people's pasts. Although both can levitate objects, Tony moves items with great precision from afar, using only the sound of his harmonica to control them. In order to remain inconspicuous, the siblings conceal these abilities from others. Soon after moving to Pine Woods, Tia and Tony begin to hear dogs barking twenty miles away and conclude that the sound is a premonition of their future. One day, Truck, a bullying orphan, snatches Tia’s “star case,” a metallic purse embossed with twin stars, that she owned before living with the Malones. When Winkie, a black cat, jumps on Truck, he drops the case, allowing Tia to retrieve it, and later she discovers that the case, now broken, reveals a hidden map of an area called Stony Creek located in Misty Valley. The siblings hope the location is a clue to their past. During an outing in town, Tia, with Tony’s help, saves the life of a stranger, Lucas Deranian, by warning him ... +


Orphan siblings Tia and Tony, aged ten and twelve, respectively, are sent by the Child Welfare Department to Pine Woods children’s home after the death of the Malones, their foster parents of seven years. The children can remember little about their biological family, but if Tia’s intermittent flashes of suppressed memories are correct, their parents may have died in an accident at sea. In her memory flashes, Tia recalls that a white-haired man rescued the siblings, but subsequently drowned. Although their past is a mystery, the children are aware that they possess unusual powers other people lack. For instance, Tia can send messages to Tony telepathically and communicate with animals. Both children occasionally foresee future events and other people's pasts. Although both can levitate objects, Tony moves items with great precision from afar, using only the sound of his harmonica to control them. In order to remain inconspicuous, the siblings conceal these abilities from others. Soon after moving to Pine Woods, Tia and Tony begin to hear dogs barking twenty miles away and conclude that the sound is a premonition of their future. One day, Truck, a bullying orphan, snatches Tia’s “star case,” a metallic purse embossed with twin stars, that she owned before living with the Malones. When Winkie, a black cat, jumps on Truck, he drops the case, allowing Tia to retrieve it, and later she discovers that the case, now broken, reveals a hidden map of an area called Stony Creek located in Misty Valley. The siblings hope the location is a clue to their past. During an outing in town, Tia, with Tony’s help, saves the life of a stranger, Lucas Deranian, by warning him not to enter a limousine that, minutes later, is struck by a truck. Deranian talks about his experience to his rich and powerful employer, Aristotle Bolt, who is using clairvoyants to help him find ways to make more money. Bolt uses his connections to have documents forged and records altered in order to make Deranian appear to be the children's uncle. After gaining legal custody, Deranian moves the children to Xanthus, Bolt's isolated, seaside mansion guarded by ferocious dogs. The children are allowed to bring Winkie the cat, who causes Lorko, the allergy-prone guard, to sneeze. Bolt spares no expense to make the children comfortable and provide them with rooms fitted with toys, games and every kind of child’s delight, but they sense that Bolt’s friendliness is a façade and they are prisoners. During a riding lesson, Tia befriends Thunderhead, an unbroken stallion on the estate. On a rainy day, Tony entertains Tia by playing his harmonica to make marionettes dance, unaware that they are watched by Bolt and Deranian on closed circuit television. One night at dinner, Bolt confronts the children about their powers, explaining that he wants to use them to find gold and predict revolutions. After Tia and Tony overhear Bolt’s plans to move them to an inescapable location, they are determined to get away. During the night, Tia uses her mind power to unlock their door and with Winkie, the children slip out of the mansion. Their movements trigger alarms that alert the estate guards to unleash the dogs. Using her telepathic ability, Tia enlists the help of the dogs, who turn around and chase the guards away from them. Winky distracts Lorko, while Tony uses the sound of his harmonica to open the gate. Riding Thunderhead, who comes to their aid, Tia, Tony and Winkie escape from the estate. In the nearby town, they hide in a camper, belonging to cranky, middle-aged widower, Jason O’Day, who does not discover the children until he has driven to the oceanside, where he is alerted by the mewing and antics of Winkie. Although Jason greets the cat affectionately, he is at