Be warned, it's much more sinister than you think...
by Kelly Tyra
If you grew up with cable television in the late 90s then you already know Halloweentown is the shit. The cult classic DCOM is a transcendent tale of family, self-discovery, conquering evil, and of course, magic. If you haven’t seen it, I’m sorry but this short synopsis will have to suffice until you can engage in the glory that is Halloweentown on your own time.
Our story begins on Halloween night in suburbia. A seemingly average family of four is visited by their clearly magical grandmother, Aggie Cromwell. Aggie’s three grandchildren (Marnie, Dylan, and Sophie) do not know she is a witch or that they have magical blood running through their own veins because their mother, Gwen, does not want them to be trained in the magical arts. Eldest daughter Marnie overhears an argument between her mother and grandmother in which it is revealed that if Marnie does not start training to be a witch that night (her thirteenth Halloween) her powers will be lost and she will become a mortal forever. Grandmother Aggie also has come to enlist Gwen’s help as she can sense a dark force operating in her homeland, Halloweentown. Gwen offers no assistance and asserts that she wants her children to be raised ‘normal’ in the mortal world.
When Aggie leaves to catch the annual bus back to the world of Halloweentown, her grandchildren secretly follow her. Marnie is desperate to begin her witch training as she has been interested in the mystical and magical all of her life. Dylan, the stick-in-the-mud brainiac accompanies because he is ‘the man of the house’ and sweet, young Sophie sneaks along because she’s badass and cute and the secret weapon throughout the film. I could really go on forever with this summary but for the sake of time I’ll shorten the next fifty minutes. The kids arrive in Halloweentown, they stop the politically-based bad force from consuming the city after it renders their mom and grandma immobile, discover their own powers, help their matriarchs reconcile, and return to the mortal world as magical heroes.
On the surface, this seems like a damn fun Halloween movie for kids and it certainly is. But if we dig a little deeper into the world of the film, its origins become much darker and spookier than they may first appear. Analysis of the historical narrative and necessitated establishment of Halloweentown hints at a darkness much greater than the one conquered by our three heroes in the film. For the sake of this critical analysis, I will be focusing on the first movie exclusively. However, the next three films in the series can certainly be used to inform this examination (particularly Halloweentown High). And so begins our critical analysis of Halloweentown. Why you may ask? Because it’s the Halloween Issue, bitches. Spook, spook!
Halloweentown is home to an array of interesting creatures. In addition to witches and warlocks there are ghosts, skeletons, trolls, pumpkin heads, werewolves, fairies, catladies, and some people who just look like they love wearing period clothing. To each their own is pretty much engraved on the Halloweentown crest. However, from the brief background native Agatha Cromwell provides we are given a small peak into the history of the magical world she inhabits: “There was a time when humans…and all the rest of us could be together. It was the Dark Times…because humans feared us and tried to destroy us. So we did our best to make them miserable in return, but it was turning us evil, which we are not! So, we decided to create our own world from that day on, we were able to settle down and have homes and children and jobs and an excellent bowling league.” This explanation is sugarcoated just enough to inform Aggie’s grandchildren about the origins of her world. However, if we unpack this brief blurb of history many sinister details arise.
The Dark Times detailed by Aggie must have been an extremely tumultuous period in human/nonhuman history. Constant battle between mortal and non-mortal was intense enough that it triggered an adaptive change in the psyche of the non-mortal that caused them to become ‘evil’ against their will and in spite of their fundamental character composition. While the violence between both parties is not detailed, it must have been extreme. Why else would the human world completely eliminate non-mortal existence from their history rendering all things magical fictional? Perhaps, the violence inflicted upon the non-mortal population was so brutal, it needed to be erased from humanities collective psyche.
The very need for the non-mortals to invent a new world for themselves hints at the severity of this conflict. The creation of Halloweentown can be interpreted as a forced migration or population transfer and such resettlement is often an indicator of genocide. It is possible to find evidence that points to such population decimation in the film. For example, how could the entire non-mortal population be confined to a single township governed simply and totally by a mayor? Would such a small population really have been such a threat to humanity? Probably not, thus genocide most certainly could have been a contributing factor that necessitated the invention of an alternate world.
While Agatha states that non-mortals such as her facilitated the relocation to Halloweentown they almost certainly did so out of necessity, which indicates that humans emerged from the Dark Times victorious. The existing tension between mortal and non-mortal is a theme that is continuously explored throughout the four film franchise but in a similarly candy corn-coated way. However, historical analysis of these films reveals that this magical coming-of-age story contains a deeper, more sinister narrative.
(Yes, I did find a copy of the Halloweentown script to write this article and yes I am developing a Halloweentown musical based on the made-for-TV movie. Coming soon to a blackbox near you.)