The novel, written by Alexander Key, is about two orphans, Tony and Tia, who have paranormal abilities. Tony possesses the ability of telekinesis, which he can access most readily through playing music, particularly his harmonica. Tia's strengths include the ability to unlock any door by touch and communicate with animals. Both siblings can communicate via ultrasonic speech audible only to each other; but Tia cannot speak normally and is regarded as strange because of this. It is later revealed that Tia is not unusual in this respect, but Tony is; few of their kind have the ability to speak out loud. After their foster guardian, Mrs. Malone, dies, they are placed by social services in a juvenile detention home under grim, unwholesome conditions, where Tia befriends a black cat, Winkie.
Both have suppressed memories of their past, but discover a clue in an old road map hidden along with a cache of money in Tia's "star box," a leather purse-like box with a double-star design on it. In a chance encounter with a nun who is an art teacher, the nun reveals that she once received a letter on stationery with an identical design. The writer, a Blue Ridge Mountains resident with "a name like Caroway, or Garroway, or Hideaway" sought information on students who had "unusual aptitudes." When a man claiming to be the brother of their deceased father shows up at the detention center to take custody of them, they instinctively know he is not their uncle and has ulterior motives. Unfortunately, when they attempt to reach the nun they find that she has died.
With the assistance of an inner-city Roman Catholic priest, Father O'Day, the pair run away, following the map's route leading towards the Blue Ridge Mountains. As their memories begin to return, they realize that they are actually of extraterrestrial origin, their people having come to Earth because their own planet was dying. Through a series of hardships, Tony and Tia find their way to their own people. When their would-be captor, Lucas Deranian (who O'Day earlier in the novel had likened to the devil), attempts to interrogate Father O'Day, the priest speaks to the effect that God is capable of creating many worlds and many peoples; that there are "mysteries far beyond [Deranian's] narrow dreaming."
As with most of Alexander Key's stories, the embattled protagonists find that most of the people they meet are untrustworthy, greedy, and hateful — making the decency of the few all the more poignant. O'Day puts himself in danger in order to help Tony and Tia, but he does so willingly, because their battle presents O'Day with an opportunity to fight the agents of evil, which is what he knows is his purpose in life, and will deliver meaning to his life.
The novel was illustrated by Leon B. Wisdom, Jr. and originally published in 1968 by The Westminster Press in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1975 film and sequels
In 1975, Walt Disney Productions released a film based on the novel, also called Escape to Witch Mountain. In this film, Tony and Tia were played by Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards, Lucas Deranian by Donald Pleasence, and the children's Uncle Bené (whom they believe to have drowned in a long-ago accident) by Denver Pyle. The film replaces the inner-city priest Father O'Day with Jason O'Day (played by Eddie Albert), a widower traveling in an RV who helps Tony and Tia escape their pursuers. Both Tia and Tony are able to speak out loud in the film, but Tony is not capable of Tia's seemingly telepathic speech. A new major character in the film who is not in the novel is millionaire Aristotle Bolt (Ray Milland), Deranian's employer, who wants to obtain the children's powers. This change was due to the passage of time between writings: Key wrote the novel during the depths of the Cold War, so his Deranian was a Communist agent; by the time the screenplay was being written, greedy capitalists had become the preferred villains of fiction.
The film was one of Disney's most successful live-action films. It was followed by two sequels, the theatrically released Return from Witch Mountain (1978) and the 60-minute television film Beyond Witch Mountain (1982). Director Hough returned for Return, as did Eisenmann, Richards, and Pyle, but new villains Letha Wedge (Bette Davis) and Dr. Victor Gannon (Christopher Lee) took the place of Bolt and Deranian. The characters of Bolt, Deranian, and O'Day returned in Beyond Witch Mountain, but director Hough did not return, and no actor returned to their roles, except for Albert. Beyond was intended as a television pilot, but the proposed series did not occur.
Eisenmann and Richards again played siblings in the otherwise unrelated Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell.
Beyond Witch Mountain (1982) is the second sequel to the 1975 Disney film Escape to Witch Mountain. Although Eddie Albert returned to play Jason O'Day from the original 1975 movie, the parts of Tony and Tia were recast with actors comparable only in age to Ike Eisenmann and Kim Richards when they first played the parts. Tracey Gold from "Growing Pains" played Tia. The parts of Aristotle Bolt, Lucas Deranian and Uncle Bené were also recast.
It was originally intended to be the pilot for a television series, but no networks thought that viewers would take the show seriously, and so a second episode was never made.
The film also contradicts the 1978 sequel "Return from Witch Mountain" because in that film, Tia and Tony are of teenage years, because Uncle Bené is still alive, and because in both of the original movies, Tony had to answer Tia verbally. He didn't have the power to talk through his mind. In "Beyond Witch Mountain," Tia and Tony are around the same age from the first movie, Uncle Bené dies early in the film, and as previously mentioned, Tony can talk to Tia mentally.
Tia and Tony follow their Uncle Bene to Earth in his attempts to find his long-lost-grandson. Bolt discovers that Tia and Tony have returned and he sends out Deranian to catch Jason O’ Day so he can lead Bolt and Deranian to Tia and Tony. Uncle Bene is telling the kids that they must go back to their planet while he searches for his grandson. His grandson was on a nature walk with his class when a bridge broke and Gregory, Uncle Bene’s grandson, moved a big log over to his class with his powers so they could grasp it and they could climb up to safety. Tia and Tony refuse to leave and Uncle Bene dies because of his old age and he lets them search for his grandson. Tia and Tony go to Jason O’ Day who agrees to help them find Gregory. When they stop to buy Tia and Tony some clothes, Jason goes back to his car and he’s kidnapped by Deranian and Bolt. They give him a drink that makes him drunk and Jason tells them where the kids are. The kids come to Bolt’s mansion to rescue Jason and they run away to a hospital where Gregory is. They tell Gregory all about himself and while they are taking him back home, Tia and Tony decide to stay and, with Jason, find all the survivors and send them back home.
This 1995 made-for-television movie is very loosely based on the Alexander Key novel.
Race to Witch Mountain takes place 30 years after the events of the original 1975 film Escape to Witch Mountain. The film is directed by Andy Fickman and stars Dwayne Johnson, Ciarán Hinds, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig, and Carla Gugino. Original co-stars Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann also play small roles. Filming began in Los Angeles, California in March 2008. Race to Witch Mountain was released on March 13, 2009. In the new film, the children's names are Sara and Seth. They crash their spacecraft and look for an experiment their parents left on Earth for research to help their own dying planet. Sara can move things with her mind and read minds. Seth can go through solid objects and resist high-level impacts, such as getting hit by a van, by changing his molecular structure.