Though rife with opportunities to pursue more sophisticated story lines, this Disney Channel movie opts to stay in a comfy family fantasy groove. Audiences liked it enough to justify several sequels. On Halloween Eve, suburban mom Gwen Cromwell Piper (Judith Hoag) tentatively welcomes a visit from her eccentric mother, Aggie Cromwell (Debbie Reynolds). Although Gwen encourages her to catch up with grand-kids Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown), Sophie (Emily Roeske) and Dylan (Joey Zimmerman), Gwen is afraid her mom will spill the Cromwell clan's supernatural secret. Aggie is a witch and lives in Halloweentown, which can be reached through a magic portal, with vampires, ghouls and trolls. Aggie's half-mortal granddaughter, Marnie, will come into her witchly powers on the day she turns 13th birthday. Gwen always hoped Marnie would take after her late father's side of the family and would rather Aggie not introduce her to Halloweentown, a sort of Charles Addams version of suburbia, but when Aggie needs help locating some missing persons back home, Marnie defies her mother to help. Determined not to be left out, Dylan and Sophie stow away aboard Aggie's flying bus and head for Halloweentown as well; they all get a friendly reception from Mayor Kalabar (Robin Thomas), who was once engaged to their mom. A local teen tips off Aggie that something is going on at the movie theater, where she and Marnie find the townspeople frozen by a spell. Can Marnie pass an accelerated course in witchcraft and the spell, and can she do it before a wicked sorcerer plans to raise an army of zombies to attack the mortal world? The special effects are good fun and director Duwayne Dunham imparts a cheeky sense of mischief to screenwriters Paul Bernbaum, Jon Cooksey and Ali Marie Matheson's topsy-turvy celebration of parallel communities. And while the HALLOWEENTOWN series lacks the gravitas of the HARRY POTTER films, they address pre-teen identity issues between the shrieks and giggles.