From the first moment we saw the trailer for The Witches, we wanted to see it. We both love Roald Dahl and his books. The cast included in the film was fantastic and talented, Octavia Spencer, wonderful in all her roles, Anne Hathaway looking stellar, and Stanley Tucci is one of our absolute favorite actors. I’d watched the nineties movie and wondered how the two would compare but was excited about the look of this version. After watching it, I found the special effects amazing, especially Anne Hathaway’s designs as the Grand High Witch, the CGI on the mice worked really well, and I liked the setting of the South for both the characters and the film.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Octavia Spencer, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, and Chris Rock, “The Witches” based on the novel of the same name by Roald Dahl, it is set in 1968 Alabama where a young orphaned boy (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) goes to live with his grandmother and discovers witches are real. When the pair escape to a hotel from a curse by one of the witches, he stumbles onto an entire conference of them and their plot to turn all children into mice. He and his Grandmother (Octavia Spencer), aided by two children turned into mice, Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick) and Mary (Kristin Chernowith), must thwart the designs of the witches and their leader, The Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) while staying out of the watchful eye of the hotel manager (Stanley Tucci). Chris Rock narrates the entire tale as the grown version of the boy but the mystery is whether he manages to escape the curse of the witches.
There are so many facets of this film that just delighted me. One of the biggest is the story, updated from the nineties version. In this movie, it is set in the sixties and set in Alabama. Setting it in the United States and in the South, allows Zemeckis to not only use the witches as fill-ins for racism with their abhorrence for humans but also address it with the treatment of people of color at the hotel, as most of the staff is black and Octavia Spencer’s character is dismissed by the white people around her. The hotel manager is quick to believe the worst of her and is useless in aiding anyone against the witches. But the plot gives her and her grandson the roles of hero and she is able to turn the table on those who underestimate them, including the witches. I love that both the Grandmother and boy are the true heroes of the film.
In the years since the nineties movie, special effects have wildly improved. That allows this film to have the best designs and use those to great effect. The design of the witches is well thought out to allow them to move in public as humans but also allows them to be super creepy. They are able to change the shape of their faces and limbs which makes them very snake-like. I love the effect of Anne Hathaway’s character widening her mouth and her ability to sniff out children. In addition to the witches, the CGI on the mice is excellent, believable but cute all at the same time.
Undoubtedly in a lesser cast, this movie would not be nearly as good. But Robert Zemekis has true skill at building both comedy and creepiness in a movie. Octavia Spencer is perfect, her portrayal both warm and loving, but also tough.. Anne Hathaway is creepy, funny, and brilliant in her portrayal of the Grand High Witch. The actors of the three children, Jahzir Kadeem Bruno as the orphaned Hero Boy, Codie-Lei Eastick as Bruno, and Kristin Chenowith as Mary are all engaging in their portrayals, voicing the three children before and after they are turned into mice, each strong and resilient characters in this story of both heroism and the prices of magic. Chris Rock voices the older Hero boy narrating the story after the events of the hotel and he is strong, helping to build a compelling story. Stanley Tucci is his normal self, bringing his beautiful comedic timing and strong acting to the role of the hotel manager.
I didn’t find it terribly scary but it was delightful, especially the designs. I don’t always love seeing witches portrayed as evil but in this movie, it is done in a fun way and in a way that portrays them as inhuman. The film blends comedy and eeriness seamlessly alongside commentary on racism. If you love captivating fantasy, Roald Dahl, and outstanding performances, this is the film for you. I was completely charmed.
Rating: 5 out of 5 mice.