Complete A-Z list

Witches, The


Stars: Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Jahzir Bruno, Stanley Tucci, Codie-Lei Eastick. Voices: Chris Rock, Kristin Chenoweth

Director: Robert Zemeckis

The most personable animatronic mice since Stuart Little took his final bow are the stars, at least in the second half, of this enormously fun new version of Roald Dahl's deliciously wicked story about a coven of witches who live for turning small children into mice (or, in one case, a queen-size hen).

OK, it does suffer by comparison with the incredible 1990 version, but most of its target audience won't have seen that, and for them this provides a rare Halloween treat. It does, however, skirt dangerously close at times to a 12A certificate and may frighten susceptible younger children quite badly at times.

The setting is switched quite happily from Europe to 1968 Alabama, where an eight-year-old Afro-American boy (Bruno, a convincing child actor) loses his parents in a car crash and is taken under the wing of his grandma (reliable Spencer), who knows all about witches, and is horrified when one tries to entice her grandson into taking a sweet in a supermarket aisle.

She knows it would have turned him into a mouse.

So the two flee to a seaside hotel, where grannie is besties with the head chef, who sees they get a nice room. The same hotel, however, is about to play host to an RSPCC gathering, which turns out to be the cover for a witches' convention, presided over by a Grand High Witch (Hathaway).

Hathaway could never come close to the malevolence so chillingly provided by Anjelica Huston in 1990, but still goes full tilt to create a prime if campy villainess, whose face literally splits open to reveal a demonic smile that would put The Joker in the shade. Like her fellow witches, she has prehensile toes, a bald head hidden by a scratchy wig, claws and a tail.

Helped by kids turned into mice, grannie has a plan for putting paid to the cackling crones in one fell swoop. Her attempts culminate in a riotous dinner which contains some of the best moments in the film, swept along by good music from Alan Silvestri channelling his inner Danny Elfman.

Chris Rock is a bit over-hearty as the narrator, but otherwise this delightful if Dahl-lite adaptation provides as good a cure as any for our lockdown blues. On video-on-demand.

David Quinlan

USA/UK/Mexico/Canada/Australia 2020. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Technicolor.
104 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 22 Oct 2020