The Witches is based on a novel by Roald Dahl, an author who had little room for telling stories where kids got off easy.
The book was originally made into a movie in 1990, directed by the brilliant Nicolas Roeg. To this day, the film remains a beloved classic, but Dahl wasn’t happy since that film ended with a happy ending for the main child character.
The new 2020 version attempted to remain more loyal to Dahl’s book, but did it match up to the original The Witches?
The Witches on HBO Max review
The Witches was supposed to be a big 2020 theatrical release and likely would have done great business if theaters were still open nationwide. However, with the theaters closed in major markets in California and New York, the movie went straight to HBO Max.
That is too bad because it would have been a great movie to see on the big screen.
The good news is that unlike Disney+, which charged families $30 to watch Mulan on its streaming service, HBO Max offered The Witches for free to its subscribers.
The story is mostly the same as the original movie.
Chris Rock voices the narrator, as he opens the movie with a slideshow presentation of what witches are, why they are dangerous, and the reasons kids should fear them.
The film then flashes back to 1967 in Alabama, where Jahzir Bruno is a young boy named Charlie, whose parents died in a car accident. He went to live with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) and struggled to get over his loss.
The first part of this movie is wonderful, with Grandmother trying to help Charlie overcome his depression over losing his parents. These moments really make you care about these characters, which helps later in the movie when they encounter witches.
That is also good because once they discover the witches, the movie flies through to its conclusion.
The first witch shows up in a store and tries to offer Charlie some candy, which he smartly rejects and runs off. Grandmother, who is sick, finds out about the encounter and reveals to the boy that she saw a witch when she was a child that turned her friend into a chicken through the candy she offered her.
After revealing how to recognize witches (their mouth lines stretch almost to their ears, they wear wigs because they are bald, long gloves to hide their claws, and shoes covering their hooves), she takes Charlie to hide.
Much to their bad luck, the hotel they stayed at (safe since it is mostly just for wealthy white people and witches typically go after the poor) is also the home of a convention of all the area’s witches.
It is also most unlucky because the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) is the same one who turned Grandmother’s friend into a chicken as a child and is now the witches’ leader. She also has a new potion she created that can turn a person into a mouse within seconds of eating it.
The plan is to put it into candy they manufacture and turn all the world’s children into mice.
Charlie, and his pet mouse Daisy, overhear this and then witness an overbearing English boy named Bruno turned into a mouse as an example. The Grand High Witch tries to capture them, but they all escape and go back to Grandmother for help.
The entire conclusion and solution seems a little easy and too well done. However, credit has to go to this version for using the ending of Dahl’s book, which is a little darker than what the original movie offered.
Robert Zemeckis directed the film, and there isn’t anyone better to bring a live-action world seamlessly mixed with animation to life. There is so much animation going on in every scene that it almost feels like watching a live-action cartoon, and from the man who made Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future, and Forrest Gump, that is no surprise.
There are horrifying moments in this movie, especially for younger audiences, and it is a perfect family movie to watch this Halloween.
Anne Hathaway completely steals the movie every time she is on the screen, and that is both good and bad. Imagine if Cruella de Ville was a witch, and you are almost there. Just add a lot of steroids to the mix. It almost, at times, seems like Hathaway is in a completely different movie, overacting the entire time with cackling glee.
Octavia Spencer, as expected, is also magnificent. She just knocks it out of the park as the Grandmother who will do anything to protect her grandson perfectly, and you want her to succeed every step of the way.
Stanley Tucci also appears in the movie as the total manager, but he plays the straight man, which is a little disappointing.
Final thoughts: The Witches
The Witches is a solid family-friendly Halloween movie. It is not quite on the level as the 1990 version, but it doesn’t need to be.
There is room in the world for both movies, and both deserve a place on your watchlist. The original was a scary tale with great performances and a wonderful Angelica Huston. The new version has more great performances and some great acting along with Zemeckis’ masterful work behind the camera.
The Witches should have debuted on the big screen, but it is just as worth watching as a family on the small screen for anyone who can get HBO Max on your TV screen (it still isn’t available on Roku or Amazon Fire).
The Witches is currently streaming on HBO Max.