REVIEW: ‘The Witches’ is Delightful Reimagination of Ronald Dahl’s Original Work

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The Witches 2020

The Witches, also are known as Roald Dahl’s The Witches, is a 2020 dark fantasy comedy film from HBO Max, directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Zemeckis, Kenya Barris, and Guillermo del Toro. The film is based on the 1983 novel of the same name written by Roald Dahl. Starring  Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, and Stanley Tucci, with narration by Chris Rock. This film is the second feature-length adaptation of the novel, following the 1990 film of the same name directed by Nicolas Roeg.

Robert Zemeckis’s The Witches tells a reimagining of Roald Dahl’s beloved story for a modern audience. The film takes place in 1968, Alabama, when a young unnamed orphaned boy goes to live with his loving Grandma in rural Alabama. As the boy and his grandmother encounter some deceptively glamorous but diabolical witches, she wisely whisks him away to a seaside resort.

Unfortunately, while on vacation with the boy stumbles across a conference of witches at the hotel. The boy gets transformed into a mouse by the Grand High Witch when he discovers her plan to turn all children into vermin. With the help of two other children, he and Grandma turned into mice named Bruno and Mary, must foil the witches’ scheme and kill the Grand High Witch.

Audiences need to understand going into this film that it is not a remake of Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 The Witches. Rather, Zemeckis’s The Witches is a brand new reimagined story based on Roald Dahl’s beloved children book. That is not to say that this film is a direct retelling of the book, either. It is a brand new story inspired by Dahl’s work that lightly touches on real-world issues but still captures the dark humor, mystical wonder, and heartwarming elements of the source material. The filmmakers did an amazing job of capturing the source material elements while also providing audiences with another version of a classic story, which might make it a classic in its own way. 

The Witches 2020

While the main premise of the film, there are some major differences. Nonetheless, the film still delivers an entertaining story with the same core messages. This version of The Witches is set in Alabama following segregation, where Black people still face forms of inequality. An example of this is seen when the Boy and his grandmother arrive at the grand hotel for their vacation, and the hotel manager’s tone and language imply that “people like them” are lucky to stay there. I thought the changing of the settings was an interesting choice for the filmmakers to set their reimagined version of the story in this time period because it offers a different perspective that the story can be told from.

Additionally, unlike the 1990 adaptation, this film stays true to Roald Dahl’s original ending. I imagine fans who are nostalgic for Roeg’s 1990 film may not be pleased with this version’s ending. As someone that loves both the original adaptation and Dahl’s book, the ending left me conflicted at first. However, I can appreciate that the filmmakers decided to have their retelling The Witches to stay true to Dahl’s work.  

The aesthetic of this film is just the right balance of campy and creepy. I especially loved the design of the witches when they were out of their disguises. Again some notable changes were made to their design in this version of the story. Such as not having a lot of visible grotesque features like over elongated noses and boil-covered skin. However, for the most part, they retain their original design elements such as their bald scab-ridden heads hidden beneath wigs, having 3-fingered claws that look like chicken feet for hands, and toeless feet, 

The aesthetic of the film is also captured in the costuming. Joanna Johnston did a great job costuming characters in every scene. I was very impressed that she was able to give each witch their own individual look and style. Additionally, she does an especially phenomenal job making everything that Anne Hathaway’s Grand High Witch wears both glamorous and bewitching, as the head of all witches should be. As the film progresses, I also noticed the Grand High Witch’s looks become darker and resemble something more demonic.  

Both Octavia Spencer and Anne Hathaway’s performances are fantastic. Spencer plays the Boy’s grandmother, a tough, determined homemaker, a knowledgeable witch expert, and a “country-type healer” who helps her grandson work through his grief and her own. The scenes where Spencer’s character delivers a witty retort teaches the lesson of tough love or passes on her knowledge of witches that I enjoyed most.

Opposite of Spencer is Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch. I can honestly say this is the most hilarious and sinister role that I have ever seen Hathaway in, and she kills it.  Hathaway’s performance is fantastic.  She embodies the character’s sass, fabulosity, and wickedness that makes the role her own.

Overall, The Witches is a great new reimagined story based on Roald Dahl’s classic 1983 children’s book. The film has just the right amount of campy and creepy. Both Spencer and Hathaway give fantastic performances individually and in their own scenes. Zemeckis along with Barris and del Toro, make a fantastic storytelling team in The Witches. While there are some notable changes throughout the film, such as the setting and characters, I feel it offers a different perspective that the story can be reimagined and told. 

The Witches is available on HBO Max now.


The Witches
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    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Overall, The Witches is a great new reimagined story based on Roald Dhal’s classic 1983 children’s book. The film has just the right amount of campy and creepy. Both Spencer and Hathaway give fantastic performances individually and in their own scenes. Zemeckis along with Barris and del Toro, make a fantastic storytelling team in The Witches. While there are some notable changes throughout the film such as the setting and characters, I feel it offers a different perspective that the story can be reimagined and told from.