I watched the 1990 The Witches about a month before the remake was released. The original version relied on practical effects and Jim Henson’s mastery of puppetry. The 2020 version relies on CGI. The story is unnerving in both versions, but the practical effects of the original are more unsettling.
The re-release makes a strong case for its existence, unlike Downhill. Roald Dahl is a controversial author that had expressed anti-Semitic and racist views with some sexism mixed in. Jahzir Bruno plays the unnamed ‘hero boy’. His grandmother is played by Octavia Spencer. The narrator, an older ‘hero boy’, is voiced by Chris Rock. The story moves from sea-side England in the original film to gulf coast 1960s Mississippi for the remake.
Grandma and her grandson stay at the finest Mississippi gulf coast hotel because she knew the executive chef. There are the briefest allusions to her being refused service, but she casually forces the valet and hotel manager to accommodate her. It requires your suspension of disbelief; there is no way this woman would be staying at this resort in the 1960s. Stanley Tucci replaces Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Stringer, the hotel manager.
Anjelica Huston played the original Grand High Witch. Anne Hathaway takes over the role this time. We are told that the Grand High Witch is Norwegian. Hathaway puts on a full accent for the entire movie. It moves around Europe. There are eastern European elements in one sentence followed by Scandinavian in other. A bit of a British accent even finds it’s way through a few times. It is a bit distracting but may have just been a fun thing for Hathaway to do. Unlike Huston, Hathaway does not get a terrifying prosthetic transformation. Instead she has fingers and toes digitally removed and altered and a bald cap. Her nostrils also get a CGI treatment. She is never as terrifying as Huston.
This film is still scary enough that I would watch it before letting younger children view it. Focusing on a black family in the US was a nice change to the story. It demonstrates that source material can be a starting point for film adaptations but does not need to be the last word. I hope we see more diverse casts in films moving forward despite what the source material may call for. Thirty years is a long time between films so, this remake does not feel too out of place. The first film remains more terrifying, but the second one’s black cast is a nice move even if it does whitewash the history of the segregated south.