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The Untold Truth Of Halloweentown

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Beginning in the early 1980s, the Disney Channel started producing its own feature films. The films would later become known as Disney Channel Original Movies, or DCOMs for short, with the network officially adopting that banner in 1997. One of the first films to use that new banner was "Halloweentown," a fantasy film about a young girl named Marnie Cromwell (Kimberly J. Brown) who discovers that her grandmother Agatha (Debbie Reynolds) is a witch who lives in a magical world themed after the titular holiday. After discovering that she herself is a witch, Marnie and the rest of her family use their powers to battle evil warlocks that threaten both the mortal and magical world.

Highly rated when it was released in 1998, "Halloweentown" became one of the Disney Channel's first true franchises, spawning three sequels and becoming a staple of the network's October programming lineup. The series may have ended in 2006, but rumors of a fifth movie began to surface when one of the executive producers of the films told E! News that she had "ideas" for a new installment.

Until then, fans still have the first four films to watch on Disney+ now. Not only are each of the films memorable, but there's plenty of interesting facts about what happened both behind the scenes and after the series ended. Here are some interesting untold truths about "Halloweentown" that you might not have known about.

Halloweentown isn't based on a book, but a book exists

The first "Halloweentown" film opens with Agatha visiting Marnie and her siblings on Halloween, a holiday that Marnie's mother Gwen (Judith Hoag) refuses to celebrate due to her past. Despite Gwen's apprehension, Agatha tells the children the story of Halloweentown, told through a children's picture book. Initially, the children don't think much about the story and assume it's just Agatha being her usual strange self. But it isn't until Marnie sees a magic flying school bus that they start to believe the story is true.

"Halloweentown" is an original property, not based on any previously published material, so the book in the film isn't a real book. However, the book prop that was used in the movie wasn't just a one-off thing. In fact, Kimberly J. Brown revealed in a TikTok that producers gave her a special copy of the book, one that she even read to her fans on her own YouTube channel. Brown's version of the book looks similar to the one shown in the movie, but her book features pages from the original script and signatures from the original cast of "Halloweentown."

So now that we know a "Halloweentown" book exists, why hasn't Disney capitalized on this and made more copies? Feels like a missed opportunity, considering how popular the films were at the time.

Kimberly J. Brown still embraces the franchise outside of acting

The "Halloweentown" franchise may be over, but Kimberly J. Brown still continues to engage with fans not only through her social media pages, but also through her Etsy shop, where she makes "Halloweentown"-inspired merchandise like keychains and T-shirts. But outside of acting and selling merchandise, Brown has also written her own book. As expected, the story centers around the titular holiday that helped make her a star.

Titled "Poppin's Pumpkin Patch Parade" and co-authored by Diane Yslas, the picture book follows a talking pumpkin named Pumpky as she teams up with two talking hay bales and a zucchini to save their pumpkin patch and the annual Halloween parade for Prince and Princess Poppin.

While the book itself doesn't actually connect with the "Halloweentown" franchise, Brown's commitment to the franchise through these different venues, as well as her interest in reprising her role as Marnie for a potential fifth installment (as she said in the same E! News article where the executive producer expressed interest), shows that the series has never left her. That's especially surprising, considering the controversy (see below) surrounding her lack of involvement in the fourth movie.

How the real Halloweentown honors the film's legacy

Visiting Halloweentown for the first time in the original movie is a real trip for Marnie. The town is filled with magical creatures and monsters like goblins and werewolves, as well as several witches and warlocks that cross over to the mortal world from time to time. There are several different locations in Halloweentown, but the Jack-o'-lantern statue at the center of the village serves as the unofficial logo for the series.

Halloweentown might not be a real place, but you can still visit where it was filmed. The tiny town of St. Helens, Oregon served as the backdrop for the first film, and every year since the film came out, the town goes back to its Disney Channel roots in the best way possible. The Riverfront District of the town transforms annually into the titular magical world for the Spirit of Halloweentown festival, which includes special attractions like a haunted house, pumpkin carving, and a special game that takes place in a haunted forest.

Later films in the series did drift away from St. Helens and were filmed in different locations such as Salt Lake City, Utah and Vancouver, British Columbia. Despite this change, it's nice to know that the original Halloweentown still embraces its spooky side.

