The Witches (2020)

Genres - Fantasy  |   Sub-Genres - Fantasy Adventure  |   Release Date - Oct 28, 2020 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 106 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom , Mexico , United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Jules Fox

The Witches is a kids movie with scary elements, based on the classic book of the same name, by Roald Dahl. When a young boy spies on a convention of witches, he's caught eavesdropping and they turn him into a mouse. He must then navigate his tiny new body to stop the witches from turning all the children of the world into mice.

In rural Alabama, a young boy (Jahzir Bruno) goes to live with his grandma (Octavia Spencer) after he loses both of his parents in an accident. His grandma reveals to him that she has had experience with witches, and that they are indeed as real as a rock in his shoe. Along with the boy's pet mouse, they set off to stay at the luxurious Grand Orleans Imperial Island Hotel to relax, and although it's well beyond their means, Grandma has an in.

The Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) who also happens to be the nemesis of Grandma, and the leader of all the witches in the world, leads a coven of witches to a convention at that very same hotel. Gussied up in fashionista clothing covering bald scalps, claw-like fingers, and mono-toes, they pose as women of high society who volunteer for the International Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Their real intention, however, is to use a magic potion to turn all the children in the world, who they despise, into mice. When they discover that the young boy and his chunky new friend Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick) have found out their evil plot, it becomes a perfect moment to test out the potion and turn those kids into mice. Now in mouse form, the young boy realizes that his own pet mouse used to be a young girl, and the three of them must escape from danger.

Mr. Stringer (Stanley Tuccci), the hotel manager, is determined to make everyone's stay enjoyable, which includes keeping the Grand Orleans free of mice. Faced with the problem of new furry tormentors making his job more difficult, he is committed to their extermination.

Despite it seeming that the entire world is against them, the trio of mice must figure out a way to stop the witches from turning all the world's children into mice and sharing their fate.

Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) is a pro with special effects, displaying a strong knowledge of how to blend them into The Witches. At once campy and creepy, the bright scenes and larger-than-life performances are perfect for kids. The humor is spot on for the intended audience, and there is enough action packed into the pacing to keep it interesting throughout.

The Witches is co-adapted from the source material by Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, The Shape of Water) who allows an unusually light touch with the more horrible elements. The physical scares of the witches' appearance are the most frightening things to be found, as the series of pranks offers an almost happy-go-lucky tone to the film. While the witches may be scary in and of themselves, they are not offered the opportunity to act out their cruel desires, which is probably appropriate here.

The CGI is seamless and vibrant, bringing us a long way from the Jim Henson muppet-style adaptation, which is both a strength and a weakness. This adaption of The Witches may be more palatable for a wide variety of kids in its fun, mousey way, but gone are the frightening scares and close-up ugliness of the horrible witches of the past.

The Witches provides some laughs, chills, and enough caper-laden madness to offer a sugar rush that kids will appreciate. However, the beautiful, expensive chocolate coating is hiding nothing of substance underneath, belying more trick than treat.