The Witches. (2020) Review.

After recently discussing elements of Robert Rodriguez’s strange career in this critic’s piece on We Can be Heroes another Hollywood Robert whose career is proverbially all over the place would be Zemeckis. Zemeckis has a few classic films under his belt that he will always have a place in film history. Unfortunately, for the most part, his 21st-century work prioritises weird uncanny valley Esque, technology-driven nightmare fuel who. The fact The Polar Express is a contemporary Christmas classic to some viewers always blows this critics mind. With his motion capture studio having tanked so hard it resulted in massive write-offs for Disney Zemeckis has to find new ways to indulge his fetish for weird technology in contemporary films. After the bizarre and incredibly mediocre but strangely fascinating Welcome to Marwin, he now goes back to the family film well with a new adaptation of a classic Roald Dahl storey. Prime 80s/90s Zemeckis adapting Dahl sounds like a match made in heaven. Contemporaries Zemeckis doing the same sounds like it might be another unwarranted trip into the Uncanny Valley. How is his take on the material?
Given how patience-testing some of Zemeckis recent work has been it’s not as bad as it could have been. It’s generally watchable enough and relatively inoffensive in its mediocrity. Critically this does not mean the new adaptation is any good. Octavia Spencer’s performance as the grandmother is the only one that feels as if it understands Dahls playful, kid-friendly but sinister undertone that has given his works such resonance for generations of fans. Jahzeir Bruno is fine enough in the central child role. It’s with Chris rocks wrap around narration in the very opening scene that the film showcases what a tonally inconsistent mess it’s going to be. He essentially resurrects Marty the Zebra with his over the top vocal delivery. Rock signals that despite some moments that might be mildly effective in getting across a more Dahl adjacent atmosphere the film is going to be nothing more than a corny pantomime. This is showcased further by Anne Hathaway s performance as the central witch. She plays it so OTT pantomime villain it makes Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka via Michael Jackson in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory positively restrained by comparison.
While the film is not perhaps as reliant on technology as it could be there is some questionable CG used in the transformation sequences. It’s also worth noting the while this was originally intended as a theatrical release the uninspired use of limited locations and zero directorial flairs make proceedings look relatively cheap ( for something that wasn’t given the level of talent involved.) The film feels more at home on streaming. That said for all the inbuilt problems it never crosses into the outright excruciating territory. This critic would not recommend it in any way but if a viewer is stuck having to watch it to pass time they could do worse ( especially given some of Robert Zemeckis other kid’s offerings.
The new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches is not as bad as it might have been. This is in large part because it doesn’t feel used as an excuse for the director to indulge in potentially nightmare-inducing digital technology with family audiences. That said this critic would not call the film worth recommending to anyone. It’s not hard to see why the film was sacrificed by Warner Brothers as a former theatrical exclusive sent to streaming as a result of the COVID pandemic.

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