The Witches

 

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Robert Zemeckis’s new take on Roald Dahl’s witchy classic is more loyal to the book but is undermined by below-par CGI.

   

Witches, The

When you're smiling....  Anne Hathaway 

  

The stories of Roald Dahl have seen numerous adaptations to the screen. Dahl himself wrote the initial draft for the much-cherished Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, but a subsequent re-write soured his opinion of the film. Although staunchly opposed to changes made to his own work, Dahl freely adapted screenplays based on the novels of Ian Fleming - for the James Bond outing You Only Live Twice and the musical fantasy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Among the more unforgettable filmed versions of Dahl, The Witches is perhaps remembered for its traumatizing effect on an entire generation of children. Dahl famously threatened to boycott the 1990 adaptation, which altered the ending of his novel. Thirty years after its predecessor, Robert Zemeckis tackles a new version, restoring the novel’s original ending and unleashing a host of tepid computer-generated terrors.

 

Launched as an HBO Max original, the Zemeckis-helmed film was intended for cinemas but later pulled from the schedule due to the pandemic. Although the reboot generally follows the source material, it does take a number of liberties, with Grandma (Octavia Spencer) being a former voodoo priestess rather than a retired witch-hunter. Contemporary Norway and England are shed in favour of 1960s’ Alabama, where an orphaned young boy (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) learns from his knowledgeable Grandma all about the tell-tale signs of witchcraft. After encountering a real-life witch, the pair flee to a seaside resort where they find themselves in the claws of the Grand High Witch herself (Anne Hathaway).

 

As with 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, remakes beg comparison, particularly if the original film maintains any sense of lasting legacy. Former children of a certain age will undoubtedly recall the iconic poster art adorning the original’s VHS cover, as well as being scared out of their wits by the film itself. Where the original benefitted from the direction of Nicolas Roeg, the magic of Jim Henson (his final film), and the divinely wicked Angelica Huston, this updated version proves to be a weak substitute. Those unbiased by the original will likely find more to appreciate here, as Dahl’s charming story remains intact, although the reliance on exposition and an insistence on sub-par CGI detract from the whole. Hathaway chews the scenery to bits with aplomb, but just can’t match the horror of Ms Huston as the Grand High Witch. Stanley Tucci aptly fills the shoes of Rowan Atkinson and Octavia Spencer continues her campaign as America’s next national treasure. Children have less to fear here, but adults will be better served by subjecting their young offspring to the nostalgic frights of their own youth.  

 

CHAD KENNERK

 

Cast: Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Jahzir Kadeem Bruno, Codie-Lei Eastick, Kristin Chenoweth, Brian Bovell, Charles Edwards, Josette Simon; narrated by Chris Rock.

 

Dir Robert Zemeckis, Pro Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón and Luke Kelly, Screenplay Robert Zemeckis, Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro, Ph Don Burgess, Pro Des Gary Freeman, Ed Jeremiah O'Driscoll and Ryan Chan, Music Alan Silvestri, Costumes Joanna Johnston.

 

Warner Bros. Pictures/ImageMovers/Necropia Entertainment/Esperanto Filmoj-Warner Bros.

105 mins. USA/Mexico. 2020. Rel on VOD: 26 October 2020. Cert. PG.