first gruff with the children. After they explain why they are running and how they hope to find connections to their past at Stony Creek, Jason agrees to take them there. Meanwhile, Deranian recalls seeing Jason’s camper and asks the police to look for him. A motorcycle policeman first spots the camper, but when he pulls them over, Tony causes his cycle to drive over a cliff into the ocean, leaving the lawman stranded as Jason drives away. In the evening Jason and the children camp in the woods. Deranian and his armed chauffeur, Ubermann, attempt to sneak up to them during the night, but Winkie jumps on them and knocks the gun away. From inside the camper, Tia levitates the gun and holds them at gunpoint, as Jason drives the camper to safety. To divert the pursuers away from the children, Jason drops the children off near the home of his brother, then continues driving. However, Sheriff Purdy, who is greedy for the bounty money offered by Bolt, finds the children and takes them into custody. When Purdy asks their names, they surprise themselves by saying, “Castaway,” almost in unison. To punish them for lying, Purdy locks them in a jail cell. There, Tia has a flash of insight and recalls that their people spoke a different language, and that the white-haired man who drowned was their Uncle Bene. In order to escape, Tony plays his harmonica, causing a coat and a broom to levitate and torment the sheriff. Purdy’s distraction allows the siblings a chance to escape, but Tia, seeing a caged bear outside, insists on stopping to release it. The children and the bear then run to the countryside, where the bear takes cover in a cave and the children rendezvous with Jason at his brother’s house. After they tell Jason that their people spoke a different language, Jason suggests that they came from another country. He recalls that Witch Mountain is located above Misty Valley and was settled by reclusive strangers. Purdy calls together a posse of local hunters who know the area. He claims that the children are evil witches and reminds them of the local superstition about nearby Witch Mountain. Meanwhile, Deranian learns about the home of Jason's brother through a security check and notifies Bolt. When Deranian and Ubermann arrive at the house, they are detained by the bear, who answers Tia's call for help. As Jason and the children drive away in the camper, Tia recalls that their people referred to themselves as "castaways" and came from a place that no longer exists. The siblings then recall that they arrived, not by boat, but by spaceship and that their planet, which had two suns like the emblem on the star case, was dying. They now realize their people were forced to find another planet on which to live; however, their own ship crash landed in the ocean and all aboard, except for Tia and Tony, seem to have perished. As Jason drives into the town of Stony Creek, the bear relinquishes the car to Deranian and Ubermann. Jason and the children find the Misty Valley Cooperative building, but finding no one inside, Tony acts on a paranormal instinct to check the office telephone book and dials the phone. When his call is answered, Tony asks for the Castaway family and is immediately recognized by the man on the line, who explains their people have been searching for Tia and Tony for years. When the hunters arrive in the little town, the man on the phone instructs Jason and the children to sneak to the camper and, outside, his voice continues to communicate instructions telepathically. Following the voice’s directions, Jason drives the camper out of town and a chase ensues. Bolt, riding in a helicopter, spots the camper from above and instructs Deranian to take a detour that leads him in front of the camper’s path and blocks the road. The camper, controlled by the mysterious man, levitates and flies over Deranian's car. Now flying through the air, the children wave to Bolt, who discovers that his helicopter is flying upside-down. The camper comes to rest in a meadow. Uncle Bene is there to greet them and explains that he survived the sea crash by communicating with a shark, which came to his aid. Bene thanks Jason for helping the siblings and, when he mentions that other alien children are missing, Jason offers to keep his eye out for them. As Bolt, Deranian and Ubermann arrive, the aliens bid Jason and Winkie goodbye, and walk into a stand of trees. Soon after, a spaceship rises up and flies away. Bolt admits defeat and leaves with his men. The spaceship circles back for a final goodbye to Jason and Winkie, before heading for Witch Mountain. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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