One of my favorite movies growing up was the 1990 adaptation of The Witches, based on the book by Roald Dahl. Seriously, I think I must have watched that movie about twenty times. So, when a remake of this 1990 classic was announced, I was super excited to watch it and reminisce over a childhood classic. Whilst the 2020 adaptation switched the setting of the film from England in the 1980s to Alabama in the 1960s, the plot of both movies is the same—a young orphan named Charlie, played by Jahzir Bruno and his grandmother Agatha, played by Octavia Spencer, try to stop a group of evil witches from cursing children and transforming them into mice.
Not every remake is bad. Some films that revisit and reinvent the story and themes of a film can be delightful to watch as they tread on a fine line between honoring the original film as well as bringing something new to the audience. However, this remake does none of the above. Zemeckis' take on The Witches failed to match up to the 1990 adaptation of the film, and I—alongside many others—was extremely disappointed by the film. It is a confusing mess which lacks any of the magic and finesse of the original film, and is centered around a performance by Anne Hathaway as the lead witch that is ridiculously over the top and consequently falls flat of the original film.
The biggest offenders in the film are the special effects or, to be more precise, the abuse of special effects. The first version of The Witches worked and was scary because everything looked real. Everything in this movie is CGI and looks so fake that it has no real impact, all played for laughs or cheap jokes.
The film features the witches as having three elongated fingers on each hand, rather than the claw–like hands with five fingers described in Dahl’s book. The portrayal of the witches’ hands is similar to the limb abnormality Ectrodactyly, otherwise known as “split hand,” which is the absence of one or more central digits either on the hand or the foot. Viewers of the film were quick to notice this.
British Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren was one of the first to call out Warner Bros. for this imagery on Twitter publicly:
The official Twitter account of the Paralympic Games tweeted that "differences should be celebrated and disability has to be normalized."
Many felt that the portrayal was extremely insensitive towards those with disabilities which prompted #NotAWitch to trend on Twitter following the film’s release. The extent of the pushback prompted both Warner Bros. and Anne Hathaway herself to respond to the criticism. A spokesperson for Warner Bros. apologized on behalf of the company in a statement: "We the filmmakers and Warner Bros. Pictures are deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities, and regret any offense caused."
Academy–Award winner Anne Hathaway even apologized herself in a recent Instagram post in which she reposted a video created by the Lucky Fin Project—a non—profit organization which aims to raise awareness and celebrate children who are born with or affected by a limb difference.
"I have recently learned that many people with limb differences, especially children, are in pain because of the portrayal of the Grand High Witch in The Witches," said Hathaway in the caption of the post. She continued by saying "As someone who really believes in inclusivity and really, really detests cruelty, I owe you all an apology for the pain caused. I am sorry."