The first film had some unique special effects

You don't expect a made-for-television movie like the original "Halloweentown" to have a massive budget. Director Duwayne Dunham and star Kimberly J. Brown talked about this in an interview with MTV News. "I liked the story of the kids and their grandmother and the mother and the secret and all of that stuff. But it was like a $20 to $30 million movie when they presented it to me," Dunham said. Given a $4 million budget to work with, Dunham and the film's writers spent a week shrinking the story down to accomodate the money they had.

Despite the small budget, the film manages to pull off several big feats to bring Halloweentown to life. This includes the talking skeleton cab driver Benny, which was created using animatronics instead of CGI. Digital effects were instead used for the broom flying scene, which Brown said was the last scene filmed.

Since the movie came out in 1998, many of the special effects look very dated. But it's a marvel how the production team was able to create an entire fantasy world on such a small budget that has endured over the years.

Halloweentown wasn't a Disney Channel Original Movie at first

It's hard to imagine the "Halloweentown" franchise on any other network besides the Disney Channel. The lighthearted tone fit perfectly with the network's family-friendly audience, but that wasn't always the case when the film was in pre-production. In an interview with E! News, executive producer Sheri Singer recalled that the movie was originally pitched to primetime network NBC.

"It had to have a little bit more adult appeal because they were airing these movies at 9 o'clock at night. [NBC] bought it, we developed it in 1994, and we had a writer write the script, and NBC passed," Singer said to E! News. "They decided they didn't really want to do anything, even though we put in adult characters."

Once NBC passed, Disney Channel accepted the project after the success of "Under Wraps," the very first Disney Channel Original Movie. Singer said that this change was really a blessing for the film: "Doing it at the Disney Channel, which was really the best possible home for the idea, we were able to be very whimsical. We needed to create these really interesting characters. They were fun and slightly scary, but not too scary."

Halloweentown High was the site of another Disney Channel film

After two films about the war between Halloweentown and the mortal world, "Halloweentown High" attempted to bridge the gap. Marnie and her family host an exchange program where several teenage monsters disguise themselves as humans and attend high school with them, in the hopes of one day revealing themselves to show that humans and creatures can co-exist. The official name of the school is never given in the movie, but the real name of the school is Juan Diego Catholic High School, and it was the sight of another Disney Channel Original Movie that came out three years prior.

"The Luck of the Irish" is a film about a teenager named Kyle, who discovers his Irish heritage after his mother reveals that he is a leprechaun and his lucky coin was stolen. Much like "Halloweentown" was a staple of Disney Channel's October programming, you were sure to catch "The Luck of the Irish" around March. One of the filming locations for the latter film included Juan Diego High.

"The Luck of the Irish" and "Halloweentown High" don't have any thematic similarities, but this little connection is a fun way to bring two completely different films together.

Halloweentown High was Emily Roeske's last acting project...for now

Marnie, Gwen, and Agatha aren't the only Cromwell family members that can do magic. There is also Marnie's brother Dylan (Joey Zimmerman) and her little sister Sophie (Emily Roeske). Dylan doesn't embrace his magical side for most of the series and usually cracks sarcastic jokes about all the supernatural stuff that happens, but still helps Marnie out with her problems whenever he can. On the other hand, Sophie embraces her magical powers much more throughout the series.

Sophie doesn't play a very big role in any of the three "Halloweentown" films she appeared in and was completely absent from the fourth installment, "Return to Halloweentown." The film states that she started her witch training with Agatha, who also only has a minor role in the fourth film. That's because Emily Roeske retired from acting after the third film came out in 2004.

Since her time as an actress, Roeske went on to become a married mother and is now both a third-degree black belt and mixed martial arts instructor. She's carved out a nice life for herself outside of the franchise, but judging by an Instagram post she made in 2021, it looks like she'll be back in front of the camera soon.

Kimberly J. Brown is engaged to one of her former co-stars

The evil warlock Kalabar served as the main antagonist of the original "Halloweentown," and his son Kal (Daniel Kountz) was the big villain of "Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge." After the death of his father, Kal enacts an elaborate plan to destroy the magic of Halloweentown and turn all of the witches and creatures into humans, while also turning all the humans in the mortal world into creatures. Of course, the Cromwell family finds a way to overcome Kal's evil magic and defeat him, just like they did before with his father.

