Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Roald Dahl’s dark fantasy children’s novel isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s still a fun and moderately creepy adventure. The spirited cast, especially an all-in Anne Hathaway, outweighs the often disappointing visual effects and ensures you’ll be sufficiently entertained the whole way through.
The Witches (2020) follows a young boy (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno on screen and Chris Rock as his older self narrating) and his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) who end up staying at a hotel that’s also a gathering spot for a coven of witches. Magic, mildly spooky shenanigans ensue as they attempt to stop the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) who’s nefarious plans could spell doom for children all around the world.
That synopsis may sound kind of dark, but most of the film is pretty lighthearted. There’s a lot more humor in this version than there was in the first movie, and I would actually recommend the 2020 iteration to anyone who has kids instead of the 1990 cult classic. Odds are this one won’t psychologically scar them with the “unmasking” sequence.
Although, part of why The Witches (2020) will probably freak fewer children out is because its visual effects can’t hold a candle to Jim Henson’s masterful practical effects and puppetry from the 1990 film. Some of the 2020 feature’s CGI is fine, but a lot of it already looks outdated, and there were a few instances that instantly pulled me out of the movie. The transformation sequences, which were outstanding in the 1990 flick, are awful in the 2020 counterpart. Also, there are multiple shots (or entire scenes) where the CGI mice are comparable to the title character in Stuart Little. That movie came out in 1999. Yikes.
Luckily, the most recent variation has a main cast that is superior to the 1990 film’s. Bruno does a solid job slowly bringing the boy out of his shell and growing his confidence as he’s forced to step up in a time of crisis. Spencer is a just a ray of sunshine, and gives the grandmother a kindness and warmth that you can almost feel through the screen. The best of all is undoubtedly Hathaway, who steals the show with a wonderfully campy performance that I’d put on par with Anjelica Huston’s iconic portrayal of the same character. Hathaway’s Grand High Witch is less intimidating than Huston’s, but she makes up for it by going even further over the top. Her accent, her extravagant stride, her hand gestures, everything Hathaway does here is equally ridiculous and distinguished, and makes her both the funniest and most memorable part of the movie. Honestly, I could recommend watching The Witches (2020) just for Hathaway alone.
Overall, I had a good time with The Witches (2020). I don’t see it becoming a cult classic like its precursor, but I enjoyed the former as much as the latter, and if you’re looking for a spooky film you can watch with the entire family, I’d suggest giving it a shot.