As I screened Roald Dahl’s The Witches, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen this premise before. Of course! I was recalling Angelica Huston (whom I absolutely adored from the 90’s version) in all her ghoulish glory prevailing over evil witches masquerading as ordinary women who seek out children to kill. Until one day, one boy and his grandmother discover a means to foil their plans by way of a secret formula.
It all begins once this young boy loses his parents and is sent to live with his Grandmother, who does everything in her power to cheer him up including doing a very rousing version of the Four Tops Motown hit “Reach Out.” However, a brief encounter with one neighborhood ‘witch’ makes it apparent they should head out of town. You see, Grandma had an encounter as a young girl and escaped. Upon checking into a swanky hotel, the young boy finds himself trapped in a room where the High Grand Witch is holding a convention and after his next encounter his life
Narrated by Chris Rock as the Older Hero Mouse in a room full of children aka Mission Impossible/CIA style sets us up for the comedic elements of this basic tale directed by Robert Zemeckis. Like Angelica Huston, Anne Hathaway oozes elegant evil. A vibe and skill no doubt mastered working with Meryl Streep on The Devil Wears Prada, leading this film into an on-screen reunion for Hathaway and former co-star Stanley Tucci. Delicious, but all too brief.
The makeup and prosthetics by Robb Crafer are simply ghoulishly grotesque and right in line with making Hathaway and all the other ladies look frightfully fantastic. Zemeckis’ screenplay is enhanced by the presence of horror master Guillermo del Toro and comedy genius Kenya Barris providing one of my favorite exchanges between Grandma (Octavia Spencer) and Mr. Stringer (Stanley Tucci) where he accuses of her having mice in her purse. Only Octavia Spencer could make you giggle at an insult with such comedic precision.
Steaming now on HBO Max, The Witches is great family fun just in time for Halloween, but be warned that some scenes are a little frightening and may scare smaller children.