Like the best books in the Roald Dahl canon, The Witches tells the story of a kid in a tough situation who finds himself confronting something truly insidious. It’s among his darkest works, as it’s about a boy confronting a cabal of evil witches who literally want to murder him and every other child on earth. Yikes.
The book has been adapted into a new movie directed by Robert Zemeckis of Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit fame. It stars Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch, Stanley Tucci as the proprietor of the hotel they meet in, Jahzier Kadeem Bruno as The Boy, and Octavia Spencer as his grandmother. Chris Rock narrates the film as an older Bruno. And now there’s a trailer.
Unlike the book, which is set in England and Norway, the film takes place in 1960s Alabama. It opens with the Boy moving in with his grandmother, a “tough lady with a big heart” who took him in after his mother died and cheers him up with cornbread and Motown sing-a-longs. Adorable.
The action moves to the (impressive looking) hotel. The Grand High Witch bursts into the hotel at the head of a very well-dressed, perfectly coiffed group of women in elaborate hats. The Boy and his grandmother also end up at the hotel, where the witches eventually turn him and two other kids into mice. Rodent chaos ensues.
There’s a lot more flash and CGI than the first filmed adaptation of the book. Released in 1990, directed by Nicolas Roeg, produced by Jim Henson, and starring Angelica Huston and Rowan Atkinson, it’s a really good movie that, like the book itself, has always attracted more of a cult following.
The trailer gives the impression that the people behind this version of the story are eager for it to be a hit with families the way that the films Matilda and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory were. Time will tell how successful they were.
The Witches comes to HBO Max on October 22.