Not all Halloween movies have to be horror. There are plenty of magical movies out there to celebrate spooky season with the whole family. Some of them are big time hits like Hocus Pocus, but some of them are smaller and more eclectic. For the specific generation of kids who grew up with classic Disney, here are some old-time favorites that might unlock a few hidden memories. Let’s watch some Disney Channel movies!
We’re going to do this first because, one – obviously – and two, it’s a movie that’s never really left the public consciousness. Halloweentown has always been a Disney classic, and still gets put on watch lists year after year after year. It was so popular for its time, it spawned its own mini franchise of four films. (Some of which aren’t as good as others, but no hate.)
Halloweentown follows thirteen-year-old Marnie, a quirky, Halloween-obsessed teen, as she discovers a huge family secret: her family is full of witches. Her mother gave up the life to raise her children in the normal world, but according to Marnie’s grandmother, “Being normal is vastly overrated.” Full witches live year-round in Halloweentown, where warlocks, goblins, and vampires roam in harmony, free from the fear and persecution of normal humans. Marnie and her younger siblings sneak into the world to visit their grandmother, but the world isn’t all it seems. There is a shadowy demon taking over the town, disappearing townspeople and quietly plotting to take over the mortal world. It’s up to Marnie and her siblings to learn about their powers as fast as possible and save the town from the encroaching darkness.
This movie is full of fun, light-hearted moments and imagery. The town square’s jack-o-lantern statue is iconic, and one of my personal favorite characters is Benny the skeleton cab driver. Also, the film has an incredible cast, with legends such as Debbie Reynolds and Judith Hoag as Aggie and Gwen Cromwell, and Disney star Kimberly J. Brown as Marnie. (And fun tidbit for Disney kids: Kim and her sequel co-star Daniel Kountz are still a couple to this day! A win for Marnie and Kal fans.)
Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000)
I wish I could explain in more concrete words why this movie had such a profound impact on me as a child. It’s one of those films where you only watch it once, and still remember it forever. The cast has everything to do with it, that’s for sure. With stars like Caroline Rhea from Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charles Shaughnessy of The Nanny, and Robert Carradine of Lizzie McGuire, the adults in this movie clearly had a lot of fun.
Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire is the campy fun you’d probably expect out of a mid-aged DCOM. It’s about two teenage siblings, Adam and Chelsea, who want to sneak out of the house for some fun. They push their single mother into going on a date with a mysterious stranger for the night, ignoring their younger brother’s warnings that the man, Dimitri is a vampire. Frustrated that his siblings don’t believe him, young Taylor calls in a professional vampire hunter to save his mom, lest she be trapped in a vampire trance for the rest of eternity.
Is this movie going to win any awards for writing and cinematography? No. But as film critic Roger Ebert once said of The Mummy, “There is hardly a thing I can say in its favor, except that I was cheered by nearly every minute of it.”
Phantom of the Megaplex (2000)
Ever watch Phantom of the Opera and think, “Wow, I wish this movie was more family friendly with less opera and nonconsensual romance, but more popcorn and zany stunts?” Then this is the Disney Channel Movie for you!
Like any good DCOM, Phantom of the Megaplex is about a teenage boy who wants to grow up too quickly. Pete is obsessed with his job as assistant manager of the local movie theater, and resents having to spend time with his younger siblings when he has a major movie premiere to prepare for. But his siblings aren’t the ones causing problems. Instead, a masked stranger is wreaking havoc in each one of the 26 screen rooms, terrorizing the audience in different ironic ways depending on what film they’re watching. The rumor is that the Phantom is the ghost of an old employee, trapped in the movie theater that was torn down to build the megaplex. It’s up to Pete and his siblings to puzzle out how each movie is going to be targeted, so the phantom doesn’t take the whole business down with them.
This is another DCOM that’s purely zany, pop-corny fun. It’s bizarrely unbelievable, with a heartwarming ending that’s required of all Disney Channel movies. And as an added bonus, one of the elderly employees is played by guest star Mickey Rooney, one of classic Hollywood’s oldest and most beloved stars from the 30’s.
Under Wraps (1997)
This – now this is a Disney Channel movie. The original Disney Channel movie, as it were! The first one they premiered, and certainly one of the most well-known of its genre.
Under Wraps was the blueprint for Disney Channel movies. It has a group of misfit teens, a monster who just wants to find love, and a villain that’s guilty of tax fraud! Teenage Marshall likes horror movies more than socializing, so when he and his friends find a real-life mummy in his neighbor’s basement, he feels like he can relate. He names the mummy Harold, and the movie is filled with hijinks as Harold tries to blend into normal society. He’s only got the one day to live life to the fullest, and needs to make it back to his sarcophagus by midnight on Halloween or else he’ll cease to exist. At its heart, it’s just a feel good movie about what it’s like to fit in versus the freedom of being yourself.
And in addition to the original, Under Wraps is getting a remake all too soon! Old-school fans can relive their glory, while the new generation discovers it for the first time. So keep an eye peeled for more information!
Don’t Look Under the Bed (1999)
This one is my last, the ultimate, the one that made the biggest impression on me as a kid. It’s one of those movies I often hear people talking about that scarred them for life. At the very least, it certainly scarred me.
Don’t Look Under the Bed is about the boogeyman – not just how he gets you, but how he’s created. The story follows Frances and Larry, the imaginary friend of her little brother. There are pranks going on around the neighborhood that all point to Frances, and Larry suggests that she is being framed by the boogeyman. Boogeymen – or boogeypeople, as the movie ultimately calls them – are created when an imaginary friend is abandoned and forgotten by their real friend. As a child, that pretty much read as a threat to never stop being imaginative, so pretty high stakes. Also, for a DCOM, the effects in this movie are terrifying. The character design of the boogeypeople is haunting and set me back years in emotional development. I went from being realistically scared of some movies to not being able to watch anything remotely scary for a good year and a half.
This is a movie that packs a punch, and of all the Disney Channel movies, I think it’s one that still holds up! The idea was solid and creative, and while it’s childish and a little campy, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
HONORABLE MENTION: Okay, so Hocus Pocus isn’t a Disney Channel movie, it’s just a Disney movie. However, it recently came to my attention this year that there are some teenagers who have simply never heard of this movie? This knowledge immediately aged me to an ugly old hag to rival the Sanderson sisters pre-potion. So! If you’ve never seen Hocus Pocus, please do give it a watch. It’s by far one of the most solid Disney movies, has an incredible cast, gorgeous costume design, and a show-stopping musical number that is so near and dear to my heart. Plus, Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker are national treasures.