In December 1968, a young boy goes to live with his grandma in Alabama after his parents die in a car accident. One day, the boy comes across a real witch, and his grandmother confirms from her own experiences that witches are real. They’re demons who masquerade as women by wearing wigs, long gloves to cover up their claws, makeup to mask their monstrous jaws; and they don’t have toes. They also hate children and long to squish them. Trying to get off the scent of a witch in their small town, the young boy and his grandmother head to a fancy hotel in Alabama only to encounter the Grand High Witch and a coven of other witches, who have a plan to turn children the world over into mice. The young boy gets discovered and turned, but resolves, with the help of two other children who are now mice, to stop the witches from enacting their nefarious plot.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci
Review: As great as it can be, The Witches lacks the best world-building and depth of some other Dahl material, and Zemeckis can’t quite figure out how to make this story richer. The back half is incredibly thin in terms of plotting, especially when compared to the revelations and sheer technical excellence of that aforementioned centerpiece sequence. There’s a fun bit on a balcony and another in a kitchen, but the movie never achieves that central tension again, even in its final showdowns. And then it kind of peters out to a variation on the same non-ending of the source. And yet, just like the people who were exactly the right age in 1990, kids won’t forget The Witches. There’s still power in the idea that something is out there in the night and wants to hurt you, and it’s telling that this force comes into Charlie’s life after his parents die, removing that layer of parental protection. Ultimately, this feels like minor work for Zemeckis & del Toro based on a minor work by Dahl, but it could be a major work for a kid who sees it at just the right age.
Verdict: Worth the Home Popcorn