Dahl classics have been adapted to hell and back and “The Witches” is the latest in a less-than-ideal adaptation.
The film, directed by Robert Zemeckis, features an ensemble cast of spectacular actors. It stars Anne Hathaway as the villain of the film, the Grand High Witch, played by Anjelica Huston in the 1990 version of the film. The film also stars Octavia Spencer as Grandma, the grandmother of the main character, Stanley Tucci as Mr. Stringer, the hotel manager where much of the film takes place, and the film is narrated by comedian Chris Rock. “The Witches” centers around a young boy played by Jahzir Kadeem Bruno who regularly comes into conflict with the titular Witches. After his parents’ deaths, he goes to live with his grandmother and is nearly kidnapped by a witch when he is young. After telling his grandmother, she reveals that witches are real and that she has had encounters with witches too. The pair attempt to escape the witch’s hunt but soon find themselves right in the midst of the Witches’ evil plot. The boy overhears the Grand High Witch explain her plot to turn the children of the world into mice. The Grand High Witch discovers the boy and turns him into a mouse. They escape with the help of the boy’s pet mouse Daisy, voiced by Broadway’s Kristin Chenoweth. The good guys devise a plan to sneak the mouse potion into the soup that the Witches are to eat, and they are successful. They release a cat into the ballroom after all the Witches turn into rats, ending their reign of terror.
The film is less an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s original dark humor fantasy novel and more just a snatching of the story skeleton and twisting it to meet the director’s end. The first major change is the setting. The original takes place in England but this film takes place in Alabama in 1967. You can probably see where this is going. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t take the story where you might expect. It would appear they used 1967 just to employ flashy costumes and play Motown music. There’s nothing wrong with structuring a story around aesthetic choices but you must do them convincingly otherwise they just become the makings of a hack director.
The film also experienced some considerable controversy by its portrayal of the Witches. The Witches in the film hide their witch identity by wearing gloves over their three-fingered hands. Some disability rights activist organizations have pointed out that this direct portrayal of an entire group of evil women who kidnap children and are defined by their unusual features is intensely problematic. Those with disabilities face an extreme challenge for social mobility and they face a lot of discrimination simply for circumstances they cannot control. They should not be shamed or seen as monsters for having a disability.
“The Witches” is pretty lackluster. It’s one of those films that if you put it on, you might as well just make dinner and come back, and you’ll probably not be lesser for it. “The Witches” receives a D-rating.