The Witches (2020)
There’s an odd trend with the quality of nostalgic reboots these days, in which the reboots or remakes are so bad that I genuinely question whether the original could be good. Death Note (2017) was the first film I noticed this with; I remember watching the Japanese live action films in high school and liking them quite a bit. However, the pacing and story was just so poorly handled in Death Note (2017), I couldn’t see how it could work in anything but a series.
Was high school me an idiot?
Now, I’ve never read Roald Dahl’s books, but as a kid, I definitely remember being traumatised by The Witches (1990). Does that mean it was a good movie? I mean, I thought so. I thought so until I watched The Witches (2020).
Was child me also an idiot?
Was I always an idiot?
Pacing is incredibly important in getting a story to work. Technically, this could be a technical issue because it’s technically an editing job. Regardless, it so greatly impacts how a story is perceived. And how I perceive it is bad. Just bad. It jumps all over the place at random, but simultaneously feels like it goes at a snail pace. Honestly, if it wasn’t so annoying, I would be impressed.
Looking at the story as a whole, I don’t think you can fault it. Kid finds out about The Witches (2020), Grandma warns him about The Witches (2020), they go to a hotel filled with The Witches (2020), he gets captured by The Witches (2020), he gets turned into a mouse by The Witches (2020), and then he must seek revenge against The Witches (2020). A tale as old as time. It only takes 25 minutes to be introduced to the titular The Witches (2020), but the way it plays out feels so long. I’m actually surprised that it was so soon, because the introduction felt like 45 minutes, but so did the entire rest of the film.
They do spend a good amount of that introduction actually getting the kid to warm up to Grandma (oh yeah, his parents died, but it had nothing to do with The Witches, so oh well), which is nice, but it’s also covered with the worst type of voice over: the kind where you are told about what you’re already seeing.
Pictured: The worst laid plans of mice and more mice.
This has nothing to do with the fact that the first is paced better. Honestly, I haven’t seen it since I was a child, but seeing the way it plays out here, I don’t know how it would work.
So one thing that I’m reasonably sure wasn’t part of the original was the racial tension surrounding everything. Alabama definitely has different race relations than Norway, and that lives within the very fabric of the film. So many little moments hold weight and I can’t imagine them having the same effect in the original 1990s film.
I say that... yet I don’t remember.
I do remember the tale of the little girl who was the grandma's best friend or something. In the original, she got stuck inside a painting and slowly grew old for the rest of her life. In the new one, she gets turned into a really big CGI chicken. I can’t tell which one is more scary in theory, but in practice, the second one is almost a joke. It has the same message of stranger danger, but the moment when she is, and I quote, “chickenified” is cartoonishly hilarious. This is followed by a remark about how delicious her eggs were. It is so close, but so far.
The ending also has a very nihilistic view on the way race relations played out in America at the time. But, like the chickenification mentioned before, it’s completely overlooked with a goofy dance and a roller coaster montage.
Director Robert Zemeckis has always been at the forefront of cutting edge technological advancements when it comes to filmmaking.
And by that, I mean, he’s too far on the edge.
And by that, I mean remember The Polar Express? The film that relied entirely on the uncanny valley CGI recreation of a million Tom Hanks’ and too many children?
Yeah… that guy…
Pictured: Cutting edge technology.
Every scene with an animal is obviously CGI. Which, from the 48 minute mark, is almost every scene. Anne Hathaway doesn’t look terrible as the Grand High Witch for the most part; her entire mouth is CGI but it never looks uncanny valley so I’m not creeped out. On the other hand, she’s Anne Hathaway, so even bald, with a CGI maw, two fingers and one toe, she’s still not scary. She’s Anne Hathaway with a silly accent and a mouth that sometimes opens a little too much.
Pictured: Oh damn! How did I forget about the nose? THAT GLORIOUS NOSE?!
Don’t worry, there is still uncanny valley in there. When the main character turns into a mouse, we are treated to a nice close up of him bubbling away in CGI glory, which very rarely works and doesn’t here. But better yet, for absolutely no fathomable reason, during the resolution of the film, one woman screams in terror and her face is enhanced with CGI. No one knows why. Was the performance not animated enough? Did her eyes not bulge enough? Was it REALLY necessary to make that happen? Apparently… because it’s here.
Pictured: Trust me: it looks way weirder when it's a video.
It sucks to focus on the CGI so much, but it's so glaring. I’ve already mentioned the editing of the film in the story section, which is just as bad. I don’t think I can say anything bad about the cinematography? So that’s something it's got going for it. I also didn’t pay attention because even the acting was replaced by CGI, so screw it, CGI is my focus.
All of this wouldn’t be bad if I had some fun with it.
Anne Hathaway was clearly having fun. Maybe I could live vicariously through her?
Pictured: Having fun.
I think Stanley Tucci was having fun?
Pictured: Maybe having fun?
There are a LOT of fat jokes directed at one kid. Maybe they were having fun?
Pictured: You see, it's funny because he's hungry and he's fat. What a combo!
Look, I’m sure people had fun here. People is not me. I did not have fun.
It was tedious to watch, and when it wasn’t being tedious it was being overwhelming.
Worst of all: I can’t watch the original The Witches (1990) just in case it is this bad. I mean, I could, but I don’t want to deal with this level of disappointment twice.