From the first moment I saw the trailers for The Witches, I wanted to see it. I love Roald Dahl and his books, but most of all, the movie looked wicked, the effects awesome, and the cast stellar. I find Octavia Spencer excellent in everything she is in and Anne Hathaway as a villain sounded intriguing. Stanley Tucci is one of my favorite actors. I just hoped that the trailer matched the movie. The Witches has incredible effects, amazing design on the witches with a smart decision to change up the story to set in the South along with incredible acting.
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Octavia Spencer, Anne Hathaway, Stanley Tucci, and Chris Rock, The Witches based on the novel of the same name by Roald Dahl, it is set in 1968 Alabama where a young orphaned boy (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) goes to live with his grandmother and discovers witches are real. When the pair escape to a hotel from a curse by one of the witches, he stumbles onto an entire conference of them and their plot to turn all children into mice. He and his Grandmother (Octavia Spencer), aided by two children turned into mice, Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick) and Mary (Kristin Chenoweth), must thwart the designs of the witches and their leader, The Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) while staying out of the watchful eye of the hotel manager (Stanley Tucci). Chris Rock narrates the entire tale as the grown version of the boy but the mystery is whether he manages to escape the curse of the witches.
There are several facets to the movie that just made it delightful for me. One of the biggest reasons that I found this a worthy successor to the 90’s version is simply the special effects, the design of the witches. Not only is Anne Hathaway’s character well designed, each detail thought out but it creates an effect of creepiness and makes the High Witch almost snake-like in appearance. I love the effect of her mouth widening and the ability of the witches to sniff out children. Beyond the design of the witches, there is also the design of the mice. They look perfect, just like real mice but the design allows for movement and adventure.
The story is also moved from the nineties version. In this version, the young boy is orphaned in 1968 and he moves to Alabama with his grandmother. It creates the ability of the film to address racism as an undertone to the witches themselves. In the film, the witches consider humans lesser, prey to be eaten and used, treating children much the way white people have treated people of color. While more blatant, setting the story in the South reinforces the idea of racism being questioned both in the story and in the original book. And only by looking at these concepts in books and films can we address them and change the way we treat others around us. Having Olivia Spencer’s character go to a hotel where most of the staff is black is a commentary that addresses just how prevalent racism is. And by having the hero of the story be a black woman, to change that initial story is to change the overall attitudes that white people are always the hero. Stanley Tucci, as the hotel manager, is obstructive and useless in helping the children. Both the children and the grandmother are the true heroes of the story. That diversity is what I love the best.
Undoubtedly in a lesser cast, these ideas would not be as clear. But Robert Zemeckis has true skill at building both comedy and creepiness in a movie. Octavia Spencer is perfect, her portrayal both warm and loving, but also tough and able to stand up to evil. Anne Hathaway is creepy, funny, and brilliant in her portrayal of the Grand High Witch. The actors of the three children, Jahzir Kadeem Bruno as the orphaned Hero Boy, Codie-Lei Eastick as Bruno, and Kristin Chenoweth as Mary are all engaging in their portrayals, voicing the three children before and after they are turned into mice, each strong and resilient characters in this story of both heroism and the prices of magic. Chris Rock voices the older Hero boy narrating the story after the events of the hotel and he is strong, helping to build a compelling story. Stanley Tucci is his normal self, bringing his beautiful comedic timing and strong acting to the role of the hotel manager.
While it is not terribly scary, with the effects and design of the witches, the film is completely enjoyable, blending comedy and eeriness alongside social commentary about both the South and the current social climate. While I’m not always a fan of witches being portrayed as the bad guys, this film does it well, playing up the effects for both the comedy and story. The film is completely captivating and the performances outstanding. I was charmed and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. If you like Roald Dahl or any of the actors, this film is perfect for you.
Rating: 5 out of 5 mice.