In late 1967, a young orphaned boy named Charlie Hansen (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) goes to live with his loving grandma in the rural Alabama town of Demopolis. As the boy and his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) encounter some deceptively glamorous but thoroughly diabolical witches, she wisely whisks him away to a seaside resort. Regrettably, they arrive at precisely the same time that the world’s Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) has gathered her fellow cronies from around the globe — undercover — to carry out her nefarious plans.
Despite the fact that I am a fairly big fan of Roald Dahl’s work, I genuinely had no idea that a brand new version of The Witches was being brought to the big (or small screen depending on how you look at it) this year. My lack of knowledge about this movie’s existence shocked me, even more, when I realized it starred Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, and even the voice of Chris Rock, some of the most iconic actors in Hollywood in a long time.
Not only that, but it’s directed by the legendary Robert Zemeckis who helmed excellent films such as Forrest Gump, Cast Away, and Back to the Future, just to name a few. All of which have gone down in film history to be beloved classics. That being said, however, his recent films have been extremely bad and tremendously disappointing. I remember being genuinely delighted to go see Welcome to Marwen, only to be leaving the theatre with a look of sadness and disappointment on my face. It was a movie that was supposed to lift your spirits, but instead, it made me feel bad inside.
But the man has made so many terrific films that I didn’t want to completely write him off as a director who lost his touch, so I wanted to give The Witches a shot and see if Zemeckis was finally able to rekindle some of the magic he so wonderfully brought to the cinema in his golden years, and gratefully, he did. While The Witches is nowhere near a magnificent film, it still has enough heart and wit to keep families of all ages entertained. This is Zemeckis’ best film in years.
I know it might sound like such a silly thing to even have to clarify, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway – The Witches is an extraordinarily goofy and over-the-top movie in practically every way imaginable. It’s a Roald Dahl story after all, so that should come as no surprise. It has extremely silly scenes that aren’t meant to be taken too seriously, and the film thankfully doesn’t. It knows it’s a campy story but it embraces it to its full potential.
There were some scenes where it felt like Zemeckis was taking things a bit too seriously, but right when it was starting to get out of hand, he made sure to embrace the campiness. In my opinion, this is a movie that is going to entertain young children greatly. If I had seen this film when I was in elementary school, I probably would have thought that it was absolutely incredible. It’s fast-paced, witty, has a heart, and is overall a delightful watch.
If there is something majorly wrong about The Witches, it would have to be the character development. There’s no other way to say it – it’s abysmal. By the end of the movie, I still didn’t get a good understanding of who everyone was and why they were doing what they were doing. Grandma is, well, a grandma. She loves to spoil her grandson Charlie and goof around with him, but that’s the extent of her character. Anne Hathaway’s Grand High Witch is a great villain for this story, but there is no development given to her. Not only that, but the other witches in her coven may as well not even exist, because the film never even makes an effort to focus on them for even a second. It was a gigantic missed opportunity.
But since I’m on the subject of the actors, I have to talk about how truly amazing everybody in this movie is. Octavia Spencer does a wonderful job at portraying a heartwarming grandmother that will remind you of your own. She always manages to put a smile on people’s faces with her kind words, her bubbly personality, and her ever-so-present charm that never fades. Anne Hathway is menacing and perfectly crazy in the role of the lead villain, the Grand High Witch. It’s obvious by watching this film that all of the actors involved had a truly marvelous time making the film and it shows in every scene.
And while The Witches as a whole is almost a bit too goofy, has awful character development, and a story that is a bit thin, it manages to make up for its flaws thanks to its indisputable magic and charm that lingers throughout and its terrific lead performances.
Overall Grade: B-
MPAA Rating: PG for scary images/moments, language, and thematic elements
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Distributed by: HBO Max
Release Date: October 23, 2020
Running Time: 105 minutes