If I had to categorize it, Robert Zemeckis’s (“Forrest Gump”) “The Witches” would fall under the Halloween movie category of bizarrely-creepy-kids-movies-that-somehow-make-audiences-enjoy-them. It starts out fairly normally, with Chris Rock (“Top Five”) narrating the story of a little boy named Hero (Jahzir Bruno, “Atlanta”) who comes to live with his grandmother (Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”) after his parents die in a car crash. Very quickly, though, things get weird. Hero and his grandmother realize that there are witches among them who are plotting to turn all children into mice. And, of course, things go wrong when Hero and his new friend Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick, “Holmes and Watson”) become targets of the witches and get turned into mice.
The film has some disturbing imagery that would typically be out of place in a kids movie, such as CGI rabid rats, taloned witches and a bald Anne Hathaway (“The Princess Diaries”), but somehow it all works here. The mixture of strange images, somewhat off-putting violent humor and a Roald Dahl-esque concept makes the perfect Halloween movie concoction.
The plot, though strange, is without a doubt fun, but the best parts of the film are its characters. Jahzir Bruno’s Hero is unbelievably sweet and has the little-boy-cuteness that is bound to make every single audience member say “aww” at least twice. Octavia Spencer takes on the role of slightly crazy, potion-brewing grandmother like it was made for her. And Anne Hathaway steals the show. Her character, the Grand High Witch, embodies every single witch trope you’ve heard of and then some. Her wig-rashed scalp, horrifically large Joker-like mouth and raspy, ambiguously European-sounding accent create a terrifying image that somehow works for her.
There are, of course, going to be haters of this film, whether they bash the admittedly over-extensive use of CGI, think Anne Hathaway’s accent is too distracting, compare it to the original or find the plot too weird to stick with. However, it’s important to remember that this is a Roald Dahl plot turned into a kids movie. His novels are always at least a smidge past strange, and kids movies are meant to be fun, lighthearted and happy; they’re supposed to draw kids’ attention with their bright colors and sadistic villains.
Despite the “children’s movie” category which this movie immediately falls under, it can be enjoyed by a multitude of people; in fact, it should be. Every single person in the world can, and should, be blessed with the image of a three-clawed Anne Hathaway flying dramatically above a witches’ seminar at least once.
And even though the plot is about witches, the movie isn’t overtly Halloweenish. That being said, the thread of Halloween in its plot and characters makes it a movie definitely worth watching this time of year. After all, what’s Halloween without kids, candy and witches missing a toe?
Daily Arts Writer Sabriya Imami can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.