Roald Dahl’s The Witches
review by Bobby Blakey
In 1990 Roald Dahl’s The Witches came to life on the big screen starring Angelica Huston and Rowan Atkinson from producer Jim Henson. The film had numerous issues in production and release that even led to Dahl wanting his name removed from the film but dissuaded by Jim Henson. Now director Robert Zemeckis is taking on a new version of the film starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanely Tucci and Chris Rock. Could this new take offer anything new to the story or will it fail to cast a spell?
Roald Dahl’s The Witches follows a young boy stumbles onto a secret coven of child-hating witches as they plot to turn the world’s children into mice. A fresh Halloween classic for this generation, in a story that celebrates courage, teamwork, and unlikely heroes, offering a completely distinct kids proposition with a quirky, delightfully twisted tone in classic Dahl style.
I’m not a huge fan of the original film, but still find it pretty entertaining so going into this new one I was able to dive in to just see what Zemeckis did with the material without being overly invested. There are obviously differences between this new take from the original film but also a lot of familiarity. The story is pretty much intact with the girl in the painting gone and replaced with a new story and the local being the US instead of London bring the biggest changes. They also kept the original ending to Dahl’s book unlike the 1990 film that changed it.
As cheesy as it comes off now, I do love Angelica Huston’s look in the original film and her over the top performance. While the look of the high witch isn’t as grotesque she still brings a creepy nature to her. Hathaway offers up a different kind of performance that does embrace the same over the top nature, but in her own way that will either still the movie for you or get on your last nerve. I think this is the same case of Huston’s performance, but either way she looks to be having a blast.
The tone of the film is lighter on some aspects and darker in others. I have heard some try to say that the difference in tone changes the film, but both are
clearly more young adult films and a bit silly with hints of the darkness. The reality is both films are a bit ridiculous so to say one story is better than the other in this case when they are essentially the same is just as silly. There is a new twist to Daisy the mouse which seemed unnecessary, but does fit with the narrative more so than the original.
The effects are well done and the performances all work great. Where this film has the most issue is just competing with the original film. Obviously you can’t help but compare and no doubt if you are a fan of the original you will probably still prefer that one over this one, but the new generation will likely lean more towards this one. They both have a place and can exist in their own right and I for one think they are both a silly good time.
There are some differences to how some things play out despite still being the same. Really things are just shuffled around a bit to create a different vibe but all goes into the same end result. Visually the big dinner party sequence is a lot more fun to watch this time around thanks to some more creative ways of pulling off the same results. I did like that they gave a little more to the high witch in the finale to the film than in the original despite it being a completely different direction, but might not work for everyone.
Whether you are a fan of the original or diving into the story for the first time decide for yourself and check out Roald Dahl’s The Witches available now exclusively on HBO Max.