‘The Witches’ (2020) Film Review

Grade: D

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Anyone who remembers watching Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s book The Witches at a young age could tell you how truly horrifying of an experience that is. I was never one of those kids that grew up with it, but it exceeded in gruesome practical effects and an eerie nature that could give any child nightmares. What Robert Zemeckis does with his version, however, is far from horrifying. Instead, it relies heavily on the CG that he is so used to using. I am not saying that his version is not prone to terrifying the youngest of kids, but that it is hard to beat a hideous looking witch when you have Anne Hathaway’s cartoonish wide sharp-toothed smile rendered in the silliest of effects.

The story is the same: A young boy whose parents have suffered a demise goes to live with his loving grandmother who is aware that witches exist in the world with only one purpose: To rid the world of children by turning them into the most helpless of animals, mostly mice, then crushing them. What follows is nearly a recreation of the 90’s film with only a few changes (including one that Dahl’s readers might find taken from the source). At most, The Witches is lighthearted fare, from its choice of music to the grating narration of Chris Rock recalling the time he, as a young boy (Played by Jahzir Bruno), and his grandma (Octavia Spencer) encountered their share of witches, led by the Grand High Witch (an over-the-top Hathaway relishing in the glamour of it all).

As the story goes, the witches have come to the hotel the boy and his grandmother are staying at under the guise of the RSPCC, in order to enact their evil plot. While playing with his pet mouse, the boy hears of the plan, only for the witches to discover him by sniffing him out with the Grand High Witch turning him into a mouse. Yet, he and his mouse Daisy (Voice of Kristin Chenoweth) escape with the help of a boy named Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick), who has suffered the same fate.

There is no doubt that Zemeckis’ take on The Witches is inferior to Roeg’s film, yet what keeps me from writing it off as an abashedly awful remake is the charm it brings once the talking mice come into play and the family dynamic, which I found the least bit heartwarming. However, this is just me being generous. Kids will love watching it with their parents, yet I cannot seem to recommend it for anyone who really loved the original film. As someone who found the original average, what Zemeckis has accomplished is the ability to make me appreciate Roeg’s efforts a bit more.

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