Most critics will tell you the hardest reviews to write are the lukewarm movies: the movies that are fine but not especially memorable. This is particularly true given the dichotomy of rottentomatoes doesn’t allow for a lukewarm response. It is either fresh or rotten, good or bad.
The latest lukewarm movie comes from director Robert Zemeckis with his adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel The Witches. Like all of Dahl’s books I really enjoyed his writing as a kid, and I was the perfect age of 9 to enjoy the first film adaptation in 1990 starring Angelica Huston.
This new version stars Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch and Octavia Spencer as the Grandmother of young Luke played by Jahzir Bruno and narrated by Chris Rock. Rock and Spencer set up the world of the witches but it takes a lot longer than the 1990 film and never fills the audience with the same dread and suspense. This might be because I am no longer 9, but I predict kids will not find this new version very scary.
The story takes a while to get to the witches being witchy and when they do Hathaway has a ton of fun with the role. She’s hamming it up and having a good time being deliciously evil. I appreciate they didn’t try and humanize the witches with a tragic backstory like so often is the case in modern-day villains. It’s not scary if we know the backstory of our characters. Sometimes evil is ok and fun.
Octavia Spencer is also good and the child performers are fine. I didn’t love the visual effects they used and wish they had gone the Muppet/make-up route of the original films. It’s a lot scarier to see the warped flesh and strange creatures; much more so than seeing Hathaway with a CG giant smile over her face. That looks very artificial so it’s not very scary.
The costumes and style of The Witches is a lot of fun and like I said Hathaway is selling every scene she’s in. It’s just frustrating because it has so many good pieces that it could have been something special but it ends being a big meh.
It’s fine. Kids will be moderately entertained but it’s unlikely to make any lasting impact and if I was looking for a The Witches adaptation I would pick the 1990 film every time. Take that for what you will.
5.5 out of 10
Smile Worthy (barely)