A second stab at an adaptation of the Roald Dahl book of the same name. I, of course, know and love the original with Anjelica Huston but the most I had heard about this version was the outcry from the disabled community about the way the witches were shown. I understand the problem that they had with the way the hands were done and not wanting to have a disability be connected with being evil. That said, that issue is the only thing I knew about this adaptation going into it.
The story remains the same but our orphaned hero and his grandmother are now black and it takes place in the early 70’s/late 60’s. Like in the book, the narrator and main character of the movie doesn’t get a name and neither does his grandmother. When the boy has a run in with a witch at a grocery store, his grandma decides to take him away for a while for his own protection and goes to a hotel with a bunch of rich white folks because nothing bad ever happens to those people. Unfortunately, at the same time, the hotel is the site of the annual witches meeting where the Grand High Witch gives the instructions for the year. This time, they plan to turn all children into mice by opening candy stores that put a secret potion in the chocolate. Now he has to stop the machinations of an entire coven of witches and also he is a mouse.
The actual witches themselves are given a much more overtly evil look to them, with mouths that open all the way back to the ears for a distinctly unsettling cgi way of speaking. There are also several parts where the Grand High Witch extends her arms like Mr. Fantastic if Mr. Fantastic had to also constantly grown and break bones in order to stretch out. Anne Hathaway’s version of the Grand High Witch doesn’t get the full cartoon villain treatment that Anjelica Huston’s did and they opt to keep her looking mostly the same. There is a nod to the original makeup from the first movie at one point but I think they figured if you’re going to hire Anne Hathaway for a thing, you shouldn’t be covering her up in a ton of prosthetics and makeup. I think there is also another reason that they decided to do it that way.
Moving the story from England to the American south and making it about how the witches mainly predate on the poor and the children that wouldn’t be missed means you don’t need to try to ugly up the bad guys as much. Just having her be a wealthy, white woman is enough to contrast her from the main characters. While the plot itself plays out much like in the other version, this one also centers a lot more around the acceptance of loss and change. Being able to find happiness again even when your world is turned inside out and coming out the other side stronger. Oh, it also has a fat and clumsy side character in Bruno and I ranted about how much I hate that already in yesterday’s review but at least in this movie he doesn’t actively screw things up for the main characters.
It’s also worth it to note that this movie has Stanley Tucci in it and that man is an absolute joy to watch in whatever he does and this is no exception. I think either version of this movie would be fine to watch with kids and the one thing to recommend this one over the original would be if you were American for the increased relatability or if you want to see Octavia Spencer be a witch-fighting grandmother.
Score: 4 out of 5