The Witches review: "Anne Hathaway aims for hammy, funny villainy, and has a whale of a time"

Anne Hathaway in The Witches
(Image: © Warner Bros/HBO Max)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

It’s ‘Hello Dahl-y’, as Anne Hathaway’s Grand High Witch brings camp not creepiness to Zemeckis’ entertaining fairytale.

Why you can trust GamesRadar+ Our experts review games, movies and tech over countless hours, so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about our reviews policy.

Did you have the pants scared off you as a kid by the fearful face-peeling fun of Nic Roeg’s 1990 adaptation of The Witches? If so, good news: Robert Zemeckis’ family-friendly crack at Roald Dahl’s dark fantasy is more heartwarmer than seat-wetter.

Flaunting his veteran storytelling skills and Forrest Gump-style retro-setting knack, Zemeckis transplants the story to small-town ’60s Alabama, where Octavia Spencer’s wise granny cheers up her suddenly orphaned grandson Boy (a nicely natural Jahzir Bruno) with big love, Motown music and a pet mouse. But the film blooms into full-on colourful, campy style when Granny whisks them to a posh seaside hotel to escape a prowling local witch.

As Boy and new friend Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick) are transformed into mice by a child-hating witches’ convention masquerading as a charity, Zemeckis uncorks a crate of CGI, with purple potions sending projectile rodents whizzing through the air. But Anne Hathaway’s wackily vampy Grand High Witch, with her wriggly extending arm-claws, Cruella De Vil costumes, and Joker-style slashed demon mouth sets the film’s tone to cartoonish rather than creepy. Unlike the haughty horror of Anjelica Huston’s 1990 turn, Hathaway aims for hammy, funny villainy, and has a whale of a time doing so.

As Boy and co. battle the witches’ global kid-crushing plan, the film shifts into Stuart Little territory, investing in air-vent dashes and comic confrontations. This is a tale of kid-rodent courage and ingenuity rather than a big-scale action-adventure, one that may feel dated to some. Its cosy, child-centred action really needs more distinctive Matilda-esque Dahl cruelty to ginger it up.

Still, its thoughtfully diverse setting, full-throttle pace and message of resilience and responsibility give it enough heart and half-pint horror for a family Halloween viewing.

More info

Available platformsMovie
Freelance Writer

Kate is a freelance film journalist and critic. Her bylines have appeared online and in print for GamesRadar, Total Film, the BFI, Sight & Sounds, and