Robert Zemeckis has become a peculiar filmmaker over the last two decades, a purveyor of strange fantasies for families and adults alike. Through the 80’s and 90’s he was known as the heir to Spielberg or Spielberg-lite, depending on your opinion of him, a man capable of extravagant adventures like Romancing the Stone and Back to the Future, as well as crowd-pleasing dramas like Forrest Gump and Cast Away. Since the dawn of this century he’s been obsessed with computer-generated imagery, producing animated films such as The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, and often incorporating heavy animation and effects when returning to live action. His preoccupation is ever-present in this remake of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, a watchable family film, if only for Anne Hathaway’s high camp performance and Octavia Spencer’s patently warm presence. Excellent visual effects come and go, Stanley Tucci is somewhat wasted, and the young cast of child actors leave something to be desired. I appreciate the director’s attempts to render the titular witches properly scary and not simply Disney scary. Sporting elongated mouths, serrated teeth, and clawed fingers and toes (well, a single toe for each foot on the Grand High Witch anyway), their appearance is probably disturbing enough to give plenty of kids mild nightmares, which is what you want in a horror film for youngsters. Childhood nightmares are a right of passage, a gateway to horror fandom at a later age if you have a curious personality for such a pastime. Unfortunately, in his elder years Zemeckis has lost some of the charm and pizzazz that once produced those aforementioned classics, and thus, The Witches is not rip-roaring entertainment, but merely something you flip on for a few smiles on a Sunday afternoon.
P.S. The payoff for the cat upped this nearly an entire letter grade.
Currently streaming on HBO MAX