'Roald Dahl's The Witches' Review
Reckon it's time to check out what Hollywood is up to in terms of adapting something from other side of the Atlantic? Oh, it's another film version of the British-Norwegian themed novel 'The Witches' by Roald Dahl. This time, titled formally Roald Dahl's The Witches, it's from the acclaimed director Robert Zemeckis who also co-wrote it with Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro as they are only the top of the iceberg when it comes to talent in front of and behind the camera. Switching the setting from Europe to 1960's Alabama, once again there's a young boy (Jahzir Bruno credited as Hero Boy) who along with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) come across witches, led by Anne Hathaway as Grand High Witch, who hate children and plan to make them into mice. That's a nice recipe for some spooky stuff for young audiences but there's just a lot missing from the potion so it's never quite weird enough to be scary or humorous enough to be fun.
Often the movie feels like a chore to get through but whenever you're slightly back in it, it's much thanks to Spencer and her pure delightfulness as the grandma. She fully knows what movie is being made even when filmmakers stumble which is a miracle, to say the least, and her character even turns out to be the heart of the story. She is only supposed to be half at most since the boy is supposed to be even more important, Bruno is rather good in the beginning but once the boy becomes a mouse, the voice work doesn't really carry the same weight. Chris Rock is narrating as an older version of him but his voice is also more of a distraction since Bruno is much more mellow than Rock. Hathaway definitely swings the biggest of the cast and in some scenes she hits it out of the park, in few scenes it gets too actor-y especially after realising that she is supposedly doing a Norwegian accent (before one word gave it away, I thought more Eastern European). Her effort is still what the movie needed, it needed more outrageous fun.
That fun and spookiness of it all is what the movie ends up chasing and never reaching. ''Witches'' isn't a movie for kids under eight anyway so it should've leaned in more to that, the idea of witches straight up despising and transforming kids is terrifying but instead we get CGI body transfigurations (unnecessary since they look like real physical disabilities). It's also not subtle that the main characters are now black and they are in Alabama in the 60s, the script just doesn't do anything interesting with that scenario. If you're not doing scary or culturally educational, you should at least do the humorous stuff. That doesn't really happen either since the jokes are scarce, sometimes it's enjoyable slapstick with the mice but the dialogue isn't lively. The Witches' has an identity crisis even when other elements like the sets, VFX creatures and costumes came ready to play, that's why it's sad that you don't really know what audience this is targeting mostly. It's not young kids and it's not teens, who is it for?
Smileys: Octavia Spencer
Frowneys: Atmosphere, humour, screenplay, narration
English parents turned out to be mice-o-phobic, it seems.