Movie fans know Halloween as a time for horror flicks, but social media and listicles have also boosted twenty-somethings' favorite Disney Halloween movies, like the Halloweentown trilogy. The series told the story of a regular teenage girl named Marnie Piper, played by Kimberly J. Brown, who learns that she is descended from a line of witches. She then travels to Halloweentown, a village where Halloween lasts all year round. Few viewers expected the film to become a classic when the first installment debuted in 1998 as a Disney Channel Original movie, but it has become a listicle darling, creating a second career for Brown, who has built a cottage industry on Halloweentown through festival appearances and her Halloween-themed Etsy craft shop.
"It's a testament to our fans because people still wants to watch it, which is incredible to me," Brown tells Broadly.
The fandom started early. The original 1998 Halloweentown film was only the sixth Disney Channel original movie, and young fans quickly became obsessed with the film. Brown understands the appeal. "The whole idea of there being a town where it's Halloween all the time and getting to know these family members who are witches—that whole fantasy aspect of it is really fun," she says. "I heard from a lot of fans that they liked watching Marnie grow into herself... There was also a very teenage 'coming into her own' story outside of the magic, where she was figuring out who she was and embracing that. I heard a lot of fans who related to that more humanistic part of it."
Still, Brown lacked the psychic ability to know the series would retain popularity and become a TV classic, thanks to Internet posts like "19 Reasons You Should Watch Halloweentown Right Now" and throwback fashion roundups of Marnie's best outfits. " I think everybody has movies that they watch as a kid and kind of bring you back to that place," Brown says of the movie's continued popularity. "It's been so interesting to see memes [of the film.] As a kid we didn't have all of this! It's funny to see it live on in different generations because of social media." When I ask Brown if it was weird to see her teenage face as a meme, she laughs. "It just cracks me up all the time," she says. "I guess weird is a good word... it's unique. It almost feels like somebody else, but it's like, 'Oh my god, wait, that's me!'"
Where other Disney stars shy away from their former work, or try to break away from typecasting with controversial roles, Brown has capitalized on the film's success, delivering for her fans while also channeling the film's popularity into business opportunities. She has appeared at the Spirit of Halloweentown Festival in St. Helen's, Oregon, where the movie was originally filmed, for the past two years. This year, she led the festival's opening Pumpkin Lighting ceremony while dressed in costume. "They have a great attention to detail and bring a lot of different aspects of the movie back to life," Brown says. "I think it's so flattering and amazing that people want to come and not only see it, but still be a part of the movie. It's the greatest compliment to an actor that it still lives on like it does."
Brown has taken her dedication to the film and Halloween itself beyond traditional appearances. She helped create the illustrated children's book Poppin's Pumpkin Patch Parade about a young pumpkin that wants to save a Halloween parade. "I do a lot of crafting and painting and drawing and stuff like that," Brown explains. "I drew a lot of layouts and aspects of the main characters. I'm always looking for different adventures to keep my creative juices flowing." Brown also runs her own Etsy craft shop, where she sells hand painted signs and Halloweentown memorabilia. She finds joy in the store. "I love all the different aspects of Halloween," she says. "I love the fall feel. I love the cooler weather, and I am a pumpkin spice fan. I love the idea of being able to put on a costume and pretend to be someone else for a little while, because I am an actress."
When asked if she sees herself as a businesswoman capitalizing on her film's success or an artist connecting her fans with her work, Brown pauses. "That's a good question. Most of it is done for the fans. I appreciate them so much. The popularity of the movies are what they are because of the fans. I do a lot of it for them. I genuinely love Marnie and all the characters. I feel like I've grown up with her, for a lack of a better description. I've had so much fun over the years playing her and am also a little bit of a fan as well, in the sense of that I would like to know what she's up to now, too, as well as the other characters."
Brown hopes to produce movies; she has started developing several scripts and already shot a short film called Realm Are They Now, exploring where the series's villain, Kal, wound up. Although she wants to continue to explore new roles and opportunities, she has no plans to stop exploring her favorite holiday. "I will always have a huge space in my heart for Halloween and all the Halloweentown fans. As long as they want to keep talking about it, I'm honored to continue that tradition with them."