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REVIEW: The Witches (2020)

The Witches Review

The Witches is a 2020 retelling of the Roald Dahl children’s story, from director Robert Zemeckis. Remakes and reboots have been commonplace in the movies for quite some time, so it’s no surprise that The Witches has been given a Hollywood makeover, especially as it has been 30 years since the original film adaptation was released in 1990. I will readily admit that the original film is a childhood favourite, so this remake had very big shoes to fill.

This time around, the story has been transported to late 1960s Alabama. It follows an unnamed boy (named in the credits as simply ‘Hero Boy’), played by Jahzir Bruno, and his grandma (Octavia Spencer) as they encounter a witch in their home town, prompting her to whisk him away to a seaside resort. Unbeknownst to them, this seaside resort is also where the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) is due to unveil her dastardly plans to transform the world’s children. In his bids to thwart the witches plans, Hero Boy bumps into some familiar names, greedy English boy Bruno Jenkins (Codie-Lei Eastick) and put-upon hotel manager Mr Stringer (Stanley Tucci).

The Witches Review

I was very sceptical about this in general, and while I think my scepticism was most definitely warranted, I was at least pleasantly surprised that moving the action from England to 60s America worked. It gives the film a different vibe with a new setting (with some very good costume and set design too), yet still keeping the same base story. However, I’m afraid that’s the only good change that they’ve made in this entire remake. The 60s setting works, but the hotel itself lacks the beauty and grandeur of the hotel in the original. Gone are the imposing shots of a beautiful old hotel set on top of a cliff with its gorgeous landscapes (which incidentally is a real-life hotel called The Headland and is on my travel wish list), and instead replaced with something that looks good on the surface, but is sadly lacking in realism and has obviously been entirely computer-generated.

The Witches Review

And this is the major problem with The Witches (2020), it’s over-reliance and overuse of CGI. Everything in this, from the mice to the hotel exteriors to the witches true appearance, are all computer-generated, and not particularly well at that. The mice look pretty bad and unrealistic, but the worst of all is what they’ve done to the witches. The changes themselves may have worked had this used practical effects, but sadly the CGI only serves to highlight how ridiculous the changes are. From the missing two fingers on each hand to the elongated mouths with demon-like tongues, the witches to begin with seem creepy but after this initial shock, you see how absurd and laughable they really are.

Unfortunately even the performances can’t save this adaptation. Octavia Spencer is as reliable as always and Jazhir Bruno and Codie-Lei Eastick are quite adorable, but the rest of the fairly decent cast is sadly misplaced. The usually loveable Stanley Tucci is given absolutely nothing to work with, not even giving him a chance to try and match up to Rowan Atkinson’s original Mr Stringer, and Chris Rock is sadly out of place as the voice of older Hero Mouse. However, the worst offender here is Anne Hathaway. Admittedly she isn’t helped much by the poor transformations to the witches appearance, but all the CGI in the world couldn’t fix her questionable Eastern European accent and hammy performance. The fact that Angelica Huston put in a more sinister and believable performance with 90s facial prosthetics and practical effects is a credit to her and only highlights how bad a choice Hathaway was for this role.

The Witches Review

While parts of this remake aren’t entirely condemnable, as some aspects do stick closer to Dahl’s original source material, overall it is a far inferior adaptation that loses everything that made the 1990 film such a classic. Gone are the sinister witches and the dark stories of missing children (the girl stuck in the picture is an image that has always stuck with me), instead replaced with a far too lighthearted story with an over-reliance on CGI. The most worrying thing of all is that even Robert Zemeckis and Guillermo Del Toro being involved couldn’t save this.

The Witches (2020) Adventure, Comedy, Family | 106min | 26 October 2020 (UK) 5.3
Director: Robert ZemeckisWriter: Robert Zemeckis, Kenya BarrisStars: Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley TucciSummary: Reimagining Roald Dahl's beloved story for a modern audience, Robert Zemeckis's visually innovative film tells the darkly humorous and heartwarming tale of a young orphaned boy who, in late 1967, goes to live with his loving Grandma in the rural Alabama town of Demopolis. As the boy and his grandmother encounter some deceptively glamorous but thoroughly diabolical witches, she wisely whisks him away to a seaside resort. Regrettably, they arrive at precisely the same time that the world's Grand High Witch has gathered her fellow cronies from around the globe-undercover-to carry out her nefarious plans. Zemeckis is joined by a world-class team of filmmakers, including Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Kenya Barris. The cast includes powerhouse performances from Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Kristin Chenoweth and Chris Rock, with newcomer Jahzir Kadeen Bruno as the brave young hero. Written by Warner Bros./HBOMax

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Sarah Clapperton
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I'm not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills - Bake Off here I come!