Its difficult to adapt a book as well known and beloved as Roald Dahl’s The Witches and even harder when there is already a film so clear in the consciousness of the book’s fans. This latest adaptation of The Witches attempts to get past this by balancing a fairly faithful realisation of the book with some clear 21st century updates which will appeal to a more broad audience.
Part of updating this version is bringing back some of the horror of both the book and the original movie. Watching the unmasking of the Grand High Witch, playing by Anjelica Huston in the original, is a moment that scarred many a child and brought the terror of the witches to life. The 2020 version does have elements of this, with some moments which will unsettle the younger viewers, but never the visual horror that the 1990 movie had.
Instead, moments are played more for comedy and there is a lot more of that in this version. Some of this comes from Anne Hathaway, who takes the Grand High Witch role from Huston. Its clear she is relishing the role here and although she never manages to better Huston, she is fun to watch and also nasty and scary when it counts as well.
Some of the horror comes from the situation the children find themselves in. Turned into mice, the predicament of the heroes feels hopeless and this is relayed very well. The most compelling aspects of the movie are the moments which are most faithful to Dahl’s original story and they are translated well. Fans of the book will be glad to know that the ending of the 1990 movie has been changed and kept much more in-line with the original story.
Unfortunately, as with a lot of Dahl’s shorter books, there isn’t always enough to hang a whole movie on and this is a film which feels it could have benefitted from some smaller embellishments or deeper layering to the overall story. The story is fine when designed for a book aimed at pre-teens but when it also has to appeal to a movie-going audience who need more, the story lacks in a lot of places and could have done with a sub-plot or added character arc.
It also doesn’t help that this film doesn’t surpass the original. With any remake, if it cannot offer enough that is new or just better than the movie that already exists, you have to wonder what the point was and The Witches falls into that category. It isn’t a bad film but does feel like a particularly pointless one.
Overall, The Witches is a much more faithful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book than its 1990 predecessor but doesn’t do enough here to surpass it. There are great moments which show the horror of both the source material and the original film, while Anne Hathaway is doing a great job filling Huston’s shoes, but there is little to elevate this above average.
Rating – 3
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