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Entertainment Review: Zemeckis makes Dahl’s ‘Witches’ a brighter affair

22:15  21 october  2020
22:15  21 october  2020 Source:   ap.org

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No matter how you cut it, “ The Witches ” is a really disturbing tale. Not that one should expect anything else from Roald Dahl, but for some reason this story about a group of grotesquely disfigured women who hate children always seemed extra sinister even within his generally sinister oeuvre. Perhaps it’s because I happened to be a child when the Nicolas Roeg adaptation came out in 1990 and, well, let’s just say the nightmarish image of Angelica Huston transforming into a bald, warty witch made a lasting impression. For many children of the era, Roeg’s “The Witches” was a first foray into horror and a traumatic one at that.

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  First trailer at Anne Hathaway's The Witches lands The Grand High Witch is on her way.In a surprise move, the new adaptation is heading to HBO Max in the US later this month, but will still be released in cinemas in the UK. It stars Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch, a role made equal-parts iconic and terrifying by Anjelica Huston in the original.

This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Octavia Spencer in a scene from © Provided by Associated Press This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Octavia Spencer in a scene from "The Witches." (Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP) This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Stanley Tucci, left, and Octavia Spencer in a scene from © Provided by Associated Press This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Stanley Tucci, left, and Octavia Spencer in a scene from "The Witches." (Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

This was clearly not lost on the people who hired Robert Zemeckis to do a new adaptation for another generation of children. There are scores of filmmakers who could have done their own Roeg-adjacent update, but this time they decided to soften the edges and lighten the tone. And even though the story is still fundamentally troubling (not least because there seems to be a not-so-subtle message that childless women are dangerous, child-hating demons), Zemeckis has put a brighter and more family friendly stamp on the material.

First trailer for Anne Hathaway's The Witches lands

  First trailer for Anne Hathaway's The Witches lands The Grand High Witch is on her way.In a surprise move, the new adaptation is heading to HBO Max in the US later this month, but will still be released in cinemas in the UK. It stars Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch, a role made equal-parts iconic and terrifying by Anjelica Huston in the original.

This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Anne Hathaway, center, in a scene from © Provided by Associated Press This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Anne Hathaway, center, in a scene from "The Witches." (Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

Zemeckis shares credit for the new script with Guillermo del Toro and Kenya Barris. This unexpected but inspired grouping updates the story to focus on a Black family in the 1960s South. Chris Rock provides the voice of the protagonist, Hero Boy, who is recalling his experience first encountering witches as a young orphaned boy played by Jahzir Bruno. After his parents die in a car crash, he moves in with his kind Grandma (Octavia Spencer) who has her own history with witches.

When the boy has a run in with a witch in the local store, they flee the town to hide out at a fancy hotel. Unfortunately for them, the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) has decided to hold a convention there at the same time to hatch a plan that would turn the world’s children into mice.

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  New adaptation of Roald Dahl's 'The Witches' skipping cinemas Watch: The trailer for Robert Zemeckis’ The Witches A new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches will not be coming to UK cinemas and go straight to on demand services, it has been announced. Anne Hathaway assumes the role of the Grand High Witch in the remake based on the children’s author’s 1983 novel and helmed by Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis. The film will be released on premium video on demand (PVOD) in the UK from 26 October, just days before Halloween, and will be available to watch for a 48-hour rental from participating digital retailers. It’s a HBO Max exclusive in North America, where it will be released on 22 October.

Hathaway goes full vamp as the Grand High Witch with an over the top, vaguely Eastern European accent and grand gestures to match. Although less horrific than Huston was, Zemeckis can’t resist going big with the digital effects and gives her elaborate scars on the sides of her cheeks that open into a Venom-like mouth when she’s not in disguise. It’s more cartoon than body horror, which seems to have been a guiding principle for the whole production.

Oddly the strongest parts of the film are before the whole witch aspect kicks in when it’s just Grandma and Hero Boy getting used to life together after the horrific loss. Spencer is an unambiguous delight. Part of you might even wish that the film was just about their life together.

This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows a scene from © Provided by Associated Press This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows a scene from "The Witches." (Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

Once they get to the hotel, it’s all plot and spells and crazy CGI mice and there’s barely any time to breathe or enjoy the characters — even Stanley Tucci as the hotel manager gets a little overshadowed by it all. They’ve also decided to keep a running joke in about an overweight child (who also turns into a mouse) consistently being sidetracked by his desire for more food, which just feels cruel, outdated and cheap.

The Witches review: A bland and neutered version of Roald Dahl's book

  The Witches review: A bland and neutered version of Roald Dahl's book The Grand High Witch won't be pleased.Some people would immediately baulk at the idea that somebody else decided to adapt The Witches for the screen, but why can't a new generation get their own movie that could traumatise them no less?

Still Zemeckis has done a fine job with the film on the whole, which was a much-needed win after the dreadful “Welcome to Marwen.” It’s not going to be as iconic as Roeg’s, but it should provide some nice family entertainment at home for Halloween. And, bonus, post-viewing nightmares and trauma should be minimal this time.

“The Witches,” an HBO Max release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “scary images/moments, language and thematic elements.” Running time: 106 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Anne Hathaway, center, and Stanley Tucci in a scene from © Provided by Associated Press This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Anne Hathaway, center, and Stanley Tucci in a scene from "The Witches." (Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

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MPAA Definition of PG: Parental guidance suggested.

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Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Anne Hathaway in a scene from © Provided by Associated Press This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Anne Hathaway in a scene from "The Witches." (Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

Anne Hathaway apologises for disability controversy over 'The Witches' .
Anne Hathaway has apologised after the depiction of her character’s hands in The Witches film was accused of being insensitive towards disabled people. The latest adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1983 book stars Hathaway as the Grand High Witch, who has three elongated fingers on each hand. Both the novel and the 1990 film starring Anjelica Huston portrayed the witches as having five fingers. British Para swimmer Amy Marren was among those criticising director Robert Zemeckis’ recent adaptation, saying its depiction of the witches’ hands could be harmful to people – especially children – with limb impairments.

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