The Witches Have Returned

It has been just about 30 years since “The Witches” premiered in 1990– and now, they have returned, and They. Are. Everywhere.


Patrick Deliz, A&E Writer

A narrator (voiced by Chris Rock) tells the story of an orphaned young boy (played by Jahzir Bruno) in 1968 who goes to live with his grandmother (played by Octavia Spencer) in Alabama. Slowly, the boy gets cheered up, following the death of his parents, with his grandmother buying him a pet mouse whom he names Daisy (voiced by Kristen Chenoweth). One day, they go to a supermarket and the boy goes to buy a box of nails to train Daisy and to build a house for her as well. As he’s getting the nails, he meets a strange lady. As she offers him a piece of candy, a snake crawls out of her clothes, but his grandmother calls him, causing the witch to disappear.
Back at home, the boy tells his grandmother about the encounter. The grandmother tells him that witches are in fact real, recalling the story of her best friend Alice who took candy from a witch and was turned into a chicken. The grandmother says that witches never leave once they find a child. Frantically, the boy and the grandmother travel to a hotel and decide to remain there for a while. During the car ride there, the grandmother explains that witches have raspy voices, deformed feet without toes, clawed hands, wide mouths, and nostrils, and wear wigs.
The next day, the grandmother tells the boy to go out to have fun. He takes Daisy and a rope to go get some training done at a grand hall. As he walks there, he meets Bruno (played by Codie-Lie Eastik), a chubby kid who loves chocolate, but then gets pulled away by his mother. The boy goes into the grand hall by himself. As he’s getting ready to train Daisy, the Grand High Witch (played by Anne Hathaway) and the rest of the witches all go into the grand hall; the boy hides under the stage. He watches the witches take their disguises. The Grand High Witch yells at the witches about the many children left in the world. She tells them of her grand plan: go to her hotel room to get a “Mouse Maker” potion, set up a candy shop, and give children candy laced with that potion, to turn every child into a mouse.
Just when she’s done explaining her plan, Bruno knocks and is let in by the witches who have put back on their disguises. Bruno says that he was called here by the Grand High Witch who promised to give him six bars of chocolate. He then transforms into a mouse because of the chocolate bar laced with a potion previously given to him by the Grand High Witch. He crawls into the vent and finds the boy and Daisy hiding. The Grand High Witch discovers the boy and forcefully turns him into a mouse as well. During the commotion, they learn that Daisy was once an orphaned young human girl named Mary turned into a mouse by a witch, and she helps them escape.
They make their way back to the hotel room where the boy and his grandmother are staying. They tell the grandmother of the witches’ plan and discover that the Grand High Witch is staying in the hotel room below them. The boy, Bruno, and Mary devise a plan to get a bottle of the potion so that the grandmother can devise a cure to turn them back into children. The plan is successful, but the grandmother can’t create a cure. So instead, they make another plan where the boy goes and puts a bottle of the potion into a broth of pea soup which will be given to the witches during their dinner.
All the witches drink the soup. Just as the Grand High Witch is about to, she sees the grandmother and makes her way towards her. She tells her that she recognizes her as the one who got away. As they are conversing, the mice steal the Grand High Witch’s room key. Just then, the witches all begin turning into rats, and chaos ensues.
The grandmother and the mice leave quietly and go to the Grand High Witch’s room. The grandmother puts all the potions into her bag to destroy them. But the Grand High Witch finds her and is about to kill her when the mice create a plan which causes her to be turned into a rat after she accidentally swallows a potion. They trap her in a cup and prevent her from escaping. Before they leave the room, the grandmother takes money from the Grand High Witch’s suitcase and releases her cat from its cage. As they close the door, the Grand High Witch’s own cat attacks and kills her.
The grandmother tries to return Bruno and explain the situation to his parents, but the mother and father freak out and run away. The grandmother, the boy, Mary, and Bruno all go home together and become a family.
The narrator is revealed to be the boy who is now an elder mouse as he is seen preparing a group of kids for hunting witches with his grandmother.

