First Impressions: Roald Dahl's The Witches (2020)

The film that haunted an entire generation of children tries to repeat its feat 30 years later.

HBO Max's The Witches. (Daniel Smith / HBO Max)


The Witches (Robert Zemeckis, 2020) is another remake that had its distribution planning changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The film was expected to be released on movie screens in the month of Halloween but ended up debuting on the newest streaming platform, HBO Max. It did not go unnoticed by the public and critics, though. Based on Roald Dahl's book, released in 1983, The Witches was first adapted to the cinema in 1990, haunting an entire generation of children. And now, 30 years later, Zemeckis wants to repeat the feat. The story of an orphaned boy who turns into a rat due to a curse cast by the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway), as well as the special effects used to portray witches on the screen, is a sufficient pretext to cause the least potential nightmares to little ones.


When making a comparison with the previous film, we noticed several significant novelties in this new film version. The first comes right away. Now, the narrative is told no longer by the boy's grandmother, lived here by Octavia Spencer, but by himself (in the voice of Chris Rock). Furthermore, unlike the 1990 version, which was mostly set in England in the 1980s, Zemeckis' film transfers the story to Alabama in the late 1960s, adding an extra layer to the script by placing black actors in the lead roles of a story set in a segregationist state. It is a pity that this political-social issue does not go beyond some subtleties raised throughout the plot.


For those more nostalgic viewers, the most surprising change is undoubtedly the one that comes at the end.

Although the script written by Robert Zemeckis, Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro has a more fanciful and comic tone than that sinister created by Allan Scott, the outcome is, in a way, less happy. In this version, it is the message of resignation and the call to revolution that prevails, and not so much the happiness of Hero Boy (Jahzir Bruno) -- although we can argue that spending your life summoning the world's youth to prevent other witches from doing harm to more kids are not that bad.


In the role of the Grand High Witch, Anne Hathaway offers a solid interpretation. Making a Cruella from Eastern Europe version, the actress embodies the fantastic witch and magnetizes everyone when she enters the scene. Even though her transformation is not as incredible as that of Angelica Houston in 1990, Hathaway's special powers, thanks to today's technology, make up for it and make it almost as fearful as Houston's (almost, because Houston remains supreme, without a doubt).


2 versions of The Grand High Witch (Hathaway / Houston).


Hollywood is always looking to reboot old hits and sometimes revisions manage to keep or even exceed the level of the originals. Unfortunately, that is not what happens at The Witches. Even though the stunning special effects are indisputable, the 2020 script does not transport us to a sinister environment, making this a not so exciting plot. In short, it's a fun watch, but in the end, there is an one and only desire: revisit director Nicolas Roeg's version.



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