Ok, look. I’m going into this review letting you know that I LOVE Roald Dahl. The Witches is especially special to me. I reread it to my kids every year. When I heard they were remaking the film I was incredibly excited. I even used the idea of this movie to console myself when MA was horrible.
I’m tired of these BAD adaptations… There is nothing wrong with the book. I want an adaptation of the book! Guillermo del Toro should have been allowed to continue with his stop motion version.This story is supposed to be scary and I’m tired of people dumbing it down. Things can be scary and still age appropriate. Think about the Goosebumps series, or the Are You Afraid Of the Dark? show. I think the first book adaptation of this was the perfect example! People don’t have enough faith in what their kids can handle, and until we accept that it’s fun to be a lil scared,we will continue to have bad adaptations.
And when I say it’s a bad adaptation, I don’t mean “omg, they didn’t 100% follow the book!!!” Let’s be real here, some of the best adaptions of things don’t 100% follow the source material. For example, “I Will Always Love You“, “Hurt“, The Wizard of Oz, and The Fly are all adapted from original sources and manage to be different from the original, but still good.
The Witches (2020) was unique because it is a remake of a book adaptation. So,I think it was natural to expect some type of originality coming from the 2020 version. Here are some things I liked.
This is an unpopular viewpoint, but I liked Anne Hathaway’s scary mouth. They could have done a shot by shot remake of the original, because that is still very scary. I liked that they managed o do an original take of this AND add a little anthropological lore. Big ass mouths are very uncanny valley and a lot of people think that there must have been *something* that looked like a human but was inhuman and dangerous. The Grand High Witch looking like Mileena (or Pennywise) is kind of an explanation of the innate fear all humans have off big ass mouths. It was our ancestors warning us of witches!
My absolute favorite thing about the movie was the costumes. Even though this movie takes place in the 1960’s, I thought the Grand High Witch’s wardrobe was modern. If I didn’t know she was a witch,I would think she was someone’s childless bougie auntie that they’ve only see every other Thanksgiving. Rich Bitch Shit! Even though I am not a “chick flick” person,I did appreciate a movie with great fashion that has both Anne Hathaway and Stanley Tucci in it. So, even though their relationship in this movie is obviously different, I still thought the ~connection~ was cool
I also liked Anne Hathaway’s performance.I actually feel like she was born to play this role because she gives off the vibe that she could be evil, but actively prefers to be a good person. Natalie Portman and Kiera Knightley have this vibe as well. I liked that they made the witches “pretty” instead of purposely ugly.
In fact,the original movie had men dressed up as women to play the witches. I don’t imagine that going over well in 2020. Also, it’s more mainstream for men to look good in traditionally women’s clothes,so it would just no work anymore. Kind of like a Golden Girls remake. Old women don’t look old anymore. For example,Bea Arthur’s character is supposed to be 55. You know who is 55 today? Brooke Shields, Viola Davis, SJP, and Elizabeth Hurley. Times have changed, we’re all hot now regardless of age and gender.
I totally understand and recognize people that felt that the whole “witches have ~weird~ hands” was ableist .At the same time, that’s a thing that people believed and some still do believe. The history nerd in me thinks this was cool that they included this. However, people are still suffering today because of this so I do feel like it was inappropriate. In all honesty, a lot of witch lore is antisemitic in nature so I think the people that made this movie were hyper vigilant about not being racist that they were accidentally ableist. Like they didn’t give Anne Hathaway a hooked f*ckin nose, but did the hand thing. I don’t think the abelism was intentional or malicious, but that does not make it okay. I am very thankful they apologized!
Now, on to what I didn’t like,and bro…..It’s a lot.
My biggest problem with this movie is that there was a lot of opportunity to tell a good story and it felt like the movie shied away from what they were really trying to say.
For example, they went out of their way to cast a black boy and a black grandma in the 1960’s; but didn’t expand on the i m p l i c a t i o n. Like, this boy was orphaned in Chicago in the 1960’s and they were just like “it be like that sometimes.” I had this problem with The Princess and the Frog too. I do like (tbh prefer) movies with Black people that don’t involve racial suffering, but why pick that time period for it then? I feel like a better story could have been told if the problems of 1960’s America compounded with the problems caused by the supernatural. I think Lovecraft County (which you can also see on HBO Max btw!) does this well. I do kind of feel like I, a black person, was baited into seeing this movie. Maybe this is gonna come off weird, but I thought that making Hero Protagonist (lil boy is unnamed in this movie) Black was righting the wrong of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While the story of Charlie originally being Black is well known, here’s something many may not know. Sammy Davis Jr. (not the pony, the real person) wanted to play the candyshop own in the Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory musical.They said his presence would be too distracting (aka hard for others to follow) and the gave the role to Aubrey Woods. That didn’t stop Sammy Davis Jr. making the song his own. Thus giving us another instance of someone improving on the original.
