A reimagining of a beloved Roland Dahl creation by Robert Zemeckis with Guillemo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron diluted a spry, dark vision.
Not to say modern audiences won’t find The Witches full of kinetics and silly antics as those of a certain age will find it amusing.
But there’s a reason it didn’t earn theatrical status during a pandemic even with a cast that includes Ann Hathaway as the Grand High Witch and Octavia Spencer as Grandma Abigail. Despite some lavish digital augmentation it’s hard not to notice an uneven, even cartoonish quality that envelops the story and characters.
The delightful wit of Angelica Huston and magic of Jim Henson’s workshop from the earlier, far more enveloping Nicolas Roeg version over three decades ago is missing. Not to say Hathaway doesn’t have fun with a character with a Cruella de Vil streak, it just has the mannered way about it. And, the Grand High Witch, like the film in general, is more flaky than scary.
Having a somewhat spunky Spencer and Jahzil Bruno in the part of Hero Boy as well as wisecracking Chris Rock doing voice-over is a welcome, diverse change of pace. As the setting switches this time from England in the 1980s to Alabama circa 1967. Don’t take candy from strangers and don’t forget what’s within you are part of the message here as the director keeps it all from being too preachy or sentimental.
The middle portion of The Witches has its best set-pieces when the nefarious plan becomes evident at a convention at a posh seaside resort hotel. But, there’s less of the leanness and meanness around the children become mice dynamic that ultimately leaves it watchable and hardly boring, or close to a classic for that matter Stanley Tucci, unfortunately is pretty much wasted as the overwrought hotel manager.