I must have spoken too soon in my piece about 1990 film 'The Witches': I stated that so far, there hadn't been a bad adaption of one of Roald Dahl's books, simply mediocre ones (with the worst one we've had being 2016's 'The BFG'). Well, here we are - 'The Witches' are back, this time directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Guillermo del Toro and produced by Alfonso Cuarón - and we have a new last place for Dahl's adaptions.
After the death of his parents, a boy (young: Jahzir Kadeem Bruno, old: Chris Rock) moves in with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer, 'Hidden Figures', 'The Shape Of Water'). After some time together, mysterious women start to appear in the town. He confronts his grandmother, and she reveals that witches are real! Desperate to escape town, they travel to a seaside hotel, but little do they know The Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway, 'Interstellar', 'Les Misérables', 'Ocean's 8') is having a meeting with witches to share with them her plan to turn kids into mice.
Straight out the gate, the film lacks any of the horror elements present in both the book and the 90s film. It's way too colourful and CGI-filled to create any kind of fear for children. Weirdly enough, this film currently has an M rating in Australia, above the 90s PG rating which is much scarier.
As for Hathaway as The Grand High Witch, she isn't scary - but that's not to say she isn't having a fun time. She's giving it her all with the goofy accent, but that messes with the tone. The film wants to be a kids' horror, but with PC parents it has to be packaged in a colourful, safe way - it's desensitising and adds to the film's weakness. Her appearance in full witch mode is simply bald and claw hands, with very little horror in her look. Also, strangely, in scenes with big groups of witches, some of them are very clearly men in dresses, and it's just weird.
The only horrifying thing about the 2020 'Witches' is the god-damn terrible CGI. The kids turning into mice is so awful. It's possible that, since the film's release was originally pushed backed to next year but then rushed to HBO Max, they had to quickly do the CGI - because it's not good. Similar to Josh Gad's jaw in 'Artemis Fowl', we get Hathaway's nose being enlarged; it's the most nightmare-fuelling thing here.
Straight out the gate, the film lacks any of the horror elements present in both the book and the 90s film. It's way too colourful and CGI-filled to create any kind of fear for children.
As for sticking to the book's original ending - which includes the children remaining as mice - here the script misses the original meaning. It just feels like sequel bait, and without spoiling to much it's a strange message they were trying to send to kids here.
Kristin Chenoweth voices a mouse who was turned from a child four months prior... she is a talented 52-year-old woman, but a young child she is not. The same goes for Spencer here playing a grandmother, made to be quite old - and they hint that she is at the end of her life, even though Spencer is only 50 years old.
When you hear the names Robert Zemeckis, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron, you expect something visually engaging. These three names paired with Dahl's work could have been something really special, but this is just another bland adaption. The more you compare it to both the source material and previous adaptions, it comes across as bland and missing the mark. The same could be said about the star-studded cast led by Hathaway and Octavia Spencer, with Stanley Tucci playing the forgettable hotel owner. This team really could have made something unique, but this is not it, witch.