The Witches (2020 film)
Official release poster
|Directed by||Robert Zemeckis|
|Based on||The Witches|
by Roald Dahl
|Music by||Alan Silvestri|
|Box office||$26.9 million|
Roald Dahl's The Witches is a 2020 Mexican-American dark fantasy comedy film directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Zemeckis, Kenya Barris, and Guillermo del Toro. It is based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Roald Dahl and is the second feature-length adaptation of the novel, after the 1990 film of the same name directed by Nicolas Roeg. The film stars Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, and Stanley Tucci, and is narrated by Chris Rock.
The Witches was released on HBO Max in the United States on October 22, 2020, and was released theatrically from October 28, 2020. It received mixed reviews from critics, who deemed it inferior to Roeg's film, though Hathaway's performance received praise.
In 1968, a young boy goes to live with his grandmother in Alabama, following a car accident that results in the death of his parents in Chicago. Gradually, the boy is cheered up by his grandmother, who buys him a pet mouse whom he names Daisy. One day, the boy goes to a store to buy a box of nails to train Daisy and to build a house for her as well. The boy is approached by a witch trying to lure him with a snake and a caramel, but the grandmother calls him, and the witch disappears.
After telling the grandmother about the encounter, the boy learns that the witches are in fact real. She says a witch cursed her childhood friend Alice into spending the rest of her life as a chicken. The grandmother says that witches never leave once they find a child. Frantically, they decide to stay in a nearby hotel where her cousin Eston is the executive chef. While there, the grandmother teaches the boy how to tell a witch from an ordinary woman: real witches have claws instead of fingernails, which they hide by wearing gloves; are bald, which they hide by wearing wigs that give them rashes; have square feet with no toes, which they hide by wearing sensible shoes; have a purple tinge in their pupils; and have a powerful sense of smell, which they use to sniff out children.
The next day, the boy takes Daisy and a rope to do some training at a grand hall. During his walk there, he meets a gluttonous but friendly boy named Bruno, who is pulled away by his mother. The boy then goes into the grand hall, thinking he will be alone. As he's getting ready to train Daisy, a group of witches led by their all-powerful leader, the Grand High Witch, enters the grand hall. The boy hides under the stage, and so overhears the Grand High Witch planning to give the world's children a potion, mixed into confectionery products, that will transform them all into mice. The Grand High Witch waits for Bruno to arrive, to whom she earlier gave a chocolate bar laced with the potion. After Bruno arrives, he turns into a mouse and enters the vent where the boy and Daisy are hiding. The Grand High Witch discovers the boy and forcibly transforms him into a mouse with the potion, before they escape.
Fleeing to the hotel room where the boy and his grandmother are staying, they tell the grandmother of the witches' plan and discover that the Grand High Witch is staying in the hotel room below them and that Daisy was once an orphaned young human girl named Mary turned into a mouse by a witch. He, Bruno, and Mary devise a plan to get a bottle of the potion so that the grandmother can devise a cure to turn them back into children. The plan to get the potion is successful, but since she is unable to create a cure, they instead decide to put the potion into a broth of pea soup which will be given to the witches during their dinner. All the witches drink the soup except the Grand High Witch, who realizes that she met the grandmother before; she was the witch who turned Alice into a chicken. While the mice steal the Grand High Witch's room key, the witches all begin turning into rats, and chaos ensues.
After she and the mice flee to the Grand High Witch's room, the grandmother starts to collect all the potions to destroy them. The Grand High Witch finds the grandmother, and prepares to kill her, but the mice intervene and trick the Grand High Witch into swallowing her own potion, transforming her into a rat. They trap her in an ice bucket and prevent her from escaping. Before they leave the room, the grandmother takes the Grand High Witch's trunk full of money and also releases her cat Hades from its cage. As they close the door, Hades attacks and kills the Grand High Witch.
Since his parents do not accept him anymore, Bruno joins Mary, the boy, and the grandmother to go home with the Grand High Witch's trunk and become a family. Years later, the grown boy and his grandmother advise young children against the witches.
- Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch, a powerful and evil witch who is the leader of all witches in the world. Hathaway also voices her rat form.
- Octavia Spencer as The Grandmother, a healer and the boy's grandmother who is the long-time old enemy of the Grand High Witch.
- Miranda Sarfo Peprah portrays a young version of the grandmother.
- Stanley Tucci as Mr. R.J Stringer, the hotel manager.
- Jahzir Kadeem Bruno as Hero Boy, a young boy who is turned into a mouse by the Grand High Witch. Bruno also voices his mouse form.
