The Witches

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Witches
dir Robert Zemeckis
scr Robert Zemeckis, Kenya Barris, Guillermo del Toro
prd Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Luke Kelly
with Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Jahzir Bruno, Codie-Lei Eastick, Kristin Chenoweth, Chris Rock, Josette Simon, Charles Edwards, Morgana Robinson, Miranda Sarfo Peprah, Ashanti Prince-Asafo
release US 22.Oct.20,
UK 26.Oct.20
20/UK Warners 1h44

hathaway chenoweth rock

Is it streaming?

bruno, spencer and tucci
Robert Zemeckis and Guillermo del Toro deploy their storytelling sensibilities to Roald Dahl's gleefully nasty classic about the everlasting battle between witches and children. These filmmakers seem perfectly suited to this material, so it's a little surprising that they opt for much more goofy slapstick than dark subtext. The mix of wacky adventure and scary suspense specifically targets children, but grown-ups may have some fun with it too.
After his parents die in 1968, an 8-year-old boy (Bruno) moves in with his tough-but-loving grandmother (Spencer). When she suspects a child-hating witch is after him, they flee to a posh seaside hotel managed by Mr Stringer (Tucci). But the Grand High Witch (Hathaway) has brought her minions here to launch her nefarious master plan to turn all children into mice. And by the time this boy realises what's up, it might be too late to stop her. He'll need help from Grandma as well as two kids who are already mice (Chenoweth and Eastick).
Zemeckis nicely uses music to establish the period, generating emotional undercurrents without getting sentimental. Because Dahl never spoke down to children, the story is underpinned by punchy themes that are never preachy. And the story is packed with delightfully awful details, as Grandma casually recounts the terrifying true nature of witches. Effects add lots of colour, even if some elements are rather cartoonish. And the fast-paced plot is packed with thrilling set-pieces that keep things bouncing along.

With lavish digital augmentation, Hathaway has a fabulous time mercilessly chomping on the scenery as the Norwegian-born tyrant. Spencer is even better in a more grounded role. She adds lively spark alongside moving moments, becoming the heart of the story. The other standout is Rock, who provides a sassy voiceover narration as an older version of her grandson. And Tucci is superb as always, even if he doesn't have much to do beyond delivering hilariously overwrought reactions.

There's barely a dull moment as this hyperactive film leaps from one set-piece to the next, maintaining its happily grotesque tone. While much of the movie is way over the top, there are just enough subtle gags and freaky touches that will appeal to the deranged child inside all of us, even if it's far too silly to become a classic. Still, it's a timely reminder that we should never give up on who we are inside. And never take candy from a stranger.

cert pg themes, language, violence 21.Oct.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall