First --- and most importantly --- Robert Zemeckis’ new version of Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” is definitely not for young children. Though it’s a bright and extremely colorful movie about children --- and obviously witches --- there are a few startling images which could leave the much younger set horrified.
That said, older kids and adults will find this version mostly entertaining, especially because of the outstanding performances turned in by Anne Hathaway as the world’s Grand High Witch and Octavia Spencer’s Grandma. I would watch --- and enjoy --- anything with these two, but they both have certainly upped their games here, with Zemeckis’ guiding hand.
Hathaway just looks like she’s having so much fun! And who wouldn’t playing Dahl’s ruling witch? Add to her outrageous portrayal all the FABULOUS costumes --- hats, wigs, et al --- and it’s a treat to behold.
Jahzir Bruno --- who is beyond adorable --- stars as Grandma’s orphaned grandson whose partner-in-crime is Codie-Lei Eastick, who plays Bruno Jenkins. Kristin Chenoweth voices Daisy, a pet mouse. These three team up for a great deal of mischief to save the day.
Zemeckis, Kenya Barris and the master of fantasy Guillermo del Toro collaborated on the screenplay, based on the book by Roald Dahl. THE WITCHES is fun, scary and delightfully madcap. The special effects are awesome --- as one would expect from Zemeckis. The dinner scene with all of the assembled witches --- except the Grand High Witch --- flying into the air and changing into mice is frightfully amazing.
I had just watched THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA the other night, so to see Stanley Tucci, who plays Mr. Stringer, and Anne Hathaway together again was near tear-inducing. Unfortunately, Mr. Tucci isn’t given nearly enough to do as the hotel manager in THE WITCHES. A little more Tucci could go a very long way --- especially with Ms. Hathaway in the room.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!
Robert Zemeckis has directed some of the most iconic films in the history of cinema. Movies like FORREST GUMP, BACK TO THE FUTURE, CAST AWAY, THE POLAR EXPRESS and ROMANCING THE STONE will still be enjoyed and revered 100 years from now. His latest effort, ROALD DAHL’S THE WITCHES, is a remake of the 1990 Anjelica Huston vehicle based on the book by Roald Dahl. While it’s not in the same class as his previous efforts, THE WITCHES is well crafted and holds our interest.
The film stars Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch, Octavia Spencer as Grandma who attempts to thwart the witches’ mission to eradicate children that they hate, and an unseen Chris Rock as the Older Hero Mouse who narrates the story. Little Jahzir Bruno plays Spencer’s grandson, Hero Boy --- he does a terrific job at such a young age --- and Stanley Tucci is Mr. Stringer who runs a fancy hotel, one of the few characters who actually has a name.
We learn from Grandma, who had a run-in with a witch as a young girl, that witches have distinct characteristics --- they are bald, have no toes, always wear gloves to hide their partially fingerless hands and most scarily, they have an ear-to-ear grin that makes The Joker look like he’s frowning. And one reason they have an aversion to children is that kids smell like dog poo to them.
The always reliable Spencer shines as Grandma who assuages her young grandson’s deep depression after his parents are killed in a car accident which he manages to survive. She also delivers my favorite line in the film when Mr. Stringer asks her if she happens to be “carrying around a mouse on her person?”. With a straight face, she answers “A mouse? Why on Earth would I be carrying around a mouse?”
Zemeckis’ version of THE WITCHES is meticulous in showcasing this batch of witches --- at least 30 of them, led by the Grand High Witch --- with their basic traits. The special effects are dazzling and when two of the main children are turned into the witches’ favorite punishment, i.e., mice, Zemeckis and his crew imbue the little creatures with speaking voices and sheer cunning as they fight to survive and repress their enemy. When we include the small white mouse Daisy (voiced by Kristen Chenoweth) who is a pet of the grandson, we have a trio of tiny creatures running around the hotel and other sites. The director adds some humor as one of the mice, formerly the rotund little boy Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick), has difficulty getting through tight spaces among other issues.
One climactic segment has the witch group self-imploding at their hotel dinner after they eat soup laced with a special potion designed to turn children into mice. It looks like an elongated scene of a Rapture where only clothes remain where once there was a body.
Parents should be wary of the movie’s PG rating as I believe it’s too scary for children under seven or eight. Hathaway’s interpretation of the Grand High Witch is deliciously evil, especially when the visual effects gurus lay that freakish smile on her face. She has also perfected a foreign accent to add to her nefarious persona. But I think this could be too much for the younger set.
Other than that admonition, the movie is fun enough for everyone else, although it could have been shortened by about 10 minutes. Zemeckis
co-wrote the script based on the 1990 film and Dahl’s book with two other scribes, including famed director Guillermo del Toro.
Opinion: Mild See It Now!