Review by Dan Skip Allen
Several films have been made from the children's books of Roald Dahl over the years, and most of them are very good adaptations. Among them are Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Tim Burton's version Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox from Wes Anderson, Matilda, and The Witches from screenwriters Nicolas Roeg and Alan Scott and producer Jim Henson. Angelica Huston gave a great performance as the Grand High Witch in the original version of The Witches, as evil as evil can be, but Anne Hathaway ups the ante in the 2020 remake. The Witches was a cult classic for '80s and '90s children. This new version gives kids of this generation a fresh and entertaining version of this story.
Charlie (Jahzir Bruno) is a child who has gone through a family tragedy, forcing him to go live with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer). Trying to help him out and give him a new outlook, she feeds him, shares music with him, and gives him a companion in the form of a mouse to hang out with. They eventually take a vacation to the shores of Alabama. The problem is they run afoul of a witches convention. The Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) has evil sinister plans for all the children in the world. Charlie, his grandmother, Daisy the mouse, and his new friend Bruno are tasked with stopping her nefarious plans.
Robert Zemeckis has directed his fair share of family films, the Back to the Future trilogy, The Polar Express, and A Christmas Carol among them. The Witches is another family film he can add to his filmography. Zemeckis is no stranger to visual effects spectacles. He has used motion captures a few times in his films, he has blended animation and live-action, and he has used green screen effects to manipulate the heights of the World Trade Center towers. In The Witches, he uses all the tricks of the trade he has learned over his forty-year career and more to bring this film to life, like CGI, visual effects, camera manipulation, miniatures, and enlarging of props. The camera tricks are numerous to achieve everything he needs in his shots. All of this helps make this a better version of this story.
As far as reboots go, The Witches is one of the best of recent memory. In recent years, most haven't done much new stylistically. The Witches brings a whole new vision and style to HBO Max. Along with all the technical tricks of the trade Zemeckis uses, the cinematography, costume design, and set production are all first-rate. This film definitely could have been a wonderful theater experience for many families around the world. It's the best family film of the year.
The Witches is a pleasant surprise all the way around. A great turn from Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch. Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer brings her usual quality to the film. The kids are serviceable as well. Zemeckis brought it though. He really pulled all the tricks out of the bag and gave everyone a treat to behold. This is a fantastic family film for a new generation of parents and kids alike. Everybody involved should be proud of this new updated version of The Witches.
The Witches is now streaming on HBO Max.