Over the past few years, nostalgia has proven itself a powerful force in the film world. As such, plenty of remakes and reboots have arrived in theaters, bringing audiences back to a simpler time in the process. This trend has continued with Robert Zemeckis' version of The Witches starring Anne Hathaway in the role originally made iconic by Anjelica Houston. The movie has some big shoes to fill, and now the critics have weighed in on their thoughts.
The original version of The Witches arrived in theaters back in 1990. Directed by Nicolas Roeg, the movie featured groundbreaking prosthesis and special effects, and was the thing of nightmares for many kids who who watched Anjelica Houston and company pull their faces off. Robert Zemeckis' version will arrive in HBO Max shortly, and critics have shared their thoughts on the project.
CinemaBlend's own Eric Eisenberg gave the new version of The Witches 3 stars out of 5, believing the project to be an "adequate" remake of the iconic original As he put it,
At the heart of it, The Witches is a faithful adaptation of the book on which it’s based, and those who appreciate the material will also appreciate Robert Zemeckis’ approach to it. If it were the first ever take on the Roald Dahl book it might get higher marks – but there is contextual circumstances to consider, and that’s where the film gets dinged. It’s a fine movie, and one that also sits in the shadow of another.
Anne Hathaway's take on the character here is less trauma-forming, but lots of fun: she's equipped with a Garbo-on-steroids accent that gives the word “mice” seven consonants, amped-up haughtiness, and a wardrobe that perfectly straddles the line between chic and infernal. Whenever she’s on screen, the film comes to life. And Zemeckis finds some new, tech-assisted ways to make the GHW scary, such as freakishly elongating arms, all the better for chasing shrunken infants through vents.
Much of the movie's look has the heightened unreality of his 2004 CG apogee The Polar Express, and that also tends to carry over to the story, with its dodge-and-weave pacing and peculiar tone. From the beginning, Dahl's novel has had its own detractors; many called it misogynist, or simply unfit for kids. This Witches, alas, has the misfortune of doubling down on all the late writer's eccentricities, while somehow finding only a fraction of his magic
The original Witches movie has become a cult classic in the decades since its release, so it was certainly a task for Robert Zemeckis and company. And while endless comparisons will be made The Wrap's Alonso Duralde seems to believe that the new version might have actually surpassed the OG. As written in their review,
It’s up to individual children, and their parents, to decide the dividing line between 'too scary' and 'just scary enough,' and this latest The Witches traverses that grey area with some fun jolts and creepy visuals. But then so does the previous one, and overall, it’s a better movie: Roeg and collaborator Jim Henson’s sensibilities met in the middle to capture Dahl’s misanthropy and wicked take on human behavior in a way this version can’t quite manage.
Unfortunately, LA Times reviewer Justin Chang didn't take quite as kindly to the new version of The Witches that will be hitting HBO Max shortly. They spoke poorly when comparing the remake to the original, especially when it comes to actual scares. As they explained:
The Witches is pretty thin brew by comparison, concocted from mostly secondhand ingredients. Once again it gives us a gluttonous boy sidekick named Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick), a mice-in-the-kitchen plot that now plays like leftover Ratatouille and a clever comeuppance for all those witches, even if most of them seem like dull, dead-eyed automatons rather than a child’s worst nightmare.
Some of these criticism for The Witches were shared by IndieWire's review. Written by David Ehrlich who gave the movie a D+ rating, the main takeaway was how forgettable they thought the movie was-- especially compared to the iconic original. The review reads,
Zemeckis has made some unsuccessful films over the last 20 years, but The Witches is the most frustrating of them all because it feels like it could’ve been made by somebody else. Anybody else. Roeg’s version may have scarred a generation of kids for life, but at least they remembered it.
Clearly the critical reception for HBO Max's The Witches is mixed. While some critics loved it, others hated it, while some were in the middle. It looks like audiences may have to judge for themselves when the Robert Zemeckis flick is available to stream shortly.
While it was originally intended for a theatrical release, Warner Bros. ultimately decided to bring The Witches straight to homes on HBO Max. This will no doubt help to incentivize the new streaming service, which is also producing original content. Fans of the original Witches will have to tune in to see how Anne Hathaway and company handle the iconic material.
The Witches will arrive in HBO Max on October 22nd. In the meantime, check out our 2020 release list to plan your next movie experience.
More to come...