Zemeckis’ ‘The Witches’ Could Have Been Great


Courtesy of HBO Max

Anne Hathaway stars as the evil Grand High Witch. In Zemeckis’ adaptation, witches have bald heads, no toes and three knobbly, bird-like claws on each hand.

From the very beginning of Robert Zemeckis’ movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book, “The Witches,” a kindly-voiced narrator, sing-songy dialogue and whimsical character action classify the film as a fairytale. The movie, released on Oct. 22., fulfills its role as a digestible kid’s film, but misses multiple opportunities for greater depth. 

In both the original book and Zemeckis’ movie adaptation, a young boy goes to live with his ailing grandmother after losing his parents in a car accident.

The boy and grandmother encounter a witch and subsequently run away to the upscale Grand Orleans Imperial Island Hotel. Coincidentally, at the same resort, a coven of witches holds a convention to plan the extermination of all children worldwide. 

The pacing is brisk. The script gets to the action of each scene, then cuts immediately. There is no drag, nor time for the viewer to get bored. It is well-catered towards young children and their shorter attention spans, at the cost of feeling rushed. 

The film is set in a recently desegregated South, a divergence from the original setting of the novel, Norway. The main cast, with its Black protagonists, is an attempt at diversity. There are a couple nods to the inequalities between Black and white people, but for the most part, the power disparity goes unacknowledged. 

The changed setting was an opportunity to explore deeper, darker racial tensions in the way the white and Black characters interacted. There was an opportunity for social commentary, but the screenwriters were just too afraid to take it.

Zemeckis “The Witches” is a good children’s horror film. It is a shame that it was not anything more than that.