An orphaned little boy (Jahzir Bruno) and his grandma (Octavia Spencer) have a run-in with witches while staying at a hotel. Most terrifying among them is the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway).
Robert Zemeckis has given us such classics as the 'Back to the Future' trilogy, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?', 'Forrest Gump' and 'Cast Away'. More recently, he's taken a few missteps in recent years, well-meaning as 'Allied', 'Beowolf', and 'Welcome to Marwen' were. 'The Witches', it would seem, is destined to fall among his blunders. Between this and Steven Spielberg's 'The BFG' it just seems the works of Roald Dahl don't translate as charmingly to film in contemporary times as one would hope.
'The Witches' starts out well enough with narrator Chris Rock infusing Dahl's well-worn words with life and enthusiasm. What commences as a story of grief - God bless Octavia Spencer for being a ray of light (here and later on when the film proves unshakably dull) - takes a hopeful turn as our hero boy gets a pet and learns to love again. As Grandma relates a cautionary tale, one reflects on how the idea of being turned into an animal forever remains horrifying. That idea of helplessness and being unable to communicate hasn't aged.
Still, the take-off is slow, and the plot continues to be rather eventless as the protagonist and Grandma make their way to the hotel. We are then at last introduced to Anne Hathaway's Grand High Witch in a performance that recalls her White Queen in 'Alice in Wonderland'. It's an enjoyable enough act, imbued with a sense of humour so the character never falls into total menace. But Angelica Huston, admittedly, did it better both in the 1990 version of 'The Witches', and in the 'Addams Family' franchise. The kid, Jahzir Bruno, makes for a sweet but essentially forgettable protagonist while his chubby companion Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick) is much the same.
The film gets more into an adventure in the second act, but one never quite warms to the CGI mice. (how does Zemeckis keep getting this wrong?). It all wraps up in a nice and cheesy (pardon the pun) ending - at which point you realise you watched a 100 minute long feature where basically nothing happens. Kids might enjoy the silliness and fact that it's not too scary, but there's little to nothing to consider exemplary here.
'The Witches' is available on 26th October to watch instantly for a 48-hour rental from participating digital retailers and is rated PG.