The Witches is a flawed reimagining that will make everyone appreciate the original that much more. It is hard to not compare this film to Nicholas Roeg’s because every flaw draws you back to that magic from thirty years ago. While this telling of The Witches is closer to the source material, it strays into absurdity more than once. It is anchored by the solid performances and magical spectacles, but the horrendous effects and lackluster narrative harm this adaptation.
The thought of remaking The Witches was probably the first mistake, but that’s every failed remake’s mistake these days, the thought alone is a sin. It is a shame when you have talented actresses involved, but the material they are given is just rubbish. Directed and co-written by Robert Zemeckis, The Witches stars Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Jahzir Bruno, and Chris Rock. Roeg’s original took place in England, but this new take venture to 1960s Alabama. After his parents are killed in an accident, Charlie Hansen (Bruno) is sent to live with his grandmother, Agatha (Spencer). While staying at a hotel, Charlie is transformed into a rodent after encountering a group of witches.
Rock’s narration is completely unnecessary, not because it’s awful, but because of how it takes you out of the film. It gets to the point where you may think you are watching something else. He voices an older Charlie and he provides the opening exposition but overstays his welcome. One immediate standout is how the subplots in this film don’t amount to anything. For instance, Agatha is very knowledgeable on witches and educates Charlie throughout the film due to her experience with one. This experience is revisited many times, but when it is connected to the film’s conflict, it’s barely made to feel important. On a better note, The Witches does make a few changes to ensure it’s not a shot for shot remake. Still, it is unfortunate that Zemekis’ previous wizardry isn’t fully displayed in this film.
Zemeckis co-wrote the script alongside Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro. They offer enough details about Agatha and Chris’s past for them to be sympathetic characters but Hathaway’s character feels overlooked in many ways. She stars as Lilith and ties into a major subplot, but it goes nowhere. The Witches holds itself up with great performances, and while some are more over the top than others, it never gets out of hand. Spencer is the standout, she shines like she always does. She makes it easy for audiences to identify Agatha as a woman who is stuck in her ways but has a big heart. Hathaway is doing what she can as Lilith, The Grand High Witch. Her only downfall comes when she dives into the over the top portions of her act. Bruno is believable as Charlie, he pulls at your heartstrings by portraying this orphaned kid who is initially depressed but finds a new meaning to life by the end.
Zemeckis has helmed many beloved films in the past, so it’s almost unbelievable that he directed this because it just isn’t that great. Luckily, some of the films redeeming aspects come from its vibrant score by Alan Silvestri and it’s gorgeous cinematography that highlights all of the extravagant costumes worn throughout. However, another issue with this film is its poor effects. The practical effects featured in Roeg’s adaptation will certainly be missed. The moments when characters transition to rodents comes off like the CGI wasn’t even completed. Hathaway’s character has these eerie smiles that stretch and it is just a horrendous visual.
The Witches won’t sit right with fans of Roeg’s adaptation, but this modern reimagining of Roald Dahl’s novel will still be a hit with children. It’s a subpar remake that won’t offer the same lasting impact. Perhaps if Zemeckis worked on the screenplay alone, it would have been written better. The Witches is effective enough, but Roald would certainly hate this film just as he did the original.