Kal was portrayed by Daniel Kountz, known for his guest roles in "Ghost Whisperer" and "Mad Men," as well as his voice role in "God of War: Ragnarök." He's also now engaged to none other than Kimberly J. Brown. E! News documented the timeline of their relationship and interviewed the couple, stating that Brown and Kountz didn't start expressing any romantic feelings for each other while they were filming the movie back in 2001. It wasn't until they reconnected over a decade later that the two started taking their relationship in an entirely new direction. Kountz told E!, "It just ended up working out really well, but it is funny to think, wow, that was 20 years ago and so much life happened in between us reconnecting and everything."

Kountz and Brown later announced their engagement in 2022.

Why wasn't Kimberly J. Brown in Return to Halloweentown?

The duo of Kimberly J. Brown and Debbie Reynolds are what you think about when you mention the "Halloweentown" franchise. Reynolds stuck around for all four installments, but Brown didn't reprise her role as Marnie for the fourth movie, "Return to Halloweentown." Actress Sara Paxton, known for her roles in "Aquamarine" and "The Last House on The Left," was cast as Marnie instead, playing the character as she attends university in Halloweentown and uncovers a dark secret related to her family's past.

It's shocking to hear that the actress from the first three films didn't reprise her role, and according to Brown, it was a shock to her as well. In a YouTube video she uploaded in 2013 where she answered fan questions, Brown stated that she wasn't sure why the producers decided to go with Paxton instead of her. Brown also shot down rumors that scheduling conflicts prevented her from playing Marnie, as she stated she was available at the time. Paxton told Hollywood.com that she was in the dark about the switch as well, saying, "I just know they called me and said, 'Do you want to play Marnie?' and I said, 'Yeah!'"

Brown didn't elaborate anymore about being recast and concluded her video by saying she was grateful to the fans for their support. Since Brown previously stated she would be open to returning for a fifth installment, it seems that there's no bad blood between her and Disney.

The darker alternate ending to the original Halloweentown

The original "Halloweentown" ends with every member of the Cromwell family using their combined magical powers to eliminate Kalabar and save the creatures of Halloweentown. After Kalabar is defeated, Gwen realizes that her children need to learn how to control their magical powers, so she decides to let Agatha live with them and train them to become proper witches. It's a nice ending to an already lighthearted movie, but how Kalabar was defeated changed dramatically.

Responding to a fan question on TikTok, Kimberly J. Brown revealed that "Halloweentown" originally had a much darker ending. The film originally ended with Marnie placing a talisman in the town's Jack-o'-Lantern and using it to save the citizens under Kalabar's magic, which included her mother and grandmother. According to Brown's TikTok, Marnie was originally supposed to run through a forest with the talisman, which would cause her to age significantly with each step until she was a very old woman.

Brown also explained that she got very deep into the makeup process for transforming into an old lady, but the ending was rewritten and the process was abandoned. While it doesn't sound like the defeat of Kalabar would have changed, the image of the sweet and innocent Marnie aging and struggling to save her family might have been a bit much for little kids to watch, while also clashing with the lighter tone of the film.

The companion book to Return to Halloweentown

The final moments of "Return to Halloweentown" see Marnie and her family destroying the Gift, an amulet that gives the witch who wears it the power to control anyone with just the sound of their voice. At least, that's what the evil group of witches and warlocks called The Dominion believe to have happened after they lose their powers. In reality, Marnie entrusts the Gift to her brother Dylan. The film ends with Dylan hiding the Gift in one of his books, leaving what happens to him up in the air.

The story of Dylan, Marnie, and the Gift is expanded upon in the companion book "Tales From Halloweentown: The Witch's Amulet." Taking place after the events of the fourth film, the story finds Marnie as a Resident Advisor watching over Sophie, while Dylan is working under the guidance of a professor. Things take a turn for the worse when the professor steals the Gift and Marnie has to stop him.

Similar to the fake "Halloweentown" book used in the original film, this book has gone under the radar. It's a shame that there wasn't more of a push to continue the series in novel form, especially considering the ending of the book leaves the story open for a sequel.