“The Witches” (2020) – Movie Review

Following up a 90’s classic that scarred an entire generation is certainly no easy feat.  However, the beloved director of Back to the Future and Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis), along with 2 Oscar winners (Anne Hathaway and Octavia Spencer) and 1 Oscar nominee (Stanley Tucci) have the best chance of anyone.

So how does 2020’s The Witches compare to its iconic original, and does it hold up on its own?  Let’s conjure of some answers with our deep analysis of The Witches!

Changing the Setting
Shifting from modern Germany (well modern when it was released) to 1960’s Alabama, The Witches begins much like the original.  We see the tragic death of a young boy’s (Jahzir Bruno) parents, followed by him moving in with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer).

Spencer is undoubtedly the best part of the whole movie.

She tells him all about witches and her personal experience, having witness one of her friend’s disappearance as a child.  When the boy spots one at a grocery store, they hide out in a resort hotel (which seems kind of random), but it just so happens that this hotel is hosting a conference of witches led by the Grand High (Anne Hathaway).

And if you’re already familiar with the original, you know what happens next, because this remake pretty much follows all the same story beats, complete with the coven’s scheme to turn children into mice via cursed candy and the children having to figure out a way to defeat the Grand High.

The CGI on the mice definitely look like they needed another round or two of rendering…

It has the same sense of whimsy and dark sense of humor that the original did, but it definitely feels more “family approved” and less traumatizing than the original.  At risk of sounding cliché, kids’ movies really aren’t made like they used to be.

Better Hero, Worse Villain?
This new version makes minor changes here and there, such as showing that the boy himself was in the vehicular collision that killed his parents.  We also hear an adult version of him (voiced by Chris Rock) narrating in an over the top method that admittedly gets annoying from time to time.

However, the largest different is in the development of the grandmother, and the handling of the Grand High.  Octavia Spencer is an immensely talented actress, and her character has a much more active role than her 1990 counterpart.

She’s a younger grandmother and has a lot of energy and fight in her to take on this deadly coven.  We also see that she’s well versed in magical traditions of her own, which makes her a formidable opponent to the Grand High.  In the original, the boy seemed like the protagonist, but here, it’s more so her character.

It also adds a CGI black cat which is criminally underused.

Sadly however, the improvements end here.  There is no doubt than Anne Hathaway is brilliant and well-deserving of her aforementioned Oscar.  That said, she’s really miscast here.  Between hosting SNL, and appearances in films like Get Smart, she’s demonstrated her ability to be funny.

But playing a goofy, mustache twirling (metaphorically) villain just comes off as campy, and not in the fun way.  It’s also very hard to take Hathaway seriously when feigning an accent (look no further than The Hustle), especially a Slavic one, which is very easy to go full caricature with.

At its core, the problem with this performance is it’s just theatrical and over the top enough that it’s hard to take seriously, but it’s not so bizarre or absurd that it becomes fun.

And the fact that there’s a 30 year old movie with vastly superior visuals (practical makeup over CGI any day) and a much more natural performance by Anjelica Huston, only makes Hathaway’s look worse by comparison.

There really is no comparison.

Justifying Its Own Existence
The thing about remakes is, right out of the gate, they’re facing the challenge of justifying their own existence, especially when they follow the same plot and story beats.

And while this new version does boast beautiful art direction, and a really compelling score by Alan Silvestri (which is recognizable just by listening to a few seconds), its overuse of CGI and “toning down” of the originals scarier elements leaves us all wondering, why?

The answer should be obvious of course.  Granted, it does mention something about how witches target poor and underprivileged children because they’re not as missed, but it’s just a throwaway line and not really thought out enough to be considered one of the film’s central themes.

We also only get a small glimpse of other witches, and it feels like a huge missed opportunity that more wasn’t done with them.

So, if you’re really that curious about what this story would look like with CGI mice instead the brilliant work of Jim Henson’s people, check it out.  If not, just watch the original classic!

What did you think of The Witches?  Which Witches do you prefer?  Let us know in the comments!

The Witches (2020) is streaming exclusively on HBO Max, and the original is currently streaming on Netflix!

For more reviews, rankings, and other fun horror content, follow Halloween  Year-Round on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube!

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