How Does The New Witches Movie Stand Up To The Classic

Anne Hathaway in houndstooth outfit and hat with blonde hair

Anne Hathaway Chanels Cruella DeVil in new version of The Witches 

It’s been thirty years since Roald Dahl’s classic The Witches was first adapted into a hit movie and in this age of the reboot/remake/sequel, the powers that be decided it was high time for a new version.


The action has been moved from coastal Britain to 1960’s Alabama and the always reliable Octavia Spencer takes the role of the kindly grandmother who takes in her orphaned grandson (played enthusiastically by newcomer Jahzir Kadeem Bruno). Spencer never fails to give it her all and brings charm, humour and warmth to the role. Comedian Chris Rock provides an animated if slightly over the top narration.


Legendary director


No doubt you’ve seen the 1990 original adaptation and hold it in high nostalgic regard but this is a different beast and no less worthy for it. Robert Zemeckis is responsible for some of your favourite movies of all time. Having Back To The Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit on your CV gives you a clout that’s not seen much in Hollywood these days in working directors and at 69 he’s not even the oldest.


 Anne Hathaway as grand high witch with fangs

Yikes! Hathaway sinks her teeth in to the role of Grand High Witch


One of the criticisms levelled at this version of The Witches is that it’s not as scary as the first film, or even scary at all. I have to disagree with this and the petrified 9 year-old (my niece) who I watched it with would also concur.  It’s a shame that The Witches didn’t get the theatrical release it was intended for as it has all the looks and grandeur of a big screen adventure.


Hathaway dials up the terror


Whatever your feelings on Hathaway (excellent in Devil Wears Prada, horribly miscast as ‘Catwoman’), she literally kills it as the Grand High Witch. The part is a gift for any actress who gets to play a pantomime villain with a wardrobe to die for. She chews up the screen in every scene she’s in thanks to a horrific CGI mouth that you won’t easily forget. Sure, she doesn’t have the cheekbones or pure screen gravitas of Angelica Huston, but she laps up the lines in a dodgy accent and throws everything at the role, stealing every scene she’s in. Personally, her enlarged mouth, fangs, claws and extendable (!) arms gave me the creeps in a way the Jim Henson prosthetics in the original never did.


Gone is the 90’s air of creeping dread only to be replaced with CGI horror that is actually just as effective. I can see why some critics wouldn’t like this but focussing on CGI issues it negates the skill involved and let’s be honest, some of the creaky puppet work in the original film don’t exactly stand the test of time.


Octavia Spencer talks to a mouse

Octavia Spencer chats to her grand-mouse 


It’s easy to hate on a remake, especially if you are old enough to cherish the original and all the nostalgia that comes with it but to do so here does the new film a disservice it doesn’t deserve. There’s a quintessentially British quirkiness about the original that is obviously missing here but is replaced with a polished glamour that works just as well. The sets are glorious and the whole thing looks delicious from start to finish.


Doing things differently 


Changing the setting to 1940’s deep south America is bold move and creates an element of racial tension (disadvantaged poor kids are more at risk, making them an easy target for the witchy perpetrators) but it’s not particularly explored. The point is made however and to criticize it for not going deeper means you’re asking too much of your kid’s film. Those themes weren’t present in the source material so the fact they are referred to at all gives the film a bit more relevance without being preachy on a subject that it’s not even about.


If you’re watching as a family, at £16 you’re paying way under the odds you would have done for a trip to the movies and for that price you can’t really go wrong. It’s great fun and if you can disregard the fact it is a remake and take it on its own merits, its thoroughly enjoyable and just in time for Halloween!


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