The Witches: A Spell Miscast

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Image from HBO Max

The live-action movie of Roald Dahl’s, “The Witches” was released on Oct. 22.

On Oct. 22, Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book, “The Witches” was released in live-action movie form for the second time.

The story begins with a boy, played by Jahzir Bruno, who goes to live with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer), after his parents are killed in a car crash. To cheer him up, the Grandmother purchases him a mouse named Daisy. On a trip to the supermarket, the Boy is cornered by an odd woman with a snake who offers him a piece of candy. When his grandmother calls him, the woman disappears. When they arrive back at the house, the Boy tells his grandmother about the encounter. She reveals to him that the woman was a witch and that all witches hate children. The two frantically pack their things and travel to a hotel and decide to hide from the witch there. Once they arrive at the hotel, the Grandmother begins to tell the Boy how to recognize a witch. Witches have raspy voices, feet that have no toes, which they hide in pointy shoes, mouths and nostrils that can expand, clawed hands, and bald heads they cover with wigs.

One of the highlights of both the book and 1990 movie version is when the Grandmother explains how to recognize witches. Written and portrayed in Roald Dahl’s classic, spunky attitude, this scene is incredibly funny, including portrayals of the Boy tugging on women’s hair to see if they wear wigs, and several hilarious examples of children the Grandmother knew who were affected by witches. 

The Grand High Witch, leader of all the witches, played by Anne Hathaway, devises a plan to turn all the world’s children into mice using her very own “Mouse Maker” potion. The rest of the movie involves the Boy and his grandmother destroying the witch’s potion and their society once and for all.  

A far cry from the original film, “The Witches” was an ill-planned movie with poorly done animations and poorer acting. The plot is often incomplete or inconsistent: the Grandmother goes into vast detail about the witch’s wigs, but completely fails to mention the Grand High Witch’s ability to fly and grow her arms at will. 

To add insult to injury, the script is written in a way that assumes all children are unintelligent and lack an attention span. Although this may be true in some cases, the book would not have risen to such heights and captivated such a broad audience had it been written in such a condescending format. Roald Dahl wrote a witty children’s novel that continues to be read all around the world, even 37 years after it was published. Personally, I am doubtful anyone will remember “The Witches” in the next year. 

Although many of the animations in this movie are well done, the witch’s mouths and growing arms are so grotesque and disturbing that I believe many children would be frightened. The special effects regarding the witch’s mutilated hands and feet were so horrifying that they sparked a storm of controversy among the handicapped community who argued that such images mocked people born without toes or fingers. This portrayal resulted in an official apology released by both Anne Hathaway and the Warner Bros. Company. 

Despite the impressive resumé of Octavia Spencer, who plays the Grandmother, she is entirely miscast in her role. She struggles to act around the animations, creating ramshackle scenes devoid of meaningful emotion. This is not made better by the difference in light between the CGI (computer-generated imagery) and the actual scenes, an easy fix for most animators.

Even after playing leading roles in “Atlanta” and “The Oath,” Jahzir Bruno delivers lack-luster performances in “The Witches.” Even with the help of a narrator, and the fact that the Boy narrates his own movements, his scenes still lack any emotional conviction.

In short, Robert Zemeckis’ “The Witches” was a catastrophic failure and disgrace to both the original movie and book.