Reboot v. Original
When I was a kid, one of my favorite Halloween movies that would scare me straight was “The Witches” (1990). So, when I read that HBO Max was remaking the film with incredible director Robert Zemeckis of “Back to the Future”, I couldn’t wait to see the reboot.
Right away, the first big difference is how the story starts off. In the original, it is the Grandmother who narrates the story– warning us of the evils of witches, telling us a story about a young girl who was trapped by a witch in a painting. In the 2020 adaptation, not only does it skip this story but replaces it with one entirely new– showing us how Grandmother’s friend, Alice, was turned into a chicken by the Grand High Witch when she was a child. Another huge difference from the original is who narrates the intro. It is not Grandma, but instead our hero mouse who is all grown-up, voiced by Chris Rock.
In both stories, they center around the life of a young boy. In the original, he is called Luke but in the remake, he is simply called “Hero Boy”. Unlike the original, Hero Boy is actually involved in the car crash that kills both his parents, spurring his Grandmother to come and take care of him– whereas in the original, Luke is babysat by his grandmother while his parents go off to a fancy dinner and get in a car crash. In fact, in the remake, we never even see his parents, apart from the photographs.
There are also some drastic changes when it comes to time and location with the remake opting to set the story in 1968 Alabama, near the Gulf of Mexico. The hotel where they clash with the Witches is called the Grand Orleans Imperial Island Hotel, while the original starts in Norway and then moves to England– with the majority taking place at a hotel called The Excelsior. Its time period is never disclosed within the film, but it is safe to say it sets anywhere from 1983 to 1990.
In the original, we see Luke spend about one scene where he is sad about the death of his parents, whereas in the remake it is a whole part of establishing his relationship with his Grandmother. She is the one who gets him out of his sadness, even making him some delicious cornbread, which she says is just like a cake (which might be a nod to the original, when Grandma bakes a cake for Luke).
The remake also heavily uses music from the era to better situate the audience in the time, something the original does not use at all. Another great difference is our introduction of the first witch. In the original, she tries to lure Luke down from his treehouse by offering candy and the opportunity to pet her snake. In the remake, we meet this witch in the general store but she is quickly scared off by Grandma, which leads to the biggest differences being: how they end up in the hotel.
In the original, Grandma gets diabetes and they think it would be fun to take some much-needed rest at a swanky seaside hotel. The new version [I think] does a better job here with the Grandmother finding out a witch is after her grandson, so they should get away for a bit in an effort to shake her off. She says once a witch comes into your life, it NEVER leaves you– which is something never mentioned in the original.
In both versions, the boy receives a pet mouse but where it goes from there changes entirely. In the original, Luke gets two mice, William and Mary, and they are not really that important to the story. In fact, when Luke and Bruno turn into mice, they can not talk to them. In the remake, however, there is only one mouse– Daisy– and they can talk to her because she (like them) was a girl whose real name is Mary, who was transformed by a witch.
At the hotel, we meet the hotel manager– one some might recognize as Stanley Tucci, who also worked with Anne Hathaway in “The Devil Wears Prada”. It is after meeting the hotel manager, that we get our first real look at the Witches and there are a ton of differences between Anne Hathaway’s version and Angelica Houston’s. Although both have a distinctly European accent, their physical features and powers vary drastically. A fun thing to know is that it is heavily implied that the Grand High Witch is Norwegian, as legends say she was hatched on the frozen tundra of Norway. The beginning of the original has some credits over the frozen Norwegian mountains.
You will notice in the reboot, the Witches are wearing fancy high heels when in the original it is explicitly stated they wear plain shoes to make it more comfortable for their deformed feet (they have NO toes). Their hands– although in both versions are covered by gloves– differ in what is underneath. Anne Hathaway’s witch as deformed three-finger claws, while in the original, the witch’s hands are usually just warty and gross. Along with Anne Hathaway’s joker-like smile, she has super strength powers, the ability to extend her hands, and the biggest change: levitation.
One of the most iconic differences is that the Grand High Witch does not eat the soup as she does in the original, paving the way to an entirely new ending in which the mice and Grandma have to take her on one-on-one.
Both films have different endings, as in the remake, the Grand High Witch (after being turned into a rat) is trapped in an ice bucket, and “dies” offscreen. In the original, we see Luke still a mouse, now at home without Bruno– is turned back into a boy thanks to a witch becoming a good witch. The remake, however, goes in a completely different direction, similar to the book, and that the mice never get turned back into their original form. Bruno, Mary “Daisy”, and the boy spend their remaining years teaching other kids about witches.

Overall Thoughts
While the 2020 remake does not have that scare factor from the original, it does bring in a fresh taste of intensity and creativity, giving the witches a makeover adapting them to the era. Anne Hathway did an incredible job as the Grand High Witch, giving us a show of what she is capable of. Not to mention, Octavia Spencer doing an amazing job as the Grandmother. I believe the casting and film, stuck true to the book and feel as though it had a great result, compared to the original.

Rating: 3.9/5