The Witches

Movie Information

The fun of this family film begins with the arrival of a bewitching Anne Hathaway, as the Grand High Witch, determined to turn all children into mice.
Genre: Comedy/Adventure
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci
Rated: PG

There’s a special kind of terror that can creep into a child’s mind and inspire a lifetime of bad dreams and obsession. This fearful fascination in my life had the form of Angelica Huston’s Grand High Witch in Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, The Witches.

Well aware of how hallowed the fantasy-horror flick has become since its 1990 release, I was more than skeptical about embarking on Robert Zemeckis’ remake. As with the original, this iteration focuses on a recently orphaned boy who is sent to live with his grandmother and stumbles upon a coven of witches at a fancy hotel who turn children into mice. High jinks ensue.

Though the premise is the same, the decision to use the comedic voice-over stylings of Chris Rock to set the tone and shift the setting from early ’90s England to late ’60s America is unexpected, engaging and largely successful. The screenplay (written by Zemeckis, Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro) focuses on the bond between the unnamed hero (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) and his “witch-hunting” grandmother (Octavia Spencer), and emphasizes how their unwavering support of each other is key to their survival. By featuring black protagonists in 1960s Alabama as they recover from a personal tragedy, The Witches affectingly paints a portrait of grief and discrimination without allowing the seriousness of these topics to overtake it. This revision gives the narrative a wider sense of inclusion and relevance without pandering or losing the magic of the beloved original.

The fun of the film doesn’t really take off, however, until the arrival of a captivating Anne Hathaway, as the Grand High Witch. Her glamorous, platinum-wigged, period costuming and perpetually simmering demeanor hypnotize on screen, as her moods swing from annoyed prima donna to hysterical demon in 5 seconds flat.

Though skeptics have cited her beauty as a roadblock in rivaling the iconic monstrousness of Anjelica Huston’s Grand High Witch (myself included), Hathaway allows herself to become surprisingly hideous, thanks to a hefty dose of CGI. While Huston’s wickedness reigns supreme among fans of the original, Hathaway solidifies herself as a new kind of villain — a kooky, high-camp queen every bit as entertaining as her predecessor. It’s clear that Hathaway is having the time of her life in this role, savoring all the silliness with each evil outburst and nonsensical monologue, and we’re just along for the ride.

Though much more family-friendly than suits my twisted sensibilities, I suspect this whimsical reimagining will tap into the nostalgia of ’90s kids and spook a new generation of younger viewers with surprising delight.

Available to stream via HBO Max

About Kristina Guckenberger
Freelance writer, avid book hoarder, classic over-sharer, & all-around pop culture nut.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.