Family is a magic word.
Cassandra “Cassie” Nightingale (Catherine Bell, Army Wives) has a lot to deal with over the course of The Good Witch movies. But with this latest film, The Good Witch’s Family, things get a little more personal as Cassie’s long-lost cousin Abigail (Sarah Power, Republic of Doyle) appears. It’s been established Cassie is an orphan, so when Lori (Hannah Endicott-Douglas, The Good Witch’s Garden) creates a family tree as a belated wedding present and in the process finds Abigail, it seems too good to be true for Cassie. Being the person she is, Cassie doesn’t hesitate to invite Abigail for a visit, even though new husband Jake (Chris Potter, Heartland) is leery of someone who’s basically a stranger coming to stay with them.
Jake has more than worry over Abigail’s impending visit concerning him. He’s dealing with Mayor Tinsdale (Paul Miller, Degrassi: The Next Generation) and a group of protestors who want to shut down the mayor’s plan for a bridge to allow Middleton to be annexed. However Jake isn’t alone in the worry department. Brandon (Matthew Knight, My Babysitter’s a Vampire) is struggling to write a song to serve as his submission for acceptance into a musical program at college next year. Lori (Hannah Endicott-Douglas, My Friend Rabbit) is worrying about turning sweet sixteen and dealing with her crush on Brandon’s friend and song-writing partner, Wes (Rhys Ward, Heartland). Martha (Catherine Disher, Forever Knight: The Trilogy) is at odds with her husband the Mayor, enough so she convinces Cassie to run for Mayor.
Maybe it isn’t the best time to be hosting guests, no matter if they’re long-lost relatives. And it isn’t, as Abigail turns out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She insinuates herself into every character’s life and through the employment of magic, she manages to muck things up for everybody, with one goal in mind: turn everyone against Cassie. Now then this is a movie shown on The Hallmark Channel, so any real malevolence isn’t portrayed; these movies are life lessons dealing with familiar topics like family, love, respect and acceptance. You can probably guess the ending, but it’s not the destination, it’s the journey witch (ha!) makes The Good Witch’s Family worthwhile.
Not to say there are no criticisms of the film. The fourth entry in the franchise marks a departure for the series in more ways than one. To begin this is the first time Grandpa George (Peter MacNeill, A History of Violence) is not featured. One of the things I have appreciated over the series is writer Rod Spence’s (Chasing Leprechauns) ability to work out an arc for each and every member of the Russell family. Now that Cassie has officially joined the family as Jake’s wife, it’s a shame to see Grandpa George gone from the story. It is especially difficult to reconcile his absence when the theme of the whole film is family.
The other marked change to the series is the way magic is depicted. Until now the films have taken the wink-and-a-smile approach, rarely if ever showing any actual magic. It’s more of a suggestion in that we see the outcomes from Cassie’s machinations as opposed to watching her conjure. The Good Witch’s Family shows spells being cast right from the start and it’s an abrupt change. I understand the reasoning — we need to see Abigail as a different sort of witch than Cassie. And it works for that reason, but challenging the way Cassie approaches magic also means part of the charm of the series suffers.
So I have quibbles, but they don’t deter me from offering a recommendation for fans of the series. This is not the place to start as a newbie, as too much of the story and characters have been built up over the preceding films. Fans will continue to find reasons to appreciate The Good Witch’s Family. For one, Catherine Bell continues to shine as Cassie Nightingale Russell, never truly losing sight of the level-headedness and empathy which center her character, no matter how much animosity comes her way. Gaining further insight into Cassie’s background is also welcome, as she is intentionally a mystery for most of the series. Seeing Brandon and Lori struggling with issues similar to teens of not just today but yesteryear as well, will help bridge any generational gaps in the viewing audience. And the film has a positive message which is always appreciated.
Now on to the technical specs. The focus can be a little soft, which is made apparent by the 1.78:1 widescreen transfer. Also betrayed by the widescreen are occasional whites out of balance and nearing blow-out levels. On the plus side, there is a lovely opening title credit sequence which fits right in with the preceding films’ and shows off some very rich tones and reflections. I have no qualms with the Dolby 5.1 track. Everything is balanced and no dialogue falls soft. There are no special features.
The Hallmark Channel announced in February 2014 they had ordered a series based on The Good Witch with an initial run comprised of ten episodes. I will be interested to see what approach they take with the characters, location, and magical aspects. Fans of series will likely snatch The Good Witch’s Family right up but be warned, there are changes in tone and style. Plus, if Grandpa George is your favorite character you will feel his absence.