This writeup is chock full of spoilers. You have been warned.
The 1975 film Escape to Witch Mountain, based on the book by Alexander Key, is one of Disney's live-action efforts, and I might even go so far as to call it "delightful." Escape is starting to show its age: the characters' clothing is straight out of Marcia Brady's closet, and the special effects are campy and obviously primitive. Nevertheless, Escape is almost guaranteed to appeal to kids of any generation. If any kid between the ages of 7 and 12 is too jaded to enjoy this movie, I'd feel sorry for them.
Tony (Ike Eisenmann) and Tia (Kim Richards) Malone are 12- and 10-year-old orphans. They seem perfectly ordinary at first, filling out paperwork for their new boarding school / orphanage. They have a brief run-in with Truck -- the resident bully -- but other than this, their first day is relatively uneventful.
Tony and Tia try their best to fit in with their new classmates, however, they have a hard time hiding their secret: both of them are gifted with powers tending toward the telekinetic and telepathic. Tia can talk directly into Tony's mind without moving her lips, and is a master at picking locks from a distance. Tony is strongly telekinetic, with his power considerably enhanced by the music of his harmonica.
Apparently, Tony and Tia had problems at their old school when they used their powers like magic tricks to entertain themselves. The other kids were afraid, rather than impressed, and branded them "witches". They manage to hold back in front of their new peers for a while, however, eventually Truck's constant bullying drives Tony to snap. Truck is summarily smacked down by magically animated sports equipment. After this point, there is no going back: in the eyes of their schoolmates, Tony and Tia are freaks once more.
Viewers of the film are compelled to ask the same questions Tony and Tia ask themselves every day: where did these kids come from, and why are they so different from everyone else? They are conflicted between wanting to be "normal" and accepted by their peers, and wanting to discover their roots, no matter how strange they may be. Their desire to uncover the secrets of their past is strengthened when a decorative panel on Tia's purse (which is metallic and oddly boxy) is dislodged, revealing a rough map of some unfamiliar area.
Tony and Tia's real adventure begins when, after a field trip, Tia senses that a passerby is going to be in a terrible accident if he gets into his car. She cannot bear to let the stranger get hurt or killed, so she warns him not to get into the car. Amused and slightly intrigued, the stranger complies. Sure enough, another vehicle comes along a few moments later and crushes the side of the man's car. Startled and impressed, the man (named Lucas Deranian) rushes home to his employer, an eccentric and twisted millionare named Aristotle Bolt, to whom Deranian is a personal aide.
The greedy Mr. Bolt immediately decides that he wants to study Tony and Tia himself. It is never entirely clear what sort of organization Mr. Bolt belongs to, however, he seems convinced that Tony and Tia's powers might be put toward increasing his own assets.
Bolt uses his bad-guy connections to get papers stating that Tony and Tia are actually the children of Deranian's dead sister. Deranian presents the papers to the orphanage director, Mrs. Grindley, who is convinced. Tony and Tia exchange the obligatory "I have a bad feeling about this", but duly accompany Deranian to Mr. Bolt's imposing mansion, Xanthus.
As evil millionares often do, Mr. Bolt attempts to win the childrens' affections by serving them ice cream and showering them with toys and gifts. Tony and Tia grow increasingly suspicious, and one day they overhear that Bolt is planning to take them to a secluded island and keep them there, presumably to figure out the source of their powers. They decide to, in a word, bolt.
After escaping Xanthus, Tony and Tia decide to try and travel to Stony Creek or Misty Valley, the places named on Tia's strange map. Several obstacles stand in their way here: namely that they have no idea where to start looking for these places, that they have no transportation, and that the police are after them.
The children take refuge in an unlocked Winnebago, which luckily turns out to be owned by a gruff but kindly middle-aged man named Jason O'Day. Despite some initial reservations about harboring two reckless runaways ( "You two aren't kids! You're nothin' but a connivin' pair of...undersized land pirates!"), Jason agrees to help Tony and Tia escape the police and witch-hunters.
I've avoided revealing the film's biggest spoiler, however, it would probably be obvious to anyone over the age of 12 within the first 20 minutes of the movie. When I saw Escape for the first time at the age of seven, however, the "startling revelation" of Tony and Tia's origins sent chills up my spine. Throughout the film, Tia experiences periodic flashbacks that depict much younger versions of herself and her brother being saved from drowning in a stormy sea by a mysterious relative. Tia's visions seem to intensify in detail and clarity the closer she and Tony get to the Stony Creek / Misty Valley area.
Along their journey, Jason and the children fight off and outwit bumbling cops and gun-waving rednecks, with the series of conflicts culminating in a hilarious midair showdown between a magically levitated Winnebago and Mr. Bolt's private helicopter. Tony and Tia are reunited with a long-lost uncle, and shuttled off to Witch Mountain, which is apparenly where Tony and Tia's closest living relatives reside. They leave Jason O'Day with a tear in his eye and their cat, Winkie, in his care.
Escape to Witch Mountain is a kids' movie through and through -- the dialogue is melodramatic and the plot is rather predictable. Someone seeing it for the first time as an adult would likely roll their eyes and possibly not be able to sit through the whole thing. However, for those of us who saw it as a kid, it's a pleasant bit of escapist nostalgia. The pace of the film is lively, the kids are cute and earnest, and the music is evocative and catchy. (I last saw Escape about ten years ago, but the theme music still gets stuck in my head sometimes.)
Escape to Witch Mountain lingers mainly in G-rated territory, but very young children might be frightened by the big scary dogs at Xanthus, or of the crazed rednecks in Stony Creek. Sensitive preteens might also be upset by a particular scene where Tony and Tia psychically dig up some of Jason O'Day's rather sad past.
Eddie Albert ..........Jason O'Day
Ray Milland ...........Aristotle Bolt
Donald Pleasence .... Lucas Deranian
Kim Richards ..........Tia Malone
Ike Eisenmann .........Tony Malone
Walter Barnes .........Sheriff Purdy
Reta Shaw ............ Mrs. Grindley
Denver Pyle ...........Uncle Bene