Pero like, how cool would have been to see a Black Latinx American Jewish man being a beloved business owner in a mostly white town supplying a little Black boy’s literal golden ticket out of poverty. In the SEVENTIES!!!!! He could have been the Miss Honey of the story!
I really do feel like something like that is necessary to the the legacy of Roald Dahl. This man was a product of his time and the times were racist, sexist, ableist, fatphobic,and antisemitic. So, I think while it is necessary for these things to be pointed out, it’s also important to improve on these things with out making them seem pointless. I wouldn’t be so miffed at them making the protagonist Black in the 1960’s if it actually meant something. Maybe I’m seeing this differently than others because my first Dahl book was Matilda, which kind of mirrored my own life. And, kind of kept me going when I was a depressed child that did not belong. I do hold him in high regard for that while acknowledging that while Roald Dahl was a brilliant writer, he was also a rich white man at the end of the day. Lying and excusing his viewpoints really isn’t going to progress us as a society. I’d much rather live in a world where we say:
“Ok,this person was problematic, this is how we do better.”
It’s a straight up lie to pretend that Roald Dahl was a perfect cinnamon roll. And,it’s probably harmful to our psyche.Because eventually we’re going to come across something so problematic that we can’t rationalize, lie, or explain it. And, if you are part of the marginalized group that he had bad views of, it might really hurt. I went through that with an author I really looked up to when she had one of the protagonists of her series act funny around a character when they found out another character was actually biracal. Even though the biracial character had been nothing but kind to him. As a biracial (black and white, not human and giant) that bothered me a lot but no one else seemed to care. Now, 15-ish years later, the author is a whole TERF. We knew the author was problematic, we had many instances to back it up and only now is the author dealing with he consequences of her shitty views. Unlike that lady, Roald Dahl is not here to speak for himself. But that doesn’t mean we should lie.
I also didn’t like the medium they chose to retell this story. I felt the live action looked a bit lack luster compared to the original movie and the CGI looked distractedly bad. I think the reason we were all so afraid of “that” scene in the original movie was because they used practical effects and makeup instead of CGI. Unfortunately, this movie was not scary, and it really could have been. Obviously, this movie is for kids, and I expected the scares to “toe the line” like in Coraline, Corpse Bride and James and the Giant Peach. There are three obvious links to all these films, but the one I’m talking about today is STOP MOTION ANIMATION! Guillermo Del Toro wanted this movie to be filmed using stop motion. And,I totally agree. In fact, I think a fair compromise would be to have half the movie in live action and then when Hero Protagonist gets turned into a mouse, it could have been in stop motion. It would be a cool throwback to James and the Giant Peach and it would also have made a few of the more fantastical elements. Also, mice don’t see things the way humans do. Scientists are actually really interested in that! It would have been cool to see things from the point of view of a mouse.
And, that’s mostly how I feel about this movie. You could tell that they had so many cool ideas that were poorly executed or not thought out! Outside of Anne Hathaway’s wardrobe and Chris Rock’s narration, this movie is sadly forgettable. Which sucks, because I think given the opportunity, Octavia Spencer could have given the performance of her career.
Even though I HATE the ending of the original movie, I did appreciate that there was a good witch. I think they should have kept a good witch and she should have been played by Octavia Spencer. We don’t have enough fictional Blitches for my taste. Also, Octavia Spencer is too young looking to play someone’s granny! In the book, the upside to the boy being a mouse is that he will live as long as his grandmother now and they won’t have to be without each other. Ms. Spencer does not look like she is 86. That was distracting and kind of annoying. I think she could have played a “good” witch that maybe lured The Grand High Witch (as a mouse) into he position where she was eaten by her own cat. Then,upon hearing that lil boy and grandma were happy for him to live his life as a mouse decides to keep letting him be a mouse but like, leaves them money as a thank you note or something. Or, an even creepier ending, is that she wanted to get rid of The Grand High Witch so she could be The Grand High Witch and left some kind of note to let them know he is so much easier to kill now that he is permanently a mouse.