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The Witches review – new take lacks magic | reviews, news & interviews

The Witches review – new take lacks magic

The Witches review – new take lacks magic

Roald Dahl's tale is transported to 1960s Alabama

Anne Hathaway as the menacing Grand High Witch

 A long shadow looms over Robert Zemeckisnew take on Roald Dahls classic 1980s book The Witches, starring Octavia Spencer, Anne Hathaway and newcomer Jahzir Bruno.

That shadow is cast by Nicholas Roegs strange and terrifying 1990 adaptation starring Anjelica Huston, which expertly captured the wicked humour of Dahls book.  

Roegs film may have diverted from Dahls original plot in some respects, but it shared the authors peevish delight in terrifying and delighting in equal measure. Zemeckisfilm is a much more bubble-gum affair, made all the worse by an over-zealous Chris Rock narrating the action. 

Jahzir Bruno as the Hero Boy in The Witches

The story, for those unfamiliar both with the book and the Nineties film, concerns a young boy (Bruno) who stumbles on a coven of witches whilst holidaying at a swanky hotel with his grandmother (Spencer). This brood of hags disguise their true demon-like forms with gloves and wigs (or should that be "vigs") and are led by the Grand High Witch (Hathaway). This time round the Grand High Witch is not the knobbly monstrosity of Roegs version, but a sharp-toothed succubus, something like a cross between Cassandra Petersons Elvira and the Cheshire Cat. And she’s hatched a plan to turn children into mice using chocolate bars laced with a purple potion. 

Zemeckis has transplanted the tale from the books original English and Norwegian settings to 1960s Chicago and Alabama. When the young boy loses his parents he is cast from the promised land of South Chicago in the north, to the more racially divided south to live with his grandmother. Black-ish and Black AF creator Kenya Barris is on the screenwriting team, so its no surprise he takes the opportunity to explores the racial tensions of the era. Its also refreshing to finally see a young black actor of Brunos talents taking centre stage in a role all too often occupied by cherubic Caucasians. 

Guillermo Del Toro also has a screenwriting credit, a man of incredible talent for all things supernatural, (including projects for younger audiences such as Troll Hunters). Here his imprint is disappointingly absent, perhaps hidden underneath the gaudy CGI that makes Roegs use of puppets and prosthetics look state of the art. 

The performances verge on panto, but in an enjoyable way. Hathaways approach is broad comedy, all "Vots" and "Veres", hamming her way through with a pan-Eastern European accent. Spencer proves better still as a good fairy godmother figure and a pitch perfect performance. Stanley Tucci also makes an appearance as a snivelling hotel manager, but has little scope to make the same impact that Rowan Atkinson did in Roegs film. 

There are some enjoyable set pieces too, especially once our hero and his new chocolate-hungry British pal are transformed into rodents, although its all rather reminiscent of Stuart Little

The overall problem is that, whereas Roegs adaptation had the bitterness of dark chocolate, Zemeckis is as sickly sweet as a Hershey bar. The magic of Dahls material is lost, creating a generic Sunday afternoon family flick that children are unlikely to remember in the same way as the Nineties classic, and which parents are likely to doze off to. 


Gaudy CGI makes Roeg’s use of puppets and prosthetics look state of the art


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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