Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 45 minutes, Director – Robert Zemeckis
A young boy (Jahzir Bruno) and his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) escape to a hotel after finding out there are witches who turn children into mice in the area, only to discover that a gathering of witches is taking place there, with the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) in attendance
Throughout the 105 minute run-time of Robert Zemeckis’ take on Roald Dahl’s The Witches I had no clue what Anne Hathaway was doing, but she was clearly having a great time doing it. Her seemingly German accent, occasionally slipping into something that sounds like Russian, as the Grand High Witch almost matches the state of the film itself. It isn’t good but it’s certainly enjoyable.
We follow a protagonist simply credited as Hero Boy (Jahzir Bruno), living with his grandma (Octavia Spencer), who has recently had his eyes opened to the existence of witches. After a discussion between the two – Spencer’s character having witnessed the effects of witchcraft as a child – they escape to an expensive hotel to avoid any risk of Bruno’s character being turned into a mouse, witches take delight in turning children into mice and then stamping on them. However, what the pair are unaware of is the fact that a collective of witches have congregated at the very same hotel, under the guise of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
While appearing to the rest of the world as normal people, although with long scars on either side of their mouths, with brightly coloured hats, dresses and accessories, fitting in with the aesthetic of the hotel, the witches are far different creatures when by themselves. Their mouths open almost across the width of their faces to reveal sharp jaws, they have a singular claw for their feet, three for their hands, and their neat hairstyles are all just wigs. And a fair deal of the witches appearance as witches does seem to be somewhat CGI heavy, as are a number of details of the film. In recent years Robert Zemeckis seems to have regularly used CGI to help tell his stories and bring them to life, such as in Welcome To Marwen and The Walk, not to mention his motion-capture animation work throughout the early 2000’s. And yet you feel as if some of the effects could be more convincing and effective if they were practical, the CGI almost seems to be wasted – Angelica Huston was, for many kids, terrifying thanks to her prosthetics in the 1993 adaptation of the story, whereas this film may provide younger viewers with some creepy moments but potentially not much else. The use of CGI throughout seems to just remove something from the film, especially during some of the longer scenes of the film.
There are a number of lengthy sequences over the course of the piece. The meeting of the witches themselves almost seems to go on for 20 minutes. While it seems to want to take its time to gradually reveal its elements for the suspense and development of the characters. However, the effect is one that simply makes the scene seem slow itself. Almost bringing in a feeling of repetition as the gathering of magical beings discuss, and to some extent act out, their plans. Bearing this in mind, and with what the scene tries to pack in it still seems to take a while to actually get to it. The spectacle that some of the ideas and shots seem to want to capture isn’t quite there and therefore the scene feels longer and more drawn out. You just find yourself wondering that if the witches really wanted to squash the mice that they’ve just created, surely they wouldn’t wear heels, or would find something bigger to do the job with – this is unless they’re trying to challenge themselves?
And yet, despite such scenes and some weird dialogue choices in the screenplay – this might be the 1960’s but would a young British boy, Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick) really exclaim “crikey!” ever few minutes, or describe themselves as “portly” – the film somehow has some mild entertainment value. There are some chuckles to be found, although perhaps not always for the right reasons. Stanley Tucci (thank God for him!) seems to be having a nice time gently making his way through the role of thick Southern States accented hotel manager Mr Stringer, his screams at one point as the hotel is revealed to have a mouse problem do provide some amusement. And a specific sequence towards the end of the film also provides some chuckles, most likely intentional. There is so much in The Witches that makes up for a rather lacklustre and not best feature. And yet some of the individual elements do admittedly provide some amusement, although maybe not always for the right reasons. This new, even if it does feel like it was made a number of years ago, take on The Witches isn’t dreadful, but it certainly isn’t great either.
Anne Hathaway’s accent throughout this CGI filled take on Roald Dahl’s The Witches matches the film rather well. It’s not good and you don’t always know what’s going on, but it certainly provides some amusement, and she seems to be having a great time in the role.