- Codie-Lei Eastick as Bruno Jenkins, an English boy who is turned into a mouse. Eastick also voices his mouse form.
- Kristin Chenoweth as the voice of Daisy, the boy's pet mouse. It's revealed that she was once a human girl named Mary who ran away from the orphanage and was turned into a mouse by the witches four months prior to the events of the film.
- Charles Edwards as Mr. Jenkins, Bruno's father.
- Morgana Robinson as Mrs. Jenkins, Bruno's mother.
- Josette Simon as Zelda, a witch.
- Eugenia Caruso as Consuella, a witch.
- Ana-Maria Maskell as Esmerelda, a witch.
- Orla O'Rourke as Saoirse, a witch.
- Penny Lisle as a witch.
- Simon Manyonda as Sous-Chef
- Philippe Spall as a Chef
- Brian Bovell as Reginald
Talks of a new adaptation of Dahl's novel began in December 2008, when Guillermo del Toro expressed interest in making a stop motion film. No further developments on the potential project emerged until ten years later in June 2018, when Robert Zemeckis was hired to direct and write the script. Del Toro would produce, alongside Zemeckis and Alfonso Cuarón, in addition to having a screenplay credit.
The film takes place in Alabama during the 1960s, instead of the novel's 1980s England and Norway, and the boy protagonist is African-American, instead of Norwegian-British like the boy in the original novel and previous adaptations. Nevertheless, the adaptation was described by Zemeckis as being closer to the original novel than the 1990 adaptation, directed by Nicolas Roeg. Kenya Barris co-wrote the film.
In January 2019, Anne Hathaway was cast in the role of Grand High Witch. Octavia Spencer was cast in February, with newcomers Jahzir Bruno and Codie-Lei Eastick also joining. In May, Stanley Tucci and Chris Rock were added. In September 2020 it was revealed that Kristin Chenoweth was cast in the film.
Principal photography began on May 8, 2019, with filming locations including Alabama, Georgia and at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden in Hertfordshire, England and Virginia Water Lake in Surrey, England. It was expected to wrap on June 25. On June 19, a crew member was stabbed in the neck on the Warner Bros. Studios set in Leavesden.
The Witches was scheduled to be released on October 16, 2020. On October 25, 2019, Warner Bros. moved up the release of the film by a week. However, on June 12, 2020, Warner Bros. announced that they pulled the film off the 2020 schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The film was digitally released in the United States on October 22, 2020 via HBO Max. In November, Variety reported the film was the ninth-most watched straight-to-streaming title of 2020 up to that point. The international theatrical release began on October 28.
The film grossed $4.9 million in twelve countries in its first week of release. The weekend of November 20, the film made $1.2 million from 23 countries, for a running total of $15.1 million. By January 4, 2021, the film had a running total of $26 million from 32 countries.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 49% of 171 critic reviews are positive for The Witches, with an average rating of 5.50/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "The Witches misses a few spells, but Anne Hathaway's game performance might be enough to bewitch fans of this Roald Dahl tale." According to Metacritic, which sampled 31 critics and calculated a weighted average score of 47 out of 100, the film received "mixed or average reviews".
In his two out of four star review, Richard Roeper from the Chicago Sun-Times praised the special effects and the performances, but found the film to be "far too disturbing for young children and not edgy enough to captivate adults." David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film a D+ calling the film "dreadful" and stating, "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." Korey Coleman of Double Toasted felt that the movie was a missed opportunity to tell "the ultimate Karen story", as the Grand High Witch displayed mannerisms associated with that stereotype stating, "This is an entitled, rude, rich white woman who hates black people, poor people and kids, just because she feels inconvenienced by them and...always [sic] calling the manager."
Numerous disability advocates, including British Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren, accused the film of perpetuating bias against individuals with Ectrodactyly and other limb differences. Lauren Appelbaum, a spokesperson for advocacy group RespectAbility, said the film portrays limb differences as "hideous or something to be afraid of." On November 4, 2020, Warner Bros. issued a statement in which they apologized for offending people with disabilities. They further added that they had worked with "designers and artists to come up with a new interpretation of the cat-like claws that are described in the book. [...] The film is about kindness. [...] It was never the intention for viewers to feel that the fantastical, non-human creatures were meant to represent them." Hathaway also issued an apology over the film's portrayal, saying "I particularly want to say I'm sorry to kids with limb differences", and "Now that I know better I promise I'